Welcoming a legend


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Driving onto the sand at Red Wharf for pebble laying ceremony : credit: © Martin Port
Land Rover writer and enthusiast Martin Port and his son, Dylan, head to Anglesey in his SII to welcome renowned explorer Kingsley Holgate

After it's recent trip to Le Mans, I had planned to give the Series II some overdue love before the next big journey, but in reality that extended to replacing the points and setting the valve clearances – its daily driver status meaning that it’s difficult to do anything that may take it off the road for any length of time. And so it turned out that before heading north, the oil and water were both checked, camping gear thrown in the back and son Dylan and I pointed the Land Rover in the direction of Shropshire.

Although a quiet Sunday morning M4 occupied the first half an hour of our journey, from there on it was a combination of A- and B-roads that took us through Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. The Series II rumbled along nicely, despite rapidly increasing temperatures at the tail end of the UK’s second official heatwave of the year. As (original owner) Kohler’s in-cab thermometer moved to the ‘blood heat’ marker and the outside temperature hovered around 33 degrees, we pulled into the next fuel station to grab a sandwich and cold drink, before stopping first at the gateway to Hampton Court Castle near Hope under Dinmore for a photo opportunity, and then a shady lay-by in which to munch our sandwiches and to try to cool off.

Unlike its inhabitants, the Land Rover was relatively unaffected by the heat – the only tell-tale being the cup of coolant that exited the system via the radiator overflow pipe when we stopped. But with the back of the journey broken and just 35 miles left to cover until our overnight stop, we relaxed for the final hour of driving. We arrived at Foxholes Castle campsite, Bishops Castle mid-afternoon, at which point an exhausted and overheated Dylan collapsed onto the floor and lay face down while the warm breeze attempted to provide slight relief.

Series II fared better in the heat than it's passengers

Not only was the campsite set within the stunning Shropshire countryside with views of the surrounding hills, but the presence of the Trans-Africa Series II wasn’t entirely out of character – rumour has it that Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, visited Foxholes House in 1938.

With a ban on open fires and BBQs because of the dry spell, we were left with little option other than to visit the excellent Castle Hotel for dinner, but not before a quick tour of the town, where various period buildings made for interesting backdrops. As the sun went down and the surrounding field filled up with rabbits, we turned in for the night, thankful that the temperatures had dipped after a long day.

The next morning, we were up early, camp packed away and with the Welsh border in sight, headed towards more stunning scenery. The last time I visited Snowdonia was several years ago when I had driven Roger Crathorne’s Series I from Anglesey to Solihull. That was in the middle of winter where frostbite threatened to take over thanks to my insistence at doing the entire journey with the windscreen folded flat, but despite cloud cover and a steady mist of drizzle, this time was at least a little warmer.

Once again, the area didn’t disappoint. I decided to take a slightly different route than last time, but we did traverse some familiar areas – pausing for obligatory photographs whilst making slow, but steady progress. Our average speed dropped right down thanks to numerous climbs through the undulating hills, before being spat out the other side and across the Pont Britannia over the Menai Strait, delivering us onto the island of Anglesey and the main reason for our trip: to welcome renowned explorer Kingsley Holgate.

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Kingsley took a keen interest in Martin’s trans-African vehicle

By now, former LRM Editor Patrick will have enthused in great detail about the emotional reunion and tales around the campfire that followed, but on a personal note, it was an amazing event to be part of and I was humbled by Holgate’s reaction to my own little trans-African vehicle. He wanted to hear the stories and was absorbed by its adventures in the hands of Philip Kohler and of my recent ownership – so much so, that when a group of Land Rover employees arrived from Slovakia to mark his achievements, he ushered them over to the Series II and re-told the tales that he had only learnt of the previous day.

Obligatory photo with a legend, before leaving for home

Holgate’s own stories were nothing short of inspirational, and after driving out onto the sand at Red Wharf Bay to participate in the traditional pebble laying ceremony, it was a reflective and emotional pair that climbed back into the cabin and headed south once more. The Series II was now clad in sand and sea water; a jet wash would sort that, but the high from our few days away and being part of something so unique would help transport us home. Over the next seven hours, the 88in sat at a steady 50mph on various motorways and A-roads until we arrived back in Berkshire with another 522 miles on the odometer.

As Holgate pointed out, there’s no point in saying, “I’ll do it when I retire… when I have more time.” Before we left, Kingsley invited us and the Trans-Africa Series II to South Africa so that we could retrace some of its route in the early 1960s. I suppose I’d better heed his advice and not leave it too long then!


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