It is still quite early in the season as I arrive at the Kankku base in Windermere for the off-road experience. I’ve never done off road driving before and I’m wondering what I’ve let myself in for! Fortunately Brian, the group leader, is very calm and explains the plan for the day. We will be doing four trails with various technical demands – and maybe a fifth if we have time before returning to base. I will be in the land rover with Brian while he leads two others in the group – another Kankku vehicle and a Discovery someone has brought themselves.
The convoy of three off-roaders heads from Windermere up to Langdale – heading past none other than Skelwith Fold on the way! Brian tells me that this isn’t for my benefit, but their usual route to the first trail. While there is no guarantee of availability, Kankku may be able to arrange to pick up Skelwith customers to save the drive to Windermere – give them a call the day before to check availability and to arrange.
Once we reach the Langdale trail I switch places with Brian. Having been a passenger to this point, now I’m in the driving seat. Just as we move from the road driving I’m familiar with, to the off-roading I am a complete novice at! Maybe we planned this wrong…
Fortunately, Brian is an expert guide. Even more fortunately, it proves he is also blessed with the patience of a saint and an unshakably professional demeanour as he successfully talks me through driving along this first trail – whilst simultaneously doing the same for the two following vehicles via walkie talkie. Looking back, I am impressed. I confess that at the time I was far too pre-occupied with worrying about getting fired for landing the boss with a large repair bill if I made a mistake!
As we get back onto the road again to head towards our second off-road trail, I have a chance to breathe again and process some of the information I just learned – and would be needing again shortly. Braking makes you faster is one point I tried to remember, as the biggest difference with my usual road-faring experience! With just five or so minutes between trails, there isn’t too long to wait between jaunts. Before I knew it, I was switching with Brian and back behind the wheel raring to go off-road yet again…
With so much attention on the road (or lack of) – as the driver it is sometimes easy to miss the views going around. Particularly on a misty day like when we were out! Nonetheless, the scenery is still beautiful even today. Brian tells me that it is usually much clearer and the sights on these trails will even take the breath away from the locals – who you think might be used to such beauty! The vehicles used can take up to four passengers – including children and dogs – who may enjoy both the views and the spectacle of dad and/or mum squealing in excitement/terror as they attempt to wrestle their land rover over an impressive array of rocks.
Next we stop at an abandoned quarry for a quick breather and to admire the view. While the mist obscures much of the surrounding dales on this occasion – the quarry itself is impressive. For a sense of scale, look at the trees growing at the bottom. Brian informs us the water is about as deep again. It is a lovely opportunity to relax an take stock half way around and I reflect how the expert guidance has made the learning curve behind going off-road easy. While we seldom go above 5mph on the trails – due in part to health and safety, and in part to environmental responsibility – this still doesn’t leave much time for thought while scaling minor rock formations in a land rover!
As we’re back on the road again, Brian explains more about the different options Kankku offers. Most of their drives out are either 2hrs or 5hrs, although they can offer full days on occasion. He advises anyone to contact them first to find out what they can do to accommodate your wishes beforehand. However, it is recommended not to book anything for the 2hrs after you are due to finish – as it can be very easy to overrun! For the 5hr sessions, Kankku will usually try to book in a lunch stop with a local venue (often The Ship Inn in Coniston).
I put away my camera and note pad for the final trails to really get the experience of off-roading – and completely fell in love. The challenge of getting to learn how to make the vehicle work for you, the exhilaration and excitement of the ups and downs, the unparalleled views, and the reassuring safety of the guide all combine to make it a truly memorable experience. I was even more impressed at the environmental responsibility of Kankku – the one area where I was prepared to be critical! However, Brian explained how they tried wherever possible to work with walking groups and farmers to maintain the countryside. Certain trails are only run on a limited basis – and I can vouch that the leaders are firm in their instruction of trail etiquette.
Overall, I highly recommend trying Kankku off-roading, if only for the experience of having done it! It is a truly unique day out – and it will give you quite literally a new perspective of the beautiful dales which surround Skelwith Fold and the Lakes!
Advantage Club members will also benefit from a £10 discount to all Kankku adventures. Make sure to mention you are a Skelwith Fold Advantage Club member when making the booking.