21 November 1997



ALL I could see was the bonnet of the Jeep Cherokee and sky. Behind me was the steep, narrow gully we had just climbed and ahead – well I only had the word of the chap beside me that there was anything over the brow other than thin air. And I had only met him half-an-hour earlier.

My hands were distinctly clammy. What goes up must come down and I was about

to drive blindly into the

blue – in a vehicle I had never driven before and which I suspected had only half of its wheels in contact with the ground. The instructors warning ("Dont brake on the way down, whatever you do") was ringing in my ears.

Teetering there, I wondered why on earth I had accepted the invitation from Beds Jeep dealer Myltons asking for "Girls with guts" to take part in a ladies-only off-road driving event. But it had promised thrills, not spills. So, mustering all the self-control I possessed, I touched the accelerator just enough to take the Cherokee over the summit, kept my foot off the brake and with a scream dying in my throat put my trust in God and the gearing of the diesel-powered Cherokee.

My relief was short lived. This was just the start of the course. There were more hills to climb, banks to negotiate and water to cross. And I would be doing everything again in a Grand Cherokee Laredo automatic and a couple of sporty Wranglers.

A surprising number of four-wheel-drive vehicles are driven by women – just take a look outside any good school at home time. But how many women get the chance to drive them off road in the conditions they are really built for? Very few I suspect.

According to the Jeep instructors, women are far easier to teach to handle a 4×4 than men. Apparently, we listen and do as we are told, whereas men think they know it all and feel the need to act macho.

"I dont suppose they let out the occasional scream though?" I asked, as the shriek of another Girl-with-guts echoed through the quarry. "Oh, yes they do, and worse," was the reply.

What do you do if

youre a 4WD novice

and want to learn the

skills? Easy. Go on a

driving course.

Tessa Gates rashly

signed up

Right: Its a hard life being a journalist. FWs Tessa Gates tackles a corner

that looks like it belongs

in Afghanistan.

Being able to suppress your screams and make a passable job of looking cheerful are important skills for the novice four-wheel drive driver.

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