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Michael Hayman channels the spirit of adventure

Michael Hayman channels the spirit of adventure, in his column for Country & Town House.

Throw back the duvet, get out there and celebrate life. That’s the message I took from interviewing the adventurer Alex Bescoby.

It happened at a gathering for Land Rover enthusiasts, The Rover Social, at the glorious Loseley Park in Surrey. An incredible occasion featuring row upon row of these iconic British classics: each one of them carrying its own unique story.

Bescoby looks every inch the automotive answer to Indiana Jones. You just know that you are in the company of someone who lives life to the full and to spend time with him is like a vitamin shot for the soul.

His message carries extra resonance when you consider the nature of his recent achievement. He is recently returned from The Last Overland expedition where he and his team drove 22,000km from Singapore to London, recreating the famous ‘Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition’ of 1955.

The original adventure had been supported by Sir David Attenborough, then a young TV producer, who was approached by six university graduates with a dream to drive the entire length of ‘Eurasia’.

The journey was known as ‘the unclimbed Everest of motoring,’ tried by many but until then conquered by none. The success was such that Attenborough was to go on to describe it as “a journey that I don’t think could be made again today.”

It was an irresistible gauntlet laid down to Bescoby who admitted that “I had some pretty big shoes to fill.” Not least because the adventure was to be attempted not in some souped up super car but rather the restored sixty-four year old Land Rover Defender, called ‘Oxford’, which had made the original journey.

It was to prove an emotional moment for the original pioneering explorer, Tim Slessor, who was to take a short drive in the restored, but so often badly-behaved, legend. He was to write, ‘after all those years, not much had changed: no power steering, no synchro-mesh gearbox, no disc brakes, no coil springs and, of course, no air-con. Wonderful.’

And wonderful indeed is the story of the journey that was to then come to pass. The epitome of an epic expedition, which is now told in both a superb book and four-part tv documentary for Channel 4.

Hitherto I think my one piece of Land Rover knowledge was the pub quiz answer for its motto: ‘Above and Beyond.” And this story goes above and beyond the enthusiasts sat listening to our conversation on a sunny autumnal afternoon.

It speaks to the spirit of adventure. That innately curios part of the human condition that seeks to push boundaries and to endure. To do things that are truly remarkable and life-affirming. To inspire others to find the best in themselves.

The author Sue Townsend once wrote that “Every time I start a new piece of work, I spend a long while under the duvet thinking I can’t do it.” But The Last Overland is a story that says yes you can. And that makes it one we can all celebrate.

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