Feel the power on a tank driving dayBy Melanie Roberts
May 15, 2008
There aren’t many things that can put a constant smile on your face for three hours but, as I discovered last weekend, tank driving through farmers’ fields at 9am on a Saturday morning is definitely one of them.
With nothing but a grid reference to guide me, I arrived somewhere between the middle of nowhere and the village of Avington near Winchester to embark on the ride of my life.
Set in the rolling hills of the Hampshire countryside, Juniper Leisure offers tank driving tuition courses to anyone over the age of 16.
Guests are given three and a half hours to learn how to drive three genuine Army tanks and a quad bike through stunning countryside views.
Arriving at the course, it was a matter of moments before the first tank came into view – a 750 horsepower, six-cylinder engine Chieftan – the largest vehicle on the track and the undisputed mother of all tanks.
At more than twice my height, the Chieftan weighs in at around 55 tonnes and comes equipped with a 120mm rifled cannon and 3.3 metre long barrel capable of firing eight shells a minute.
Before anyone can get anywhere near a tank, guests are split into small teams, registered and given a full safety briefing by a member of staff.
Teams are then eased in with a gentle ride on the mighty Chieftan complete with a guided tour of the machine.
It was only when everyone else stepped off the tank and I was beckoned forward by the instructor that it dawned on me I was going to have to shift this piece of metal.
As I lowered myself into the dusty tank hatch I was handed a pair of clear safety goggles to protect my eyes, and a headset for the instructor to talk me through the drive.
Once I had got used to the idea of no clutch to worry about, I then had to adjust to the concept of steering with sticks – technical term ‘tillers’ – and reversing without looking behind me.
The idea of moving anywhere on wheels without looking is normally sufficiently terrifying for me, but doing so in a tank took it to a whole new level.
However, thanks to some excellent instruction, I actually managed to manoeuvre the beast up the runway and back again without harming a soul.
Regardless of whether you drive a Hummer or Nissan Micra, the feeling you get when you step off the tank and realise you have just been in control of something so powerful is exhilarating.
Next up was a driving lesson in the FV432 APC tank around a figure of eight circuit. At just over 15 tonnes, this is certainly a less-intimidating breed of vehicle but, as I soon discovered, turning corners in a tracked vehicle is slightly more difficult than moving up and down a runway as I had in the Chieftan.
By the second lap I had managed to get the hang of using both hands – and conjoured up more strength than I ever knew I had – to steer. I even conquered huge potholes and track marks on route.
As I climbed on board the third tank, an Abbot SPG, I was feeling pretty confident. Having mastered the art of corners and accepted a state of total filth by this stage, the Abbot was absolutely my favourite tank to drive.
Slightly heavier, a little smoother on the steering and the added bonus of a bit of a view made the final stretch more of a triumphant cruise than the nerve-racking terror tour it had been at the start of the day.
The final challenge, a ride on a quad bike, brought a refreshing change of pace. Flanked by two instructors, teams are lined up and led on a 30-minute circuit of twists, turns and long speedy stretches through waist height grass fields.
If you are looking for a day out that makes you feel like a war hero, this is the one for you. Staff are incredibly friendly and even award guests with a certificate detailing the vehicles you have mastered by the end of the day.
Although it is clearly expensive, the experience is priceless and an amazing way to build confidence.
Tank Driving Experience costs £149. To book long on to www.buyagift.com. Ref 2286. Sessions run on Fridays.