Northern Constabulary 4×4 course Daviot quarry 1990


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Northern Constabulary 4×4 course Daviot quarry 1990
Land Rover mud
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These photographs show a Police 4×4 Driving Course in progress at Daviot quarry, near Inverness in October 1990, with the driver (then PC739) who coincidentally would later be the local bobby for the area (and indeed the last Daviot Beat officer, as the Station closed in 1997). The livery is the PERIOD 2 (Roundel) one –…

These courses were usually run as part of the General Purpose and Advanced (Patrol Car) Driving Courses run by the Force’s Driver Training Unit. Whereas in many UK forces, the requirement for 4×4 training would be restricted to Traffic and other specialist officers, it was a whole different ball-game in Northern Constabulary. Given the terrain and weather, the force had a disproportionately large percentage of 4×4 vehicles, which were regularly used for various purposes – off-road (e.g. in Mountain Rescue support and to access radio masts) and also in snow patrol work of main roads. They were also used in rural areas in all seasons due to the difficulty of accessing remote locations. Indeed when I joined the Inverness Constabulary in 1973, the only GP vehicle supplied to both Aviemore and Portree was a SWB Land Rover. Thus ALL police officers had to have “4×4” entitlement on their police driving licence, or they would have needed to walk everywhere! Mind you, the fuel shortages and huge hike in petrol prices in the late 1970s soon saw the 4x4s taken off GP lists, and used only when necessary.

I did a couple of courses, at either end of the 1980s, both times instructed by the late PC John Allen (see Glencoe Range Rover photo). John (who sadly passed away in 2010) was a fount of knowledge and experience, none more so than in respect of 4×4 driving in general, and in snow patrol in particular. God Bless you, John!

The 4×4 courses were amazing, a true eye-opener as to what a Land Rover or Range Rover can do and at what angle they can do it. Training was on the very rutted and undulating “roads” in the quarry, through pools of very muddy water within which lurked who knew what, and also up and down (and diagonally) steep grassy slopes.

Given the cost of these vehicles, it was important that officers knew how to handle them. But it was not all just economics – a “bent” 4×4, off the road when most needed, created considerable logistical problems, as it was well nigh impossible to source another one temporarily at time of most need.

The bad storms of the late-1970s, and the resulting amazingly deep snow drifts (with tragic consequences) resulted in the need for constant police snow patrols to be carried out on trunk routes in the Northern Constabulary area in times of snow, to ensure that no-one was trapped in a stuck vehicle. Major routes so patrolled included the A9 Inverness-Aviemore (Slochd Summit), A9 Kingussie-County March (Drumochter Summit), A82 Fort William-Glencoe, and the A9 Helmsdale-Dunbeath (Ord of Caithness). Not only did officers doing such patrols – and it was the local officers who did so, often for days and nights on end – have to undergo 4×4 training, they also were sent on snow survival courses too. Mind you, as one seasoned officer said: “If the bosses think I am going to abandon a nice warm Range Rover and go and dig a hole in the snow, they have another think coming!”

The snow patrol 4×4 was equipped with a huge box containing survival equipment, and we were actually issued with the best of clothing for the purpose – the outer garments being bright orange. One drawback was the hood of the over-jacket was huge, apparently designed so the officer could continue to wear his/her police hat. (What wally specified that??) Needless to say, the wind blew into either side of the hood – and took hood and hat (and almost your head too, thanks to the chinstrap!) with it!! Routine snow patrol meant checking the length of the designated route, periodically, while weather was bad or was forecast. If it turned really bad, then you never left that stretch of road, usually in convoy with a 6×4 Council snowplough. If you and snow plough driver reckoned it was reaching danger level, the road was then closed, and the snow gates at either end were locked. You could not just leave then though. A police vehicle and driver was posted at each snow gate to deter people – it was not unknown for folk to try to drive around the gates or burst the padlock. Then the Police Range Rover and council Snowplough fought their way through the length of the closed stretch to ensure no vehicles were stuck, or if there were, to ensure all occupants had been safely evacuated. The gates remained “manned” by a police officer as long as the road remained closed.

Some people found it hard to accept that the conditions were so bad as to justify road closure, especially since the gates were (at the Helmsdale end) at sea level. If only we could have let them see just how bad it could be up top – walls of snow drifting higher than a double-decker bus, cuttings filling in as the snow blew down the side of the mountains, gusts liable to blow you and your vehicle clean off the roadway, and the snow-filled wind freezing exposed skin in seconds. It was hard, even for us, to appreciate the immense difference in conditions in the few miles, and several hundred feet climb, between the village and the top of “the Ord” – which looks so picturesque on a clear, sunny summer’s day but which can be a cauldron of snow on a windy, freezing, winter’s night.

Latterly, other makes of 4×4 were used for patrol, including Mercedes G-wagens, and various Nissans (some badged as Fords), plus of course BMW X5s, but for snow it had to be a Range Rover. Not even the Land Rover came close – although in ice, or mud, or moorland, the Landie was king.

Many thanks to 739 for the photos