“Every day when I get up it’s a day I enjoy whereas I used to get up to just another day.”
While this could easily replicate my feelings in combining writing stories for Country Week with performing that takes me all over Yorkshire these are actually the words of Russ Dykes who lives in South Duffield, near Selby, just a mile away from where he was born but for whom life now involves thousands of miles spent in far flung lands and glorious scenery.
We don’t damage the terrain and we take extreme care. This is not about tearing around in trucks.
The reason for his new, positive outlook on life is that he’s doing something he loves, he’s doing it with his daughter, Libby, and he’s doing it with good friends. It’s also proving such a hit that not only is he the most contented I’ve seen him in years, he’s also deeply fulfilled and having fun at the same time as running it as a business.
It’s Land Rover driving for those who want to learn, be entertained, see fabulous countryside, other parts of the world and have amazing experiences using their 4x4 vehicles for what they were intended rather than being fuel-guzzling, city centre Chelsea tractors.
It’s all a far cry from fielding calls about “how much?” and other much more inflamed terminology, thankfully alien to this venerable journal, from when Russ ran his own business selling and repairing Land Rovers in Howden.
“We’ve reinvented ourselves. We’re all doing stuff we enjoy and if this continues we’re all going to be happy. The crazy yet wonderful thing now is that people are paying us to give them a great time they will remember all their lives. I’d been used to far different reactions from customers when running a garage.
“When Libby turned 21 we had a conversation about having a fun business together that we would both enjoy. She drove a Series 1 Land Rover in a field when she was just one year old. It had the door off, she had her hands on the wheel and I walked alongside. The die was cast back then and now she’s a fantastic 4x4 driver and instructor.”
Having originally started out as Yorkshire 4x4 Treks with the aim of green lane trekking on the Yorkshire Wolds the business has grown organically in line with customers’ preferences and Libby and Russ’s increasing awareness of what works best.
Such has been their advancement that the Yorkshire name tag no longer adequately fits for their now near global business that will see them trekking in Morocco, the Pyrenees, Alps and the Balkans in coming months alongside the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Wales and the Lake District. This week work was also started on a new off-road course at Carlton Towers that forms another element to what has become three companies in one under the banner name Ardent, the first being Ardent Adventures and the others Ardent Events and Ardent Offroad.
“What Ardent Adventures, and Yorkshire 4x4 Treks before it, is all about is giving people a good time and in many ways the chance of a lifetime to explore lands and enjoy countryside they may never see otherwise. We are environmentally correct everywhere we go.
“We don’t damage the terrain and we take extreme care. This is not about tearing around in trucks. We leave no imprint on the land and show people who enjoy driving in difficult terrain how to do it courteously, in control and with caution. Many who come with us couldn’t walk where we go and we have one young man of 78 whose head is on permanent swivel as he takes in the breathtaking countryside we visit.
“People come with us because they have their own very new or very good 4x4 vehicles and like the idea of taking them on the unpaved unmetalled roads of the UK legally.
“They know that with us they won’t end up doing damage to their vehicles. We travel in small groups of usually no more than six vehicles and we provide the support vehicle, radio communication, first aid and all recovery equipment.
“This is not about the guys in their Land Rover 100s with roof racks and tents. We stay in hotels and there’s a real spirit of camaraderie in the groups.
“Whether we are travelling 600 miles on dusty, gritty tracks in Eastern Europe, the smugglers route to Andorra or in the desert in Morocco there’s always the comfort of a quality bed for the evening.”
Taking in an off-road experience before trekking often leads those who have 4x4s to seek out off-road centres.
Ardent have a course at Askham Bryan College that is ideal for professional training but it is their new course at Carlton Towers where Libby has high hopes.
“It’s more glamorous and leisure-based. We’re working in it now using the woodland and some existing tracks. It will open in October and will be great for corporate and family days.”
Carlton Towers is developing as a fabulous wedding and functions site. Ardent Events will add to the existing offer of clay pigeon shooting, vineyard and brewery.
Ardent Offroad is where the other two of the four directors Andrew Robinson and Jon Morris Smith come in. Lifelong friends and having met Russ at a trade show they trekked with Yorkshire 4x4 Treks.
“Instruction is another important element,” says Russ. “Libby undertakes one to one ladies’ days, and we are fortunate to have Tony Kipling. He’s the calmest, most unflappable instructor ever.”