Words by Kerry Fraser. Pictures by Kerry Fraser and Michael Barton
My chest echoed with the percussive impact of the explosion as it drove into me, blowing my hair back and leaving me on my rump. The deafening boom of the cannon signalled the start of the fifth annual Battlefield Trophy, but, instead of Boers rushing the koppie, there was a battalion of Fortuner drivers storming their vehicles to deactivate blaring alarms.
We attended the compulsory briefing to check our departure time the following morning. It was to be an early start on Route 1 of Day 1. After the briefing, it was off to Rooibektiptol campsite to scrutinise the registration documentation before we could turn in for a good night’s rest ahead of the unspecified, mysterious adventures planned for the next day.
Although the Battlefield Trophy is regarded as a 4×4 challenge, the 4×4 route is not a timed event. Instead, you are encouraged to explore the area through which you are driving, absorbing the rich Anglo-Boer war history around which the adventure is themed. The route meanders around the areas of Volksrust and Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga, and Memel in the Free State. What sets it apart from other similar events is that it crosses restricted farmlands and routes that are not open to the public. It is on these private farms that one delves into personal family histories; this year, stretching back to the early 1800s. A connection with the past and the land develops with each piece of history gathered en route – of the anguish, the contentment – and the family secrets!
We arrived excited and early at the Waterval farmhouse, just in time to hear the canon’s detonation announcing the start to the day. Our vehicle’s number was prominently displayed on a Battlefield sticker, large and proud on the doors. When our number was called, we rolled up to the front of the line to receive our navigator’s route map with odometer readings, distances, pictograms and historical information. With fun, secretive smiles and some leg-pulling, we were sent off into the early-morning mist to follow the clues leading to the activity points.