Horse Guards Parade – Reims - 6 Hours – 287 Miles
It’s not often you receive military style instructions, requesting the presence of your team and automobile to Horse Guards Parade at 0630hrs sharp. But this marked the start of an extraordinary charity rally campaign in aid of SSAFA – The 2018 Rally For Heroes. Entrants had one job – drive ten countries in ten days and raise £100,000 for those injured in the armed forces.
The traffic free early hour drive through London’s empty streets was spectacular and something I whole heartedly recommend doing at least once… but the welcome at Horse Guards was another level. We were strictly instructed where to park and display our automobiles and were braced for full drill inspection at the very least.
At grid reference TQ299800, it is an impressive site being a large parade ground off Whitehall in central London and where the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, Changing Of The Guard and Beating Retreat take place.
Drivers nervously polished and fiddled with their stickers as if adjusting a military uniform, whilst co-drivers queued to receive instructions, radios, Satnavs and water rations for this almost military exercise.
BMW UK kindly gave me the stunning M2 to enter the 2018 Rally For Heroes with – enjoying a three litre inline six cylinder petrol engine with twin power turbo with a seven-speed M double clutch transmission. I must admit to relishing the drive ahead and was torn between wanting to take in the spectacle and hit the road to see what this Bavarian beast could do.
We were briefed that photo ID was required should we require use of the facilities and were given oil drip sheets so as not to soil the immaculate parade ground. I dutifully complied even though my precious BMW had come straight off the production line…
I decided that a photo ID pit stop should not be missed and after five minutes of reviewing my passport, taking notes and cross checking my face matched the picture, I was escorted to said facilities – good job I wasn’t in a hurry.
A lady Officer in full uniform kept guard in the corridor outside, and we swiftly passed through the military corridors covered in pictures of HRH inspecting the troops with signs giving strict instructions as to what one must not do.
A brass bedecked stage was placed, and the Band Of The Coldstream Guards launched into action before us providing only the atmosphere of excitement and reverence that they can give. Senior Officers from the various armed forces were escorted around us asking questions and showing genuine interest and a little bemusement at what we were about to put ourselves through.
Speeches were made, a sermon was given and the immortal command ‘fire up your engines’ was issued with a 60-car salute of revving cars marking the start of our epic journey. The Mall was closed in full well past Buckingham Palace to enable us to wave to the huge number of crowds that had gathered to see us off. Moments like this are the stuff of dreams, and we felt ridiculously proud to be involved and representing our sponsors and charity.
The rule of the Sisterhood review is to judge the ease of usability of the car without opening the handbook. By the time we crossed Waterloo Bridge, our mobile phones were paired, playlists playing, temperature in the cab was personalised and we knew the status of our tyre pressures to use as a benchmark through the rally – tip top. We were soon making our way through the London traffic in a ‘Supercar Sandwich’ and eventually popped out of the big smoke and on to the motorway to make progress to our destination of Dover Port.
Local media and a police escort awaited our arrival, whereupon we were whisked straight to the boarding gate within the ferry terminal… a girl could easily get used to these high-speed police escorts, zero queuing ways it must be said.
Aboard the ferry we attended our first Driver Briefing, which was a well-placed mixture of safety, humour, what was expected of us and welcome message. We were left in no doubt of the serious nature of the task in hand, the importance of safe and legal driving and the requirement of humour and team spirit to get us through the hardest parts of the journey ahead.
Gathered into teams, we launched off the ferry in Calais, fired up our driving playlists and commenced the first part of our drive on foreign soil to Reims. Upon arrival we were parked up and invited to spend the evening at leisure. After an early start, losing an hour to CET and 30+ degree heat the majority opted to stay at the Hotel and get to know each other. The following day involved far more driving, so we headed for our beds early, brains still full of Horse Guards Parade, Police Escort past the White Cliffs of Dover and Reims Cathedral sparkling in the moonlight.
Day 1 had served us very well indeed and our minds boggled that we had nine more to get through…