Teresa Nahajski has been a volunteer driver with Gloucestershire & Worcestershire 4×4 Response (GW4x4R) for about 10 years. But in early March, when the ‘Beast from the East’ brought snow drifts of up to eight feet in the lanes near where she lives – and the main road from Bromyard to Upper Sapey was closed to vehicles for a whole weekend due to the drifts – the winter of 2017/18 had brought more snow than she had ever driven in before.

In this commentary, Teresa (one of approximately 60 GW4x4R volunteers) talks about her experience of tackling the Beast as she helped to get care workers and NHS employees, stranded by the hazardous conditions, to and from their place of work.

When we had amber warnings of more snow on Saturday 17th March, I didn’t really think it would happen again so soon. But on the Sunday morning I looked out to see we’d had at least four inches of snow. My boyfriend Richard had received a call at 6.30am asking him to take the Bromyard District Nurse out on her rounds for the day. Richard volunteers for the Herefordshire 4×4 Response group and, even though we only live 3 miles apart, we’re in different counties.

So far this winter we’ve had four lots of snow and I’ve been called out each time to drive Worcestershire County Council’s care workers on their regular visits around the area. The care workers tend to be allocated to the harder-to-reach rural areas where there are a lot of hills and narrow lanes to navigate.

From the River Teme at Ham Bridge, to the top of Clifton Hill where I live, there’s a 150 metre climb, meaning it can be clear of snow by the river but drifting snow at the top, and a good few degrees colder too. The gritting lorries can take some time to get to us, so you have to be prepared for the road conditions whenever the temperature drops. Luckily most of the snow has been at weekends, which has made it a bit easier as the roads are quieter.

I decided to have a drive out at 7.30am to see how the roads were as I assumed I might get called out later that morning. With GW4x4R being placed on ‘standby’ because of the Met Office’s Amber weather warning for snow, I had my snow kit in the car – snow shovel, box of rock salt, shoe grips for the ice, gloves, etc. – so I only had to add a flask of coffee and I was ready to go when I got the call.
The snow was starting to drift in a few places and the roads were well-covered. At 9:00am I got my first call to collect some care workers from Great Witley at 10.30am and take them to Clifton to visit a local client. On my way there, I received a text to say that call had been cancelled but they would still need me later in the day. So, with time to spare, I had a drive towards Upper Sapey, which is one of the most exposed and hilliest roads nearby.

I came across a couple of vehicles struggling to get up one of the hills on the snow and ice and stopped to offer help to a man in a bright yellow VW van who was sliding across the road. As I had recently bought a bright yellow Land Rover Discovery (I called it Buttercup!), I thought this was the perfect colour match to test out my as-yet unused tow bar. By the time I’d turned my car around, he’d fitted his towing eye and a rope and was ready to go. I was relieved to find I had no problem towing the van up the hill onto level ground and waved him off to finish his journey to Stourport. Compared to my previous Land Rover Discovery 300tdi, this one has the added functionality of traction control, hill descent and ABS, which I’m still getting used to. It also has much better heating, which is a bonus in these conditions!

On my way back down the hill, going past the Baiting House pub (a good spot to choose if you’re going to get stranded in the snow!), I was flagged-down by a young Polish woman. She was quite distressed and explained that she had been trying to get from Hereford to Birmingham airport so her friend, who had been visiting for the weekend, could go back to Poland. The road was so slippery they had abandoned the car and were trying to find a lift home. Her husband and their very young baby were waiting inside the pub with her friend.

She had only recently passed her driving test so was very scared when her car had started sliding off the road. After some discussions and advice, I drove her up the road in my car to check out the conditions and, when we returned, suggested she could try again. I agreed to follow them back to the clearer roads and, if she got stuck, would tow her out. Once she got going she was determined to keep going through the drifting snow and I followed them for about five miles back to Martley, where she thanked me and looked extremely relieved to be back on tarmac so she could get home with her baby.

It was an exciting and sociable morning, and really good to be able to help some people out between the official ‘ticketed’ jobs received from GW4x4R.

I went back to Richard’s for a few hours – he ended up assisting Herefordshire 4×4 Response for 11 hours that day – cleared some snow and gritted the steep lane near his house, then got ready to go back out to Great Witley for the next care workers’ visits.

So far this winter – from the snow falls of early December, to the recent Beasts – I’ve handled 11 call-outs and covered 325 miles in hazardous conditions. I already had an off-road driving qualification when I joined the group, but GW4x4R also provides professional BORDA (British Off Road Driving Association) training, which really helps illustrate the capability of your own vehicle. I have also taken numerous courses in vehicle recovery, towing and first aid over the years, which provides confidence and knowledge in dealing with emergencies safely.

People often think 4x4s are invincible, but you can still skid, slide, end up stuck and damage your own and other vehicles if you don’t know how to properly make use of your car’s features. I rather embarrassingly managed to get stuck in a three-foot drift on my own road in the last lot of snow but, with help from two neighbours, managed to dig myself out again!

You have to weigh up the conditions and risks and take into account that you’re out there on your own, or with someone in the car that’s relying on you and has confidence in you to get them to their place of work safely.

For anyone who owns a 4×4, enjoys driving, and likes a challenge, I would recommend becoming a 4×4 Response volunteer as a great way to help people in your local community. And it makes you feel good too!

By Teresa Nahajski (GW85), GW4x4 Response volunteer