Cousins take The Banjul Express to The Gambia

A 4000 mile journey over mountains, desert sands and dangerous political landscape starts this week in Sidley in a decrepit Ford Fiesta costing under £300.

Monday, 22nd December 2008, 12:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 8:15 pm

Stuart Franks, 41, and cousin Les Hughes, 57, have entered the Plymouth-Dakar Challenge, a shoestring version of the annual Paris-Dakar Rally. Teams have three weeks to drive a low budget, left hand drive car from Plymouth to Banjul, in The Gambia.

Stuart contacted his cousin after spotting an advert for the race in a travel magazine in January. In March, the pair spent 290 on a 16 year old Fiesta and formed "The Banjul Express". Their preparation budget stretched to a roof rack and some stickers.

The rusty blue car leaves Les's house in Sidley on Boxing Day at half past nine and must be nursed 1,200 miles across Europe in two days to join the race convoy, which aims to be in Marrakech for New Year's Eve.

Their route takes them over Moroccan snows, the Sahara Desert and through the dangerous Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Following a military coup in August, the British Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel, warning of a high risk of terrorism and kidnapping by Al-Qa'ida, particularly outside main urban areas.

Undeterred, the team is intent on driving off-road.

Les said: "My main concern isn't the terrorism or anything like that. It's that we might miss the bloody desert, then we'd have to drive on tarmac and shoot through rather than spending our time there.

"The other thing about the desert route is you don't have to go through all the road blocks. All they're interested in is extracting bribes from you. We've stocked up on football shirts and biros."

This relaxed attitude was perhaps developed over past adventures. Twenty years ago, this paper covered Les's journey around Africa in a Land Rover.

He spent two years exploring the continent, driving down the west coast before floating the vehicle back up the Congo River on a barge.

Co-driver Stuart has travelled in many parts of the world, including India, Israel, and much of Eastern Europe.

After the finish line, all cars will be auctioned and the funds distributed to local causes. The cousins, who themselves are raising funds for Bexhill Air Cadets and International Animal Rescue, fly back on January 22.

The progess of the Banjul Express can be viewed via SMS text messages sent to the race website,

Stuart and Les have more information about their journey, including sponsorship forms, at