There are few things which scream ‘Britishness’ quite as much as the iconic Land Rover Defender. Together with the original Mini and the Jaguar E Type, the Defender represents cool Britannia on four wheels.
A firm favourite of Her Majesty, the original Land Rover Series was released over 68 years ago. 2 million vehicles later, production finally ended in January this year when the last Defender rolled off the production line.
I was recently invited by Land Rover to take one of the final production Defender’s off-road around the stunning Peckforton Castle in leafy Cheshire.
The Land Rover Experience Drives provide you with the opportunity to sample from the driver’s seat just what their amazing vehicles are capable of as you’re guided around several obstacles, from gravity-defying muddy climbs, to sheer drops and water crossings.
You’re provided with a choice of vehicles to use, from the luxurious Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, to the versatile Discovery and beautifully compact Discovery Sport.
Exceptional as each of these vehicles undoubtedly are, I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity to drive a British national treasure in its most natural habitat. There was only one choice for me - the trusty Defender, dutifully guarded by Perry the peacock.
The experiences are led by professional instructors who are at pains to ensure that you have an enjoyable and safe visit. Our instructor, Andy, began by giving us a briefing in the safety of the reception area. He wanted to learn more about us and asked what type of cars we drove, when I answered “a black one” I think he grasped just how limited my car knowledge is.
Andy took the wheel initially and drove us out of the Castle gates and on to the off-road track. He not only had an impressive knowledge of the car but was also able to navigate us around the beautiful Cheshire countryside we were exploring, stopping us at certain vantage points to look across to Liverpool and Wales.
We wound our way up the bendy track into the wilderness, the landscape and scenery changing constantly as we climbed up to higher ground, with a sheer 200ft drop to our right. The Castle’s grounds are incredibly beautiful, especially at this time of year. A sea of vibrant greens meet your eye everywhere you look.
As we drove to the off-road course Andy explained why Land Rovers are so capable in tough conditions. The Defender has 12 forward gears and 2 reverse, equally divided between high-range (for road driving) and low-range (for off-road and more slippery terrain), and with a gutsy engine, permanent four-wheel drive and a high ground clearance the Defender can cover ground like very few vehicles.
Once we reached safer ground it was my turn to get behind the wheel. The interior is simple yet practical, with an unexpected touch of luxury in the form of Alcantara headlining.
Originally intended for use by the army, it is like nothing I’ve driven before. Completely robust, the Defender gives you great confidence to tackle whatever lies in front of you. With the low ratio gears engaged, none of the obstacles stopped the car in its tracks.
First gear in low-range takes you to a speed not much quicker than walking pace. Over challenging terrain slow-but-steady is the name of the game; a message which I’m told was lost in translation when the Russian version of Top Gear visited (tracks designed to be driven at 20mph were driven at 70mph+).
All was going swimmingly until Andy requested that I turn left, off the track and directly into a lake. As we were approaching he explained to me that the water was at the absolute height that the Defender could wade through.
Clearly noting the worried expression on my face he told me to “just go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?!”.
I followed his instructions and dipped the car down into the pool of water, careful not to cause any ripples. Like a swan, the Defender glided calmly across the water, the mechanics working feverishly below the surface taking us to dry land.
The old quarry is where things really got interesting; the steep inclines and descents pushed me to my boundaries.
Starting with Del’s Dip, which prompted me to shriek “Holy crap!!!” such is the drop. I was then taken to the part of the experience I was most looking forward to, a seesaw for grown ups.
Andy directed me to drive the car up the ramp until all four wheels were on, I then had to nudge carefully forward until the Defender pivoted in the centre. The weight of the vehicle gradually transferred and we dropped down on the other side.
I was then taken to Kings Drop, which had the steepest descent of the day, not for the faint-hearted!
By the end of the session, I’d stopped asking myself whether the Defender could do it and instead wondered whether I could do it. The experience takes you to your absolute limits, but nowhere near the car’s capabilities.
The Land Rover Experience Drives are a hugely enjoyable way to spend a day. Even if you're not a car enthusiast you will enjoy the adventure.
I can’t imagine a way of having more fun driving without ever exceeding 5mph!
01829 260 930
Cocktail Saturdays was a guest of Jaguar Land Rover Limited.