VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY- THE LAND ROVER EXPERIENCE
“Done anything like this before?” asks David Mitchell in his soft Liverpudlian accent as he leads me out to an incredibly clean looking Land-Rover Discovery 4. “We’ve been saving this one for you. It’s brand new, never been out before. Shame the weather’s not been a bit wetter then we could really have some fun, eh?” That’s not really the kind of conversation you expect from a driving instructor before a first lesson, but then Mr Mitchell isn’t you average kind of instructor. Come to think of it, what I’m about to embark on isn’t your average kind of driving lesson either.
David’s been driving Land-Rovers and Range-Rovers nearly everyday since he bought his first one in 1966. He’s now got a collection of fifteen. You sense that they’re not just in his garage, they’re in his blood. It’s no wonder then he’s the Lead Instructor at the Land-Rover Experience and the perfect guide to the grounds of the magnificent Peckforton Castle where it’s based. Designed to show prospective Land-Rover buyers, existing owners or those of us who’ve wondered just how legendary a Land-Rover’s off road capability really is, the Land-Rover Experience courses can be tailored to suit the requirements of the customer. And with over 500 acres of woodland to explore there’s no shortage of possibilities.
After a jovial safety briefing and a nice cup of tea David drives me out of the castle’s courtyard, and into the woods. It’s time to swap seats. The first thing he explains is the Discovery’s adjustable suspension settings. Pressing the button on the centre console raises us up to near Eddie Stobart levels and allows more clearance between the Disco’s body work and the wheels. After adjusting my seat and selecting “low-box” – the second set of lower ratio gears which give us more control – I’m instructed to put the Terrain Response Mode in to Mud, Ruts and Snow, and select Drive. A gentle pressure on the accelerator has us on the move. “The trick is to look well ahead” says David “Drive as slowly a possible but as fast as necessary.”
At first, as I guide the Discovery in to the deep ruts of the forest tracks, our progress is bumpy. In places I’m making wheels leave the ground and we’re well and truly being shaken around. A few gentle words of advice from the passenger seat later and everything, including me, starts to settle down. As with all good driving, the correct technique seems to be a combination of smooth inputs and forward planning. Twisting the steering wheel from side to side makes little difference in terrain like this. You’re more likely to have your course dictated by the rainwater and mud of the axle-deep-trenches than you are by doing anything at the Discovery’s helm. When you regain grip it’s better to have the front wheels pointing straight ahead than in any other direction. You can begin to plot your course again then, not before.
But it’s when we reach the 200 metre Stanner Nab viewpoint from where, on a clear day at least, you can see not only the Land-Rover factory at Halewood, but the whole of what’s affectionately called by one of David’s fellow instructors, as The Liverpool Riviera (you’ll know it better as The Wirral) that I receive the most bizarre instruction of the day. After selecting the Hill Descent Mode and inching forward over a crest, I’m told to keep my feet off the pedals and let the Discovery do its thing. An army of sensors, locking differentials, the traction control system and the ABS work together to bring nearly two and half tonnes of four-wheel-drive finery down an incline you’d struggle to walk up with the kind of grace you simply wouldn’t expect. It inspires confidence; you can’t fail to be impressed.
Later on back at Peckforton I ask David what else can be learnt here. “Oh we do everything” he says, “Trailer tuition, Winching, GPS Navigation … Today was just a taster”. Sound interesting. This was my first lesson, I’ve a feeling it won’t be my last.
Many thanks to everyone at The Land-Rover Experience Cheshire www.lrecheshire.co.uk, 0844 848 6001