To be honest, at first glance the whole concept of off-roading is a little ridiculous. No, you say. No. I won’t use the snaking pieces of asphalt which engulf the UK, (and let’s be truthful; pretty much every country in the developed world) but rather subject my occupants to treacherous drops, jolting rocky lanes, and a whole host of mud and untold misery. It just seems mad. To take such a view would, however, not only be completely misjudging what off-roading is all about, but more importantly be doing a disservice to the cohorts of people who indulge in this fantastic pastime at every possible opportunity.
To understand off-roading, you need to experience it. To do just that we made our way down to Yorkshire Outdoors in Thirsk where, after a few pieces of paper were signed, I scrambled into the Land Rover Defender 110 I would soon be piloting across the muddy, icy landscape. The interior, which was almost as filthy as the bodywork, was as basic as they come. Forget your climate control, massaging seats, and contrast leather stitching; this Land Rover had low range transfer case, proper manual gearbox, and chunky tyres outside to ensure that getting stuck would be virtually impossible.
Once I’d had my ten minutes of ‘keep your thumbs outside the wheel, only use gears 1 and 2, and never use the brakes’ I was all set to match whatever this technical course could throw at me. The first part of the session was for just getting used to this style of driving. You see, driving off road requires a totally different mindset to driving on the road; it’s all about progressive throttle input, staying away from the pedals as you control your hill decent, and learning when to keep the power on as you go uphill. To be honest, once you’ve mastered the basics it becomes relatively easy to control the car and make constant progress.
It was about twenty minutes in when we reached the base of a very steep, muddy hill. My instructor stressed the importance of changing into second about halfway up in order to maintain traction and come out at the top stress-free. Feeling confident, as the revs started to build I pressed the clutch in, slammed the gear into second, let the clutch off, gave the throttle a fair push and we instantly gained traction, flying up the hill as if we were escaping from enemy-fire. That was fun. Another memorable part was when we had to creep over the edge of a hill and, using no pedals, let the car find traction and navigate the drop by itself. Though instantly feeling it to be counter-intuitive, I followed my instructions and was hugely impressed at the fact that the car had managed to arrive at the base of the hill, passengers still intact.
At the end of the hour I was content in the fact that I had made the Land Rover suitably muddy. If felt right that I had treated it how it was designed for. No matter how many gadget-laden Discovery’s and Range Rover’s Land Rover churn out over the next few years, I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that pretty much everybody will miss the now discontinued Defender. There is something incredibly satisfying about using a car properly, with no fear of the next scratch or dent but rather a sense of freedom as you plough through mud, ice, rocks; and did I mention mud? As for those off-roading addicts who keep off the asphalt; I completely get it.