Butterstone Land Rover Experience
From one extreme to another (Part 2)
There is a moment, as I point the nose of the snowy Range Rover Sport towards a 65? rutted, rock-strewn downhill slope, that I suddenly feel very awake. Don't get me wrong, my full English was mind-blowingly good, but adrenaline is far more effective than caffeine.
?Now take your feet off the pedals and just steer,? says my instructor Jill, a Defender monomaniac and magnet to anything with speed, grit and sense of adventure. I shoot her a look as if to say: ?Did you forget to take your vitamins this morning, you crazy jester?' The goose down and Egyptian cotton I was wrapped in two hours earlier are long forgotten.
?Let the car do the work for you,? she insists with a smile. And, of course, she's right. The hill descent control feature is remarkable, guiding me down the hostile slant in an orderly and smooth manner that defies physics. This is a car that weighs the same as a small house (2.5 tons to be more factual). It's an obese ballet dancer.
It is just one of many impressive mod cons, and under Jill's expertise we set about exploring the upper limit of its capabilities on a handful of the 70 miles of upland forest and moorland track the centre has at its disposal. Jill even tries her best to get us stuck, but a touch of a button here or turn of a knob there, and the Sport grinds its way over anything in its path - despite having everyday road tyres on. I can't help but think how many people must own these vehicles - Evoques, Freelanders, Discoveries, etc. - but have no idea as to their true competence.
I could happily delve into the micro details of the array of technological wizardry, but getting into the driving seat yourself is the only way to truly fathom their aptitude over severe terrain. The water depth around the wheels is measured, the suspension lifts to ensure you don't belly-out, cameras, double differentials, everything around the vehicle is monitored and analysed. It's much like driving a laptop.
Although for some this may sound as if the human element of driving skill is being removed, Jill sprinkles her magic and demonstrates that this is far from the case. There is still plenty for veteran drivers to sink their teeth and axles into.
Situated on the banks of Butterstone Loch, the chic cabin perches within a SSSI, with stunning backdrops in every which direction. Osprey sightings are common, with Loch of the Lowes just a minute or two down the road. It is a hub of activity, with trout and pike fishing, quad trekking and clay pigeon shooting also available, and a lovely team behind the scenes.
And unlike other activities, unforgiving winter weather doesn't put a halt to off-road proceedings. In fact, as Jill explains enthusiastically, if anything, it enhances the thrill, with snow and ice adding an additional challenge.
Getting out of the plush Range Rover at the end of the day is depressing - it is one hell of a machine. My mulish Focus, sporting chipped paint and smelling like the inside of a bicycle helmet, is pathetic in comparison. It struggles on the wet leaves carpeting the car park. It's like spending the day gallivanting with Scarlet Johansson, and then going home with a weathered spinster.
But - and it's a big but - on the plus side, I am heading back to the warm welcome of Kinloch House. This is my sort of package.