On a Land Rover trek above and beyond in beautiful Scotland
The other Sunday morning my 12-year-old son got a call asking if he was playing Fornite on the Xbox. “No,” came the reply, “I’m throwing axes before I go to drive a Range Rover.”
It’s not your average Sunday morning itinerary for a pre-teen but then this wasn’t an average weekend. Rather than staring at a screen or mooching around the house, the boy had joined my wife and me for two days of outdoorsy off-roading fun, courtesy of the Land Rover Experience Scotland’s Under the Stars Adventure Trek weekend.
Now in its second year, the trek is an opportunity for Land Rover fans of all ages to explore the beautiful wilderness of rural Perthshire at the wheel of their pride and joy before settling down for an evening of food, drink and music beneath the stars.
And with access to more than 150 miles of empty off-road trails and the run of the 280-acre Dunkeld Park thanks to the Experience centre, owners had the perfect opportunity to make the most of their surroundings and the (mostly) spectacular weather.
The trek is a two-day event open to owners of any car bearing the famous green oval. With nothing more off-roady than an ancient Honda CR-V to our names, the Experience team kindly leant us one of their Defender 110s for the weekend.
After a briefing and bacon roll at the Experience HQ on the shores of Butterstone Loch, it was a short run on Tarmac before we speared off into the trees and started to climb.
The trek is largely self-guided, so you’re handed a map, pointed in the right direction and told to go and enjoy yourself, with marshals dotted along the route to keep you heading in the right direction and help see you through some of the trickier sections - which range from skinny log crossings to axle-twisting rock crawls.
The trails cut up into the hills surrounding Dunkeld, weaving through clusters of pine, along open moorland and up and down craggy hillsides bursting with vivid yellow gorse, thick sprawls of heather and clouds of white hawthorn. Lunch was by the side of the stunning Loch Ordie which sparkled in the sunshine as everything from 86-inch Series 1s to mid-2000s Range Rovers and brand new Defenders gathered on its shore next to the brilliant Bonnie Mountain catering van - a converted Land Rover, naturally.
The trek takes around fours at a leisurely pace and offers a fantastic blend of gentler stretches where you can enjoy the majestic views and some properly challenging pieces of terrain that require all your focus and remind you of just how capable these machines are. At particularly tough places there are gentler green routes for the “smaller” cars - think Freelander and Evoque - and red routes for big beasts like our Defender.
Viewed from the outside, some of these rutted, rooty and rock-strewn patches look truly formidable but from the driver’s seat the Defender breezed over them, flattering even the most inept drivers. It even made light, if slow, work of the imposing rock crawl, whose car-killing boulders made going tough for even experienced drivers in old-school Defenders.
After reaching the trial’s highest point which brought breathtaking vistas north towards the Cairngorms and west to the peak of Schiehallion in the distance it was time to head down towards Dunkeld Park, where an amazing array of vehicles gathered - from a fully trials-prepped 1950s Series 1 to early Discoveries and three Range Rovers that had competed in the gruelling G4 Challenge.
Perhaps most impressive to me was the family in their classic Defender 110 who completed the entire route while towing an absolutely massive trailer tent, complete with their bikes mounted on it.
Back at base camp, there were even more amazing machines to appreciate, including an array of Land Rover-based trials vehicles brought along by the friendly and welcoming Scottish Land Rover Owners’ Club. What these modified machines can do is mind-blowing, even by the standards of LRs and throughout the weekend their proud owners delighted kids of all ages with passenger rides around.
As the last of the stragglers arrived off the hills and fire pits sprung up, Bonnie Mountain laid on more delicious food and members of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band kicked off the evening’s entertainment, before Pete Caban and his band took to the stage, allowing attendees of all ages to kick back, relax and chat about all things Land Rover-related as the sun set and the stars peeked through the approaching rain clouds.
While Saturday was all about the trek, Sunday’s focus was on Dunkeld Park, where a host of free activities were put on for all ages. As well as the aforementioned axe throwing there were bushcraft skills lessons, driving challenges to test drivers’ low-speed manoeuvring abilities, and a bizarre push-me-pull-you Defender with two front ends. There was also the opportunity to take on a shorter off-road route that twisted through the tightly packed and ancient trees of Dunkeld Park.
There was even an opportunity for the very licence-less child to have a go at some off-roading himself, courtesy of the centre’s Young Off-Roader programme. The scheme runs at the Experience throughout the year but Trek attendees aged 11-17 got the chance for a free 30-minute taster at the wheel of a specially converted dual-control Evoque.
Our young petrolhead jumped at the chance and after a quick rundown of the basics was on the move, practising some simple manoeuvres on flat terrain before heading for tougher trails that tested his throttle, brake and steering control and the undoubted highlight - the wading pond. Even a brief unplanned detour off the trail didn’t phase instructor Jamie, one of the brilliant team who helped make the event so family friendly.
The trek is one of a number the Experience runs each year but is the only two-day event. After starting off small last year - with around a dozen vehicles - this saw more than 30 Land Rovers and almost 100 attendees. The LRE team’s intention is to keep expanding, adding more activities and attractions to the post-trek festivities but without losing the compact, friendly feel that made this year’s event so great.