land rover experience eastnor castle

offroad but on message

Steve Walker on the world's greatest 4x4 Course.

If you own a 4x4, the chances are that you've never driven it offroad and even if you have, it's unlikely that you've ever explored its capabilities to the full. Land Rover pull out all the stops to endow their vehicles with genuine offroad capabilities and they like their customers to appreciate these efforts. That's one reason why they run a network of Land Rover Experience centres across the country. Just like the one at Eastnor Castle in Hertfordshire, where getting your tyres muddy is positively encouraged.

In recent years, we've witnessed a transformation in the way 4x4 vehicles are perceived. What once served solely as a specialist working vehicle is now a lifestyle accessory coveted more for its image than its actual abilities. Today, no mainstream manufacturer's product range is complete without a 4x4 of some description. We have ordinary superminis done-up to look like offroaders, 4x4s with just two driven wheels and posh luxury models, none of which perform particularly well when up to their axles in mud.

Despite this gentrification of the old-fashioned mud-plugger, there are still plenty of products on the market that will do the business offroad. Land Rover are one firm that takes particular pride in the fact that their 4x4s really can cope with some seriously arduous terrain and the Land Rover Experience is a way for them to show-off to the public at large.

There are Land Rover Experience centres all over the UK and across the world but if you really want to get to grips with Land Rovers in their native environment, Eastnor Castle is the place to go. The wooded hills around the 19th Century castle's estate are crisscrossed with tracks and peppered with obstacles of all descriptions. Eastnor, in many ways, is a second home for Land Rover and the place where the marque's engineers did development work for some of the current models as well as on the original Range Rover.

The Land Rover Experience driving days and courses are open to everyone - businesses, groups, Land Rover customers or just members of the public who fancy putting some 4x4s through their paces. The centre offers a whole range of different products for all abilities ranging from beginner tuition to full day adventure drives and the LANTRA professional users offroad course. There are also specialist courses on handling trailers, winching and GPS navigation, all run by expert instructors.

The different trails in the Eastnor woods offer something for everyone. There are relatively straightforward loops for beginners that still put the vehicles' traction to the test and can be a lot of fun. Then there are the miles of deeply rutted tracks that test a vehicle's ground clearance to the limit and beyond - asking big questions of the traction control systems in the process.

Just when you though the going was tough enough, you'll encounter one of Eastnor's specially-designed obstacles. The precipitous slopes for powering up or gingerly lowering yourself down with the aid of a Hill Decent Control system are always popular - and nerve wracking. Then there's 'Articulation Alley' where the vehicles are coaxed into unnatural angles of wheel articulation by inconveniently located holes in the ground. The water splashes are the highlight of the trip for many but always listen to you instructor's advice. Some of these murky pools are deeper than they look and exceeding a vehicle's wading depth is not the thing to do - especially if you've then got to bail it out and drive it home.

Land Rover have a great facility for offroad driving but they've taken care that their activities at this picturesque location don't impact on the environment any more than is necessary. The Experience is based in the estate's old walled garden where an existing building has been converted and equipped with various high-tech facilities. The different tracks and obstacles around the estate are carefully managed to avoid excessive wear and regularly re-graded to maintain their condition.

Any inexperienced offroad driver will come away from the Eastnor Land Rover Experience astounded by just what the vehicles will do. It also makes you wonder at people who purchase offroad vehicles with this depth of capability then use them for shopping and dropping the kids off at school. There are numerous different types of 4x4 on the market today and many of them would quickly come unstuck if treated to a trip round the Eastnor Castle estate. The Land Rover Experience provides the opportunity for Land Rover to shout about the genuine offroad pedigree of their own products but, as luck would have it, the whole thing is great fun as well. Want to find out more? You can log on to