Range Rover Ve­lar

Mem­o­rable pil­grim­age to Is­lay

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❝ The Ve­lar de­liv­ers the im­pe­ri­ous waf­tage req­ui­site of the Range Rover badge ❞

“My wife’s grand­mother was mad keen on fish­ing,” says An­thony Wills. And thus, the but­ter­fly ef­fect did its work, and now more than seven mil­lion ve­hi­cles have worn the ‘Land Rover’ badge. It’s true: thanks to an an­gling granny, the mud-plug­ging moniker was first coined on the re­mote Scot­tish is­land of Is­lay, which be­came an un­of­fi­cial Land Rover test­ing ground for nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury. The whole story – both ver­sions of it – is told on page 51.

And so it is that pho­tog­ra­pher Luc Lacey and I are bound for Is­lay in a brand-new Range Rover Ve­lar. With us, a 1967 photo of a white-haired, flat-capped Spencer Wilks – then pres­i­dent of Rover – ford­ing Is­lay’s River Lag­gan in chas­sis ‘100/1’, first of the 100in-wheel­base sta­tion wag­ons that would be­come the Range Rover. The top-se­cret 100/1 was badged ‘Ve­lar’, from the Latin ve­lare – to veil or con­ceal.

But de­spite Range Rover’s present­day syn­onymy with op­u­lence, the orig­i­nal was rel­a­tively spar­tan. And the modern Ve­lar’s mono­coque has more in com­mon with Jaguar’s XF and F-pace than its Range Rover sta­ble­mates. So, with its lav­ish­ness and sa­loon-de­rived un­der­pin­nings, can the Ve­lar not only take us to Is­lay in cos­seted com­fort, but also tackle the rough stuff once we’re there?

Such was the orig­i­nal Range Rover’s sig­nif­i­cance in in­dus­trial de­sign, it was ex­hib­ited at the Lou­vre upon its launch in 1970. We’re toe­ing that line by start­ing our jour­ney at the Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery of Modern Art in Ed­in­burgh, the Ve­lar’s sharp fea­tures and im­pos­ing sil­hou­ette nes­tled be­tween the gallery’s neo-clas­si­cal Modern One build­ing and Land­form, a sub­stan­tial, rip­pled earth­work sculp­ture of grass and wa­ter by Charles Jencks. I’m torn be­tween deep pon­der­ings about the va­lid­ity of mass-pro­duced cars as art and a strong urge to blat up/over/through Land­form in a spon­ta­neous test of the Ve­lar’s climb­ing and wad­ing abil­i­ties. We de­part be­fore it takes hold.

Our Ve­lar is an HSE P300, mean­ing top spec­i­fi­ca­tion and top per­for­mance thanks to a tur­bocharged 2.0-litre In­ge­nium petrol four-pot de­liv­er­ing 296bhp and 295lb ft. It saun­ters agree­ably out of town, the eight-speed ZF auto keep­ing shifts gen­tle and revs low. Then it’s an easy mooch west along the M8, where the Ve­lar de­liv­ers the im­pe­ri­ous waf­tage req­ui­site of the Range Rover badge. The en­gine is silent at 70mph and power suf­fi­cient; ad­di­tional cylin­ders would be frivolous here. The cabin feels lux­u­ri­ous, too, but that’s as much down to its avant-garde de­sign as the ma­te­ri­als used, which are neatly ap­plied but not quite as plush as you’ll find fur­ther up the range.

We turn north, lop­ing along­side lochs Lomond and Long, then the land­scape be­comes wilder in craggy Glen Croe where we sum­mit Rest and Be Thank­ful then push for the north bank of Loch Fyne. The smooth and wind­ing lochside road is stip­pled with am­bling hol­i­day­mak­ers, but the Ve­lar soaks up the task with ease and frus­tra­tion is al­layed by stop-offs in the iso­lated Ge­or­gian idyll of In­ver­aray and the cosy har­bour at Tar­bert.

From there, it’s a short hop to Ken­nacraig to board the sub­stan­tial MV Fin­lag­gan, part of Cale­do­nian Macbrayne’s red-fun­nelled fleet that so of­ten her­alds is­land ad­ven­tures. It’s blow­ing a hoolie at sea, but we ven­ture on deck to mar­vel at the im­pos­ing, moun­tain­ous and barely in­hab­ited Isle of Jura be­fore land­ing at Port Askaig, a tiny col­lec­tion of white­washed build­ings crammed into a lush ravine on Is­lay’s east coast.

In­spired by the en­chant­ing set­ting, we in­dulge in an ex­ploratory evening recce. On the sin­gle-track road through the moors of Dun­los­sit Es­tate, the Ve­lar feels wide (it’s a third wider than the first Land Rovers) and seems to con­sume the road, only sharper hump­backs test­ing its com­po­sure. In a se­ries Land Rover, four senses would be bristling, but the Ve­lar’s cabin feels more like an insulated view­ing gallery from which to ob­serve the scenery.

We visit Port Ellen, with its lit­tle white cres­cent beach, and breathe in petroleous peat smoke from the vil­lage’s enor­mous malt­ings – our first en­counter with Is­lay’s world­fa­mous whisky in­dus­try. The road

to our overnight stop at Bow­more then ar­rows past stacks of freshly cut peat among the bog cot­ton and reeds on one of those glow­ing, still evenings that let you for­give Scot­land its wilder mo­ments.

Spencer Wilks’s Lag­gan Es­tate was sold in 1998, but his grand­daugh­ter, Kathy – whose fa­ther, Thomas, may or may not have in­vented the Land Rover name – still oc­cu­pies the farm­house with her hus­band, the afore­men­tioned An­thony Wills. The Wills fam­ily is one of the Wilks branches not to have con­tin­ued with Rover but in­stead em­braced the in­dus­try of its ter­roir, An­thony hav­ing founded Kil­choman Dis­tillery on Is­lay’s west coast in 2005. Unique on the is­land, Kil­choman is a ‘farm dis­tillery’ that sources a quar­ter of the bar­ley it needs from its own 2000-acre farm that’s also home to 450 Scot­tish Black­face sheep and, soon, Aberdeen An­gus cat­tle. Where bet­ter to test our Ve­lar’s off-road met­tle?

We meet Wills on a balmy morn­ing, the heady aroma of dis­til­la­tion bil­low­ing around Kil­choman’s in­dus­tri­ous clus­ter of build­ings old and new. Be­fore we let loose on the farm, he takes us on a tour to show how the dis­tillery pro­duces the equiv­a­lent of 600,000 bot­tles of sin­gle malt an­nu­ally.

“Is­lay is very fer­tile, so you can grow bar­ley, you can burn peat to dry it and there’s lots of wa­ter. The peat on Is­lay has a salty, iodiney char­ac­ter ver­sus main­land peat, help­ing give Is­lay whisky its dis­tinc­tive style,” Wills ex­plains. From malt­ing floor to peat kiln, mash­ing, fer­ment­ing and dis­till­ing through two cop­per stills, we fol­low the process from grain to clear al­co­holic spirit, which is de­canted into im­ported bour­bon or sherry casks for mat­u­ra­tion. Af­ter a min­i­mum of three years, you have Scotch whisky.

We must wait for a taste, though, as fan­tas­ti­cally named gen­eral man­ager Is­lay Heads is ready to take us around the farm. He’ll be lead­ing in Kil­choman’s own De­fender 110 work­horse, and we’ll at­tempt to fol­low. Along the dusty lanes, the 110 shuf­fles on its live axles, re­veal­ing sur­face im­per­fec­tions we’re obliv­i­ous to in the Ve­lar. Then it’s into a field and we en­gage the Ter­rain Re­sponse sys­tem’s ‘grass/gravel/snow’ mode, which re­tards the throt­tle and remaps the gear­box to ward off wheel­spin. Though our Ve­lar fea­tures 37mm less clear­ance than the De­fender, we tra­verse a nasty ditch with­out trou­ble, then our minia­ture con­voy tack­les some side slopes, and Hill De­scent Con­trol (HDC) edges us steadily down a steep gra­di­ent, my feet free of the pedals.

The Ve­lar’s cen­tral multi-plate wet clutch sends most torque rear­ward in typ­i­cal road driv­ing; it’s been silently do­ing its work and we’ve felt no wheel­spin at all. In fact, it’s the De­fender, which is wear­ing road-bi­ased rub­ber, that blinks first, mo­men­tar­ily break­ing trac­tion as it slith­ers up a steep, grassy hill. The Ve­lar gal­lops neatly up with some throt­tle.

PHOTOGR APHY LUC LACEY

Top-spec Ve­lar HSE P300 con­ceals its util­i­tar­ian roots well

A tem­po­rary ex­hibit at the Scot­tish Na­tional Gallery of Modern Art

There’s no driver set­ting to smooth over this jour­ney

Sorry, but this loch’s not for ford­ing

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