Not all those who wander are lost.Great Britain remains locked together with epic back roads rarely explored by modern drivers, once the tarmac arteries keeping the country in motion before motorways took over, but the best ones on offer are waiting to be discovered on the west coast of Scotland - and we would heartily recommend venturing there for a weekend’s exploration.
The route of choice for those seeking a proper Celtic flavour takes a turn through Glasgow towards Greenock, before heading deep into Argyll and Bute, doubling back past Loch Lomond and terminating near Stirling - its 160 miles offering up one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. Unlike many routes discussed, this one can be driven any day of the week without the need to embrace the survival skills of Bear Grylls, either.
Departing the fringes of Glasgow towards the Western Ferries terminal outside Gourock, the quiet dual carriageway winding between small towns and long defunct industrial areas, you would be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed by the view. However, pushing on by Greenock, slicing through the coastal roads and arriving at the water’s edge awaiting the small car ferry, clocking the harbour on the other side of the water amid lurching rises of browns and greens, the view dictates that you have a very special driving experience on the way.
And what a car to take on Scotland with. Much can be found online and in print to rubbish the Freelander 1, but most of this lampooning comes from Land Rover purists claiming the Freelander isn’t a proper 4x4, or from those who have bought a poor example and scratched their heads in annoyance when it coughs and dies after 50,000 miles of unserviced abuse.
Bearing in mind that the Freelander still bears the green oval, it does hold a few traits that would leave those of an already sour disposition complaining unfairly, but as a hybrid between tough off-roader and family-friendly car, nothing comes close. It’s a Suzuki Vitara that can actually perform in the mud. It’s a Ford Focus that can tow a boat. It’s a Toyota Rav 4 with the ability to climb a small mountain. It’s a proper Land Rover. A Land Rover that I then tried to drive onto a passenger only ferry.
After stopping for diesel, timing was tight for making our crossing - not that we had long to wait should we have missed the boat, the timetable sends a ferry out every 20 minutes - and in a hurry to reach the docks, I managed to mix up the terminals. Venturing down the single file lane, team Freelander whisked straight by a large car park before passing lines of people raising their eyebrows at our appearance beyond the open barrier, admittedly tight for the Freelander to squeeze through. The road certainly narrowed to the point a car could no longer continue.
Confused, I slid the window down to ask for instructions. As it turned out, there was a ferry for vehicles and another for foot passengers. I was currently trying to board the wrong one. Performing the three-point turn of shame in front of the bemused crowd now gathered, I hit the road for the three-mile jaunt towards the correct form of boat. Feeling the pressure to catch the ferry and keep to my schedule, the Td4 Freelander coped with a heavy dose of acceleration without protest. Whoever said you couldn’t get tyre squeal out of a first-generation Freelander is a liar. Clattering up the ramp, the ferryboat left the pier bang on time with myself and the Freelander ogling forward at the outline of the mountains before us.
Disembarking in Dunoon, the real driving roads opened up once through the town of Sandbank and onto the B836. Swift right-hand bends mixed with long casual straights and fluctuating gradients kept my attention on the road, as lashings of forestry and rolling glens dipped and climbed through the windscreen. If unwary, these roads could catch a driver out - as I discovered entering some corners a tad faster than deemed acceptable - whoever said you couldn’t get oversteer and understeer from the same car is also a liar.
Pulling over to admire the scenery before my driving behaviour plunged the plucky Freelander into a ravine, I looked out over Loch Riddon at the summit of an incredibly steep pass. Standing in the midst of the hills, surrounded by wilderness in the crisp sunshine, I was completely alone. It almost felt like I owned the place. I’m not sure how much time passed as I acted monarch of the glen, but it was enough to find the Land Rover’s handbrake creaking under stress. Before something out of a Benny Hill sketch launched backwards towards a watery oblivion, I made my way onwards to Portavadie.
Arriving at my destination, I realised this was a complete first for me in the world of Land Rovers. I had covered a vast dollop of mileage without a single breakdown, mishap or hiccup from the running gear. My back wasn’t aching, I wasn’t cold and my ears hadn’t been abused to the point I was deaf.
In a way, I was glad my P38 had refused to attempt the journey. While a wafty big thing, the Freelander felt sporty in comparison. The feedback through the wheel and the spritely heave over bumps provided by the suspension set up made for inane grinning for miles on end. It also ate less fuel, too, and I didn’t live in fear of a mechanical breakdown every 15 miles.
However, that was the relaxing drive over - for there was a challenge to complete. A challenge my Range Rover P38 had been unable to so much as reach the starting line for. 500 miles. One tank of fuel. No breakdowns. Unlike my other Land Rovers, the Freelander would no doubt make mincemeat of the task.