A light drizzle hangs in the air as I wait to be beckoned down a steep rocky descent. I nudge forward and the 109-inch Series III station wagon lurches to the right, cocking its nearside rear wheel into the air. Gently caressing the brakes, I ease the Land Rover safely on to the beach, guided by a Land Rover Experience spotter.
I'm on the island of Islay, birthplace of Land Rover, driving models spanning seven decades of production. You may be shouting: 'Doesn't he know Anglesey was where the Land Rover was dreamt up - drawings in the sand and all that?' And yes, I do. But that's not where the story starts.
Spencer Wilks, Rover's managing director, bought a property on Islay in the 1930s and naturally used Rover cars to drive around the estate. One car, a P2 Rover 10, was given a suspension lift to cope with the rough tracks on the island. The story goes that Iain Fraser, Spencer Wilks' gamekeeper, looked at one lifted Rover sitting beside a standard one and said: 'So if that one is a Rover, I suppose we should call this one a "Land" Rover!'
The name sat locked away at the back of Spencer's brain until it could be given to the right vehicle - and that was the one famously sketched in the sand on Red Wharf Bay.
Changing vehicles at the art gallery at Sanaigmore, I jump behind the wheel of a soft-top Turbo Diesel Ninety. Looking at the odometer, I'm surprised to find it has only covered some 2000 miles. Why am I surprised? Well, it's one of the famous 40th Anniversary models that's often seen at Land Rover's events. Although much-photographed, it must spend much of its life stationary. This feels so much more cramped than the Series I, despite being some eight inches wider.
This 90 isn't the only 40th Anniversary model on the island - 'F40 NWK' is also here. There were meant to be other 40th anniversary models, but industrial action combined with management inaction put paid to them.
Driving the Rinns of Islay
Our chronological convoy trundles along the narrow lanes. The 107 leads, followed by Spencer Wilks' own 88-inch Series IIA - a vehicle that spent much of its life on the island - plus a Series III 109-inch, 40th Anniversary 90, V8 110 station wagon and brand-new Heritage Edition 90 hard top.
We drive through Port Charlotte and down to the sheltered fishing village of Port-nah-Abhainne at the end of Rinns of Islay.
Although Islay is exposed - the lack of trees outside plantations indicate it's too windy for them to take hold in the peaty soil, except in sheltered parts - it's not a cold place. The surrounding waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream and frosts are few. But winds can reach 115mph as they race acrosss the Atlantic - and Islay is the first land they hit.
We turn north and trickle along a minor road on the west of the island. There's little traffic and even though it's still drizzling, the 90 soft top, with the rear curtain rolled up, is a great place to be. We clack across cattle grids and squeeze through gateways before swinging off onto a farm track for another vehicle swap. I can see the sandy beach at Machir Bay ahead of us, but we're some 200 feet above it - and sheer cliffs sit between us and the beach.
I jump into the Series III station wagon and remember why I don't have adjustable seats in my Series Land Rovers - they sit me too high, so I have to stoop to see through the windscreen as we drop downhill.
The track hugs the hillside and steep drops sit to our left while the hillside rises to our right. We don't want to go too far left - that would see us plunging towards the sea and crashing on to the rocks. And if I go too far to the right I'll end up leaning on the bank.
The track is solid - a good base of stones helps support the vehicles - but the surrounding waterlogged peat is as soft as you can get.
One of the instructors calls me forward and gets me to drive seawards, precariously close to the cliff edge, before pointing left for me to turn the steering to haul the front round while allowing the rear to make it round the hairpin. Inch-by-inch I ease the Series III down until it's on the sand. I pull away gently, feeling the Land Rover momentarily dip as the tyres dig to find traction. The engine is revving higher than I'd like it to, I back off a little and hope this still has an engine-driven fan - they're designed for the Sahara, after all.
A wee dram?
We cross a couple of streams and make our way to the Kilchoman distillery at Rockside. Run by decendants of Spencer Wilks they naturally use a Land Rover at the distillery and for promotional purposes.
After a quick tour of the distillery, we jump into the V8 One Ten - one from Dr James Hull's collection bought by Jaguar Land Rover last year. The burble from the exhaust is a sound to behold, but the island isnt really the place to enjoy such a vehicle because I can barely get the engine above tickover on the narrow lanes.
We skirt Loch Indaal and make the climb up the straight hill from the pier at Bowmore to the prominent circular church overlooking the village. Turning off the road, we take a pot-holed track down towards Laggan, the One Ten's suspension soaking up the bumps, before stopping at the boathouse where Land Rovers would have been garaged in the past.
A touch of Heritage
It's been a journey through Land Rover's history and I'm brought right up to date with a drive in the Heritage Edition Defender 90.
Nimbly navigating a route along the access road, the Heritage Edition shows just how far the model has come. I leave the track and accelerate along the road, quietly and without fuss.
I'm tempted to break free of the group and disappear into the hills to spend longer exploring the island - it's a truly special place, both in Land Rover terms and beauty. I'll definitely make the journey back one day.