PBO columnist Dave Selby’s voyage of Discovery reaches high and low in Wales
The ‘What the…’ expressions on the faces of oncoming drivers say it all: ‘What on earth is that bloke doing UP HERE, towing THAT?’
They probably think I’m either English or lost – or both. After all, it can’t be often you see a 7m (23ft) yacht ascending the Cambrian Mountains in Wales and heading for the summit. Llamas are more likely in these parts, Dalai ones.
You can see by the expression on my face that I’m enjoying myself. And that is even more unusual, ‘cos I normally hate towing. I’m at the wheel of the very latest Land Rover Discovery 4, the range-topping SDV6 HSE. Hitched up behind is a beautiful, brand-new BayCruiser 23 from Swallow Boats, and we’re headed for Clywedog Sailing Club, one of the most enchanting and unusual sailing clubs in Britain. It must also be among the very highest, as what was once a valley was dammed off in the 1960s to create a reservoir whose surface is 285m above sea level.
But Clywedog is some way off as our 12.2m-long rig rolls out of Aberystwyth. From here on it’s all uphill, and with each mile inland the Welsh hills become more beautiful, a rhythm of upward swoops and curves with dappled sun sparkling through a lush green canopy above. The A44 is a driver’s road and I’m enjoying it. I’m towing around 850kg of boat and trailer, but the SDV6 HSE with its 8-speed automatic transmission is making it a breeze. The 3-litre turbo diesel V6 delivers prodigious power with low-down torque that takes the labour out of hill climbing, even when towing. What’s more, I’ve got additional back-up in the form of Trailer Stability Assist. While I’m driving along, sensors are monitoring the wheels and trailer inputs for any sign of oscillation or swaying. If it starts to get out of shape the system uses selective braking to sort it out and calm everything down. This is towing without stress.
The view of Clywedog Reservoir from the summit is stunning. Now it’s downhill – steeply – on a muddy, narrow and rutted single-track road with soft verges that have dropped away in places. It’s a comfort to know that Gradient Acceleration Control is working away in the background to prevent the Discovery 4 getting away from me.
And there we are at Clywedog Sailing Club – but we’re not quite there yet. We’ve still got to reverse down the slip; the side cameras help me steer between posts at the side of the slip, and the wide-angle rear camera shows me more than I could ever see in the mirror.
In half an hour, we’re rigged and sailing. This may be as close as I ever get to sailing in Norway’s fjords, sailing over a sunken valley where sheep once grazed 61m below and nudging close under the high rocky shores, tacking with inches to spare. It’s magical and eerie too, for all that’s holding back 50,000 megalitres of water is the tallest concrete dam in the UK.
Back in the 1980s a Land Rover Defender pulled itself up the 72m-high dam on its own winch in a breathtaking TV advertisement – and in 2011 we’ve made a little mark of our own. The BayCruiser 23 is quite probably the largest boat to have scaled the Cambrian Mountains and sailed Clywedog Reservoir. It’s a voyage of Discovery made possible by the latest Land Rover.
*Not all features are standard on all derivatives
FUEL ECONOMY FIGURES FOR DISCOVERY 4 SDV6 HSE: mpg (lt/100km) urban 28.8 (9.8); extra urban 34.9 (8.1); combined 32.1 (8.8). Co2 emissions g/km: 230