Being disabled does not mean the end of all country pursuits, especially if you own a Defender
Perthshire is big tree country, with the highland boundary fault line dividing the rich, rolling fields of grain from the sub-Arctic climate of the large mountain ranges. At the core of this county is the River Tay, Scotland’s longest, where ordinary Scottish folk come to enjoy extraordinary fishing experiences. We all know that wherever people enjoy country pursuits, you will find Land Rovers, right from the earliest classic models to the latest £100,000-plus models. Now that the UK-based production of the Defender 90 and 110 as we know it is coming to an end, some of us are rightfully worried. This includes part time ghillie and countryman Charlie MacDonald, who, due to his disability, needs a little help when he wants to get to the mountain, moorland or riverbank.
This is where a 110 is a brilliant choice, with a wide range of modifications and extras available to enhance its already legendary off-road abilities when the going gets tough. Charlie explains why his immaculately-prepared two-year-old Defender is so important to him: “I use it to get access to fields and river banks which would not be possible on foot because of my disability. Now that we know that they will stop making them in their current form in the UK, those of us who need and use them for real off-road work should be very concerned. It’s important to highlight this issue to those with disabilities, as currently the Defender is their best option.” Charlie was born with Larsen Syndrome, a rare bone disorder that causes shallowing of the joints. It gave him two dislocated hips and a whole heap of pain and years in hospital as a young boy. It was during his days in hospital that he decided that nothing would stop him living as full a life as possible, and that's exactly what he's done despite his ability, thanks to his Defender. His disability means he has to draw on inner reserves of strength and confidence when the unexpected happens. Charlie explains: “I dislocated my good hip again and spent over four years on crutches as a result. While that was going on, a mate from Melton Mowbray asked me to take over the shooting on a local farm when he had to go back down south, so I thought: how on earth am I going to get into the fields?
But the doctors surprised me with a new ceramic hip, and eight weeks after the operation, I was back driving a Land Rover. When pigeon shooting I used camouflaged crutches that fitted perfectly into the Defender’s rear load space. The Land Rover is a super vehicle for getting to any type of shooting or fishing in any weather, plus it carries everything I need.” Target shooting helps Charlie keep his eye in. He is a member of the rifle club at Blairgowrie, and was lucky enough to take part in the Scottish lightweight sporting rifle event. In his first year he got the bronze, then the following year silver, so he went for the gold and got it the following year. Before his Defender, Charlie used a Discovery 1 as a short-term solution but it was not the most reliable so he walked into the main dealer in Perth, crutches and all, and bought the Defender.
“When asked if I had one in mind, I said: ‘A seven-seater 2.2 top-of-the-range station wagon and the wee bairn will pick the colour'. My daughter Chloe chose Galway Green. When I went back to collect it, I asked for a snorkel and roof rack – you can’t have a Defender without a snorkel. "The wife said: ‘Why the snorkel?' and I replied that I might go scuba diving! The kids love their Land Rover, and named it Swampy after a TV series, as they reckon their Dad could catch alligators with it! Chloe is in charge of cleaning the wheels, while David, who is younger, does the mudflaps and steps, as I can’t get down to them.” Since purchasing his most prized possession Charlie has spent a bob or two getting it ready for country pursuits and making it more disabled driver friendly. In fact he reckons that so far he has invested £40,000 in his Defender. It has an electrically-controlled central floodlight that makes life a bit easier for Charlie when out at night shooting foxes. He's also added several other ideas of his own. The roofrack has been modified for ladders and fishing equipment and he's fitted a host of extras from tried and tested off-road gear suppliers such as Land Rover Pentland, Terrafirma, Frogs Island and All Four Wheels. What about when things go wrong out in the wilds? “I also have a full survival kit in it as it can be dangerous at the side of the road, say if you're dispatching an animal. Also, the winters can be cold and it's very reassuring to know that you have survival gear in the cabin with you,” explains Charlie. When the topic turns to fishing, Charlie gets a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve fished all my life, and Swampy helps me to keep on living the dream. I did a lot of trout fishing, then helped out as a ghillie on the Tay, then later on I got involved with the local angling club.” Charlie has been a pioneer for disabled access in the countryside and he was involved in the disabled access control point at Loch Dunmore near Pitlochry. Before that he worked with the Forestry Commission on a disabled access walk project to a coarse fishing loch to make it even more inclusive.
The reason why he chose a Defender is that he can get into it more easily than any other 4x4, due to the flatness of the seats and the height. He has further modified the seats with risers lifting them another 2.5 inches. As there is not a lot of wriggle space in a Defender he used a TerraFirma kit to move the seat further back. Land Rover Pentland in Perth have been extremely helpful to Charlie and his needs and have gone out of their way to find and fit whatever he needed. The local agricultural engineers, the Wilks Brothers, have also been a fantastic help, and let Charlie use their big ramp to reapply Waxoyl to the chassis. For now his biggest concern is that Land Rover will leave him high and dry without UK-made Defenders. "If I’m stuck up the hill with a broken leg or other injury, I want the mountain rescue to come for me in a Defender, not some fancy 4x4. As a kid I used to draw Land Rovers that were very basic, but this Defender meets all my off-road needs. I’ve got an older SWB Series III as my next project, to bring it back to a useful life.” As we drove down to the fishings at Murthly estate, I thought about the life and times of Charlie MacDonald and his adapted Land Rover. Both of them, I reflect, are definitely fit for country pursuits.
Land Rover Defender 110
XS Station Wagon 2.2
• Seat risers • Terrafirma front bumper • 1200lb Superwinch • Rear NAS bumper • Four LED side lamps • Four 8-inch roof spot lamps • Snow cowlings • Headlight washers • Expedition roofrack • Snorkel • Rear work lamp • Kenwood CD/multimedia with Bluetooth and rear camera • Inside roof console • MUD dash pod with gauges • Glove box conversion • Land Rover waterproof seat covers • Cubby box lights • Frontrunner Strobe kit • Frontrunner headlamp grills • Black headlight shrouds • Black front grill • Frontrunner NAS light grilles • Satin black alloy chequered plate wings, sills and bonnet kit • Wheels and steps powder-coated satin black • Self-made roof rack cross bar for ladders • Self-made fishing rod holders • Winch plug inside • Cruise control • Dog guard • Climair wind deflectors • Jump start pointsTHANKS TO:Thanks to Thomas Fotheringham for allowing us to use the picturesque Murthly Estate, www.murthly-estate.com, where guests can enjoy a wide range of fine country pursuits.