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Defender of the Realm

A British icon of the road and field says goodbye. The Land Rover Defender, a workhorse of our countryside, has been withdrawn from production in its present design. I grew up with this old bone-shaker, and spent many a happy hour allowed to drive around muddy fields after a day’s potato picking with a local farmer. Always dirty and damp, the defender always provided a haven from the wet weather and cold wind when lunchtime arrived; dogs were always asleep in the back along with years of mud and bailer twine, which seemed to stick into every corner of the cab.

For many years I have glanced in at this brute of a vehicle with envy, but never wanted to stick hand in my pocket to buy one. I have become accustomed to luxury, and like many have always remembered the noisy diesel engine, hard drive and the most basic of interiors, which seemed to be drafty on even the warmest of days.

To my surprise, my wife said we must buy one before they go out of production. I ended up with a Defender which has moved on from the old green rusty version I drove some 43 years ago. Metallic ruby red with black detailing, this beauty turns some heads with men of my era; a bit of a Tonka, with huge wheels and flared arches. The interior is just as impressive – air-con (not rusty holes) Bluetooth, heated seats; the list goes on.

The ride has not changed, nor has the noise of that diesel engine, and off-road it still crawls through the deepest of mud with ease. My youth has returned, albeit at more expense than a season’s potato picking in wet Westmorland.

Loved by many, including our Royal Family, we will keep the Defender moving within our countryside – although it will not be a regular sight as it once was.

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Country Jottings – Tweed

Gone are the days of grandfathers and charity shops adorned with tweed jackets and trousers. Tweed has seen a revival in the past decade, once the mainstay of large country estates with workers clad head to toe in their estate tweed, which was made specifically in the colours of their particular landscape. It was always a heavy, unlined (yet durable) fabric – that is, until it rained, gave off a particular odour and turned into a form of cardboard that provided an ideal bed in the boot of a Land Rover for the soggy old dog.

Scottish and English mills are the masters of producing this indestructible fabric, and today’s tweed has undergone a revolution in manufacturing. Made lighter with a very tight yarn, some coat it with Teflon and most tweed outerwear features a waterproof membrane to keep the elements at bay.

Tweed was always considered a working fabric, or an essential piece of kit for the country gentleman once the stalking shooting seasons opened. A tweed jacket was a must at luncheon, finished off with a pair of cavalry twills and the beloved English brogues. Over the years, The Sporting Lodge has sourced tweed from its favourite suppliers in Scotland and Northern England – and these suppliers now manufacture tweed for the world’s finest designers. Once we rubbed shoulders with a grandfather kitting out his grandson with his first shooting suit; now we find we are buying with the likes of designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Ralph Lauren.

This time-honoured cloth is now seen in all our high street stores in all colours of the spectrum, to suit the needs of the fashionista and all pockets. We continue to purvey brands that only manufacture with British tweed; be they FrenchItalian or German manufacturers. One English manufacturer worthy of mention is James Purdey and Sons, one of the oldest gun makers in the world, who produce exquisite tweed clothing all made in the UK. This tweed is of a mid-weight construction, and every detail of their clothing manufacture is tried and tested on all shapes and sizes of men and women. Their tweed is made to be worn for years, hence woven from the finest wool, and constructed to allow freedom of movement whether in the field or driving to work.

What to look for when buying tweed?

  • Mid-weight is always preferable.
  • Garish colours should be avoided, as tweed should always represent the colours of the countryside – unless you have seen a pink sheep!
  • Tweed should always be lined.
  • Steer clear of bulky padded or heavy drop liners – this will make the cloth crease.
  • Beware of Teflon or waterproof coatings as these do not allow the wool to breathe, which is a must for any woollen fabric. They will stop staining, but your friends will notice your odour before they see you!

A tweed coat or jacket should always be viewed as an investment for the future. If treated well, tweed should last you a lifetime. And its only partner should be a well-made wooden coat hanger after a hard day in the field or a saunter round the city.