The Fosse Way links Exeter, or thereabouts (we’ll come to that), and Lincoln. Draw a straight line between the two and apparently the path is never more than six miles off it, and it passes – not coincidentally, you’d imagine – through Bath, Cirencester and Leicester. Stan Papior, photographing, tells me he drove the route two decades ago and remembers some serious off-roading. I’ve no idea how much we’ll find today but have decided we’ll drive as much of it as is passable. Where it’s road, we’ll drive it, where it’s byway, we’ll drive that, but where it’s private land, we’ll have to go around. Two days sounds about right to cover its 230-mile length.
So anyway, we don’t start in Exeter. There’s a bit of debate about where the Fosse exactly begins, so someone on the internet says, and that suits our purposes just fine, given that the road doesn’t become truly established until you’re a few miles inland. And given that the view is nice in Seaton, Romans landed there and the original road from Seaton meandered alongside the river Axe up towards Axminster, through which the Fosse Way definitely passes, Seaton is where we start.
Even on the drive down to Devon, the Discovery reminds me that it still has plenty going for it. Sometimes, in an instant, the new version of a car can make the old one look dated. But to my eyes, recent Land Rovers and Range Rovers make their immediate predecessors appear restrained and classy. If there’s any hint of old-fashionedness about the Discovery 4, any links to its dated predecessors, they’re there for a reason.
With familiarity, the list of things to like about it grows by the minute. The seating position is high because the floor is high and Land Rover wants to offer you a commanding view. The window line is refreshingly low by most of today’s standards and the glass area is large, to afford you a good view of the car’s extremities. Yes, the look is bluff (hence the high 0.40 drag coefficient), but from inside you can see the squared sides and where the bonnet ends, while the low-cut rear window, although no longer framing a spare wheel on the Discovery 4, gives a better view out of the back should you, say, be reversing towards a trailer. The split tailgate’s lower half is short so it doesn’t clang on a nearby trailer’s jockey wheel ratchet, and it also means you can open up the boot without inviting the dogs to jump out, or use it as a seat and the top section as a shelter while you remove your boots. The door mirrors are so big you won’t need extensions if you’re hauling a horse trailer or caravan - and the turning circle, at 11.8 metres, is tighter than a Volkswagen Tiguan’s or Volvo XC60’s, both from the class below. The Discovery is an intensely well thought-through car for the country.
Immediate familiarity with the Fosse Way, meanwhile, is frustrating to the extent that I’m starting to think this is a bad idea. I’ve looked at maps, satellite images and other people’s versions of where it goes, but between a few bits of single carriageway, what I think could be the route goes over a farm (private) and stately home (also private) and then it definitely goes over a hill, but only as a sunken, narrow footpath. We have to go around them all. It takes until you’re into Somerset to find a road or house with Fosse in its name, and then the road is two-lane, unstartling blacktop. Albeit becoming notably straight.