More than 300 Land Rover owners and enthusiasts flocked to Benton this weekend for three days of socializing and off road driving at the annual Winter Romp gathering.

Greg Fitzgerald’s 1994 Land Rover discovery sinks in water, mud and ice after getting stuck in a beaver pond Sunday during a trail ride with other Land Rover enthusiasts in Benton. Other Land Rover drivers, at right, helped rescue Fitzgerald from the pond. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Winter Romp, which was started more than 20 years ago, is an event aimed at providing a noncompetitive way for Land Rover lovers to test their driving skills in the snowy terrain of Central Maine, according to the event’s website.

Drivers and passengers off road on a series of trails off Unity Road in Benton, minutes from the home of Bruce Fowler, the founder and organizer of the event.

The event attracts attendees from across the country like Greg Fitzgerald, a seasoned Land Rover enthusiast who made the trek from Warren Township, New Jersey.

Fitzgerald, 30, has attended Land Rover events all over the country but said the Winter Romp is one of a kind.

Land Rover driver Greg Fitzgerald is seen through stickers showing his travels as he prepares his vehicle for a trail ride with other Land Rover enthusiasts Sunday in Clinton. Fitzgerald drove 1994 Land Rover to Benton from New Jersey. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“This is a very unique Land Rover event,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s basically run by one person, it’s free of charge and the fact that it’s in Maine in the middle of February, that’s not common. You typically see Land Rover events out west in places like Utah and Colorado but this event is huge and it’s in an uncommon spot, it’s incredible.”

Fitzgerald also mentioned that the emphasis Fowler has put on supporting local businesses also makes the event special.

“Bruce is all about local business, the whole time we’re here it’s really encouraged to visit these local restaurants and stores,” Fitzgerald said.

The itinerary for the event included daily breakfast at Big G’s Deli in Benton and a Sunday night dinner at 18 Below in Waterville.

“There is no charge for the event itself, but the group is encouraged to meet, eat and shop at local establishments during the event,” the website said.

Winter Romp 2020 not only garnered a large turnout but was also the host for the Oxford Car, a 1955 Land Rover Series I Station Wagon that will depart from Waterville on Tuesday for an 11 month road trip across North America.

The 65-year-old car was one of two Land Rovers that participated in the 1955-1956 Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. On this expedition, six students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities teamed up and drove for more than 18,000 miles from London to Singapore over the span of six months.

“The Oxford Rover went on to continue to do “important things” long after the completion of its inaugural journey,” Fowler wrote in a press release. “Eventually, the Land Rover ended up on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic serving transportation duties for a bird watching and research expedition for over 40 years. It remained on this island after it fell into disrepair.”

But in 2017, Adam Bennett, a British Land Rover enthusiast, bought and repaired the Oxford Car with the hopes of making it an expedition vehicle once again and visiting all seven continents in seven years.

The car was celebrated at an opening ceremony for Winter Romp on Friday night that included food, drinks and a presentation about the car. This Tuesday, the car will depart for Vermont to begin an 11 month trip around North America.

Specific locations for the Oxford Car’s upcoming trip are still in the works but so far the car will be visiting: Manchester, Vermont; Westford, Vermont; Boston, Massachusetts; Roseland, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; Troy, North Carolina; Reading, Vermont; Clifton Park, New York; Maberly, Ontario; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Gunnison, Colorado; Gilbert, Minnesota; Washington State; British Columbia; and Springfield, Oregon.

Different drivers will pass off the car to one another from location to location beginning with Fowler driving it to Vermont. The car will return to London by mid December 2020.

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