If you’ve never been greenlaning before, you’ll probably be wondering what the fuss is all about. After all, where’s the fun in driving tracks and not ploughing your Land Rover through bogs, redecorating your vehicle in mud as you spin your wheels?
Well, although greenlaning shouldn’t be a challenging drive – after all, these are roads, they just don’t have a tarmac surface – they can get you deep into the countryside, to places others can’t reach.
The great thing is that you don’t need to modify your Land Rover to enjoy it, any Land Rover makes a great greenlaner. And if you’re new to it, you’ll need to know where you can go without breaking the law.
We go greenlaning around England and Wales (access rights are different in Scotland) in every issue of Land Rover Owner magazine, creating routes you’ll want to drive. We and our guides have unrivalled experience and knowledge, so you’ll have a great trip.
Just to get you started, here are some of our favourites that we’ve driven this year. If you want the full routes, the issues are available for download on iTunes or Google Play, or through Zinio to your PC/Mac.
Dunlop’s Dividend, Wales
The first press test of the Land Rover took place in mid-Wales in 1948, and one of the lanes they drove was Dunlop’s Dividend – a steep unmade road with hairpins climbing up from the Cothi valley.
That lane still exists. Its steepness makes it impractical to tarmac it, but as the base of the lane is rock it’s one that is perfectly driveable by vehicles. Be warned, though – one hairpin is extremely tight, forcing most drivers to take a shunt in order to make the turn.
Dunlop’s Dividend is in a hugely scenic area of Wales, often overlooked by visitors, who head to the north of the country for the hillier bits or to the south for the sandy beaches. But they’re the ones missing out.
Quiet lanes and tracks
The greenlanes in the area are generally firm – although water can catch in some depressions – and they can be deep, so check their depth before driving.
Water collecting isn’t an issue on Dunlop’s Dividend – it’s much too hilly for that and starts off with a steep climb after a gateway from the road.
Tyres scrabble for grip on the loose rocks as you climb – it’s worth dropping your tyre pressures a touch – before descending into the trees and crossing the small ford. Then comes the climb.
‘Relentless’ is the best way to describe it, as it points steeply upwards. Photos don’t do it justice, but you’re pressed back in your seats as the nose of your Land Rover heads ever higher. Steep corners follow until you reach that hairpin. Once you’re past this, you’re out of the woods and get great views over the mid Wales countryside.
Old Coach Road, Cumbria
All of the most well known lanes have names, whether they’re the ‘official’ name, or a nickname given by greenlaners to help distinguish it from others in the area.
The Old Coach Road in Cumbria is one such lane. There’s little evidence that it was actually used by coachmen, but that’s its name. And crossing the inhospitable Threlkeld Common – a place that seldom sees the sun during winter months – makes you feel like you’re miles from anywhere.
Of course, the reality is that you’re not far from civilisation; vehicles bustle along the A66 far below you in the valley as you gently amble along the track.
Starting from St John’s in the Vale you’re quickly climbing, first through a couple of steep corners, then almost straight up the hill. You’re ascending some 500 feet upwards and not all of it is easy.
Water pouring off the fells congregates on the lane then cascades down, carving into the top soil and producing a challenging surface. If you’re not used to traversing cross axles, you can brush up on your skills this issue (see page 206), but straddling them is often easier.
You continue to climb until you reach the lane’s summit at 1433 feet (437 metres) in the shadow of Clough Head, when it levels out and stretches off into the distance.
Only deviating in height slightly from here to the end, you’re treated to great views and a small ford towards the end. The lane is mostly firm, but can be soft in places – stay away if the ground is sodden.
When you’ve reached the end, head south and take in the Kirkstone Pass and the descent into Ambleside.
Devon’s sunken lanes
Lanes in the west of England tend to follow a common theme. They’re inevitably narrow, sunken and capped with a substantial hedge. You’ll find this is the case from Dorset right down to the tip of Cornwall; only the colour of the soil changes. These attributes also apply to greenlanes, and the one shown to the left is as typical as you can get.
Leaving Goodleigh, just outside Barnstaple, you climb gently within the confines of the sunken lane; a continuous hedgerow penning livestock in, while preventing you from seeing to the side. Eventually, as the lane starts to descend, you catch a glimpse of the valley ahead before dropping below the tree canopy. Water running down the lane exploits the softer ground, causing severe washouts.
You’ll want to straddle the V-gully created by the water gushing down the hill; you don’t want to drop your tyre into it. Not only could you damage your Land Rover, you can accentuate erosion on the lane.
Slow and steady is the name of the game for the descent; first gear, low-range (Hill Descent Control on suitably equipped motors or those without low range) will keep everything under control.
The lane levels out where it crosses Steinty Bridge, then you have to make your way along an adjoining valley to Stoke Rivers.
Like the previous descent, water has also rushed down the lane on this side, eroding it badly. Most of your Land Rover’s weight will be on the outer edge of your tyres as you lean, trying to keep your left-hand wheels as high as possible and away from a cross-axle situation – momentum may be required.
The worst of the gully is lower down and soon it settles into being a standard greenlane, passing a farm before you reach the end.
As Devon greenlanes go, this is quite a demanding drive, but there are plenty of others to explore in the area. One thing’s for certain, though, the narrow width means you’re better off in a Defender or Series Land Rover. Ditch the roof rack too – low-hanging branches also cause height issues.
Forest frolics in Thetford
Sand makes a great base for greenlanes – the quick-draining soil means you’re unlikely to have problems with surface conditions. It also means that all-terrain tyres are much more desirable than those with a more aggressive pattern, which can dig in.
But the soil doesn’t mean that lanes aren’t without their problems. Trees can fall and without any way of the sun breaking through the canopy, lanes that run in an east-west direction can suffer from being unable to dry out.
But our lane here runs in a south-westerly direction, so it picks up the afternoon light – and as East Anglia is a particularly arid region, you’re more likely to get a fine day in the area than you would in the Lake District.
The lane starts next to the monument commemorating the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935, and an avenue of trees cuts into the forest.
The Icknield Way
After a slight turn, the lane follows the Icknield Way, with the trees cut way back from the clearly defined track. It’s a little rutted in places and wiggles its way into the distance.
In the still of dawn or dusk, expect to see wildlife – animals aren’t generally fazed by the gentle rumble of an engine. It may be arrow-straight and flat, but slight changes in height block you from seeing right into the distance. And the volume of lanes in the area make this a good start to a great day’s laning.
In sight of Stonehenge, Wiltshire
ometimes it’s worth driving a greenlane simply because of the area it’s in. You’re driving the lanes for the views, rather than as a challenge – and when the vista includes a monument, it’s even better.
Like when you reach the crest of the A303 on a sunny morning and there, below you, is the majesty of Stonehenge, illuminated by the setting evening sun. But the A303 isn’t the only way you can enjoy this view – you can get there by greenlane, without the crowds.
From Lake, just to the south-west of Amesbury, take the byway past Springbottom Farm. It starts as a tarmac lane, but becomes grassy and lightly rutted after a while.
It narrows down where it passes a field with the farmhouse in front of you and you turn left in front of the building.
The byway becomes a real greenlane after the farm; wide, lightly rutted, but covered in grass. It’s best to avoid when the ground is wet, as we don’t want the ruts to get worse.
Bring me the horizon
This lane is also worth avoiding around the solstices – it and other local ones are often closed to prevent ‘new age’ travellers from setting up camp around these events.
The reason for this is that, after cresting the brow of the hill, you see the outline of Stonehenge standing proud on the horizon before you. And this lane takes you there.
It drops slightly before climbing again, with the stones growing ever larger. Lorries thundering along the A303 will occasionally obscure the stones from view, but never for more than a couple of seconds.
Because the A303 is such a busy road, don’t try to turn right across it – there have been a couple of accidents along that stretch – instead, turn around at the roundabout if you want to go east. Or go north to the Stonehenge Visitor Centre.
The full story can be found in the December 2015 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.