(above youtube video all taken on private land)
North Wales – the very epitome of wild, adventurous terrain. Roads that lead off into harsh rugged landscapes, leaving the towns and cities behind, giving the impression that few have travelled there before.
There are many ways of exploring this isolated landscape, but none quite so civilised as green laning.
Green lanes are the countryside’s best-kept secrets. Strictly speaking, they are Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) and Unclassified County Roads (UCRs). A good look at an Ordnance Survey map quickly reveals that North Wales is littered with these overgrown lanes, enchanting forest tracks and unsurfaced rough roads. Although you are legally entitled to drive these ancient and unmaintained roads, the usual traffic laws apply; your vehicle must be taxed and insured, just the same as on any tarmac road.
The 4×4 vehicles used by green laners are themselves often labours of love. Usually modified to cope reliably with the sometimes unforgiving terrain, they are often classic cars in their own right with many thousands of pounds having been lavished on their maintenance and upkeep.
Now for the elephant in the room! Some people will immediately conjure up images of 4×4 drivers tearing about the countryside, leaving a wake of mayhem and destruction behind them. But, as with most recreational activities, the idiot minority tarnish it for everyone else. The fact is, especially with this sometimes negative image in mind, the majority of green laners are among the most responsible and courteous groups you will come across out in the wilds.
All over the UK, there is an extensive network of 4×4 clubs operating to a code of conduct aimed at keeping people safe and reducing impact on the environment and other users. Running alongside that is the extensive mapping of public rights of way, of which only a tiny percentage can be legally driven, so the importance of up-to-date maps and information is vital to keep people safe and legal.
Supporting these clubs are a variety of organisations, such as GlassReloaded and the Green Lane Association, who work tirelessly to educate new green laners to act responsibly and safely.
Supporting these clubs are a variety of organisations, such as GlassReloaded and the Green Lane Association, who work tirelessly to educate new green laners to act responsibly and safely. The false image of adrenaline junkies tearing around the countryside is soon dispelled when meeting small 4×4 groups trundling along an unsurfaced road, at speeds of less than 5mph in most cases, passing by with the customary smile and wave.
The camaraderie built by such an extensive network of green laners often sees an organic progression into other activities, with many 4×4 teams throughout the UK being involved in volunteer work, such as the provision of support for local communities and the emergency services in times of heavy snow or flooding.
North Wales is a true paradise for green laners, not only is there an abundance of dramatic countryside, amazing unsurfaced roads and camping facilities, it also caters for those who want to test their vehicle and skills further.
Because of the nature of extreme terrain in North Wales, logging and other activities have created some of the UK’s best extreme 4×4 driving experiences. ‘Pay and play’ sites, as they are commonly known, are usually situated in disused quarries and opencast workings, but in Wales, venues such as Quest 4×4 in Barmouth and Land Craft in Bala offer drivers a unique extreme and challenging experience, which is more aligned to green laning than the usual ‘quarry bashing’ sites.
Although green laning may not offer the physical challenge of some other outdoor recreational activities, the challenge of pitting your vehicle and driving skills (and nerves!) against some of the most challenging terrain, whilst at the same time causing the absolute minimum of impact on the immediate environment, can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience.
When I first started writing this article it was always with the purpose of looking at what North Wales has to offer the green laner. Having returned from my weekend trip, during which I drove on a site for a day as well as green lanes, I did just tot up my receipts to see what we put back into North Wales. £60 to drive the Bala forest site, £40 B&B, £25 evening meal and £100 in fuel. What with this abundant and desolate country offering the green laners so much, it is nice to think we are putting something back into the local economy.
Article written by Lee Burstow and published by Nathan Fuller