After a very quiet time over Christmas the day of New Year’s Eve gave me a very new and interesting experience when I went ‘green laning’ in the Yorkshire Dales with my ex-partner’s brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Louise. This was something I’d never heard of until a couple of months ago so when I was recently invited to join them on New Year’s Eve day I didn’t turn down the opportunity to do something different.
Green laning differs from off-roading in that off-roading takes place ~ legally ~ on wholly private land and a vehicle doesn’t always have to be road legal, whereas green laning takes place on unclassified and often unsurfaced roads, byways and tracks which are Public Rights of Way or BOATs – Byways Open to All Traffic – and vehicles have to be completely road legal with all the usual laws of the road applying. The terrain can be rough, rocky and muddy with stream/river crossings and hair-raising bends but also with great views over open countryside.
My day started at 7am when I was picked up at the end of my street and via the M6 and A684 we went through Sedbergh in south Cumbria to the group meeting point in the car park of the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes, the home of Wensleydale cheese in the Yorkshire Dales. We were first there so we had time for a brew and some toast while we waited for everyone else; it was only a small group, just two other couples plus the guide, Nathan, and his co-driver, and once we were all equipped with 2-way radios we set off at 10am on the first run.
A short distance out of Hawes we got onto the first rough track which took us across Snaizeholme Fell – I was sitting in the middle of the rear seats so I could take photos through the front windscreen and it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. It wasn’t too long before we encountered our first obstacle when the track went steeply down to a gully then rose just as steeply up the other side; the gully was full of large rocks and we got momentarily stuck but with a bit of reversing, some wheel spin and lots of acceleration we got out and up the other side.
Around the end of Dodd Fell and right along its eastern base a winding lane took us steeply downhill past the hamlet of Countersett to Semer Water, the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire. Along the north eastern end is what should be a tree-lined shingle parking area where overnight stays are allowed but the level of the lake had risen so much that it was completely covered by water which was almost up to the road.
From Semer Water the lane climbed steadily uphill and eventually we turned off onto a rough track leading round another fell and across a very misty Crag Moor where we got a shout out from the last vehicle – someone needed a quick comfort stop which, being in the middle of nowhere, meant nipping behind the nearest available wall.
Past a lone farmer in the process of blocking up a large gap in a damaged stone wall the track took us through Carpley Green Farm then downhill to a tarmac lane which led us to the A684 at Bainbridge. From there we drove almost thirteen miles east to the small market town of Leyburn for our lunch stop at 1pm, then with coffee and sandwiches demolished there was just time for me to take a few photos around the market place before setting off on the second run.
This time the route took us around the countryside and moorland to the north of Leyburn and somewhere between Stainton and Downholme we made our first river crossing, then from there we went up through Marske and over Skelton Moor to the second river crossing at Helwith Bridge.
A short drive up and across another area of moorland and a rough track took us down to where we could cross back over Holgate Beck – and that’s where things became decidedly dodgy. At the entrance to an isolated farm was a notice – DO NOT FOLLOW SATNAV, THIS ROUTE IS UNSUITABLE, YOU WILL GET STUCK – and as we got towards the bottom of the track a call came over the radio that the track at the far side of the river was steep, extremely muddy, and had a tight bend with some rocks right on the corner.
Down at the riverside we were given the option of carrying on or turning back and rejoining the trail by another route but we all decided to carry on and we would go first, though Louise (probably wisely) stayed by the river to get some photos. We got through the water with no problem but the tight bend was a different matter; to avoid the rocks there was very little room to get round and there was also a steep unfenced drop down the hillside. It didn’t exactly fill me with joy but Alan is a very experienced driver so I had to put my trust in him and hope we made it without mishap.
With a fair amount of slipping and lurching about we got round in one piece and accelerated safely right to the top of the hill, where Louise eventually joined us after walking all the way up with Nathan who had stayed behind to make sure everyone got safely round the bend and up to the top.
A short drive along the track took us to a narrow tarmac lane leading past a patchwork of open fields separated by dry stone walls then at the little hamlet of Hurst, which consisted of just two rows of three cottages and a farm, we turned onto Marrick Moor, passing a restored chimney which was once part of the Hurst lead mines.
Across the moor the track took us on a rough and rocky descent down the escarpment overlooking the village of Reeth and heading towards the hamlet of Fremington, and we were still quite a distance from the bottom when we came across something we wouldn’t have expected to see in such a quiet location. Tucked in the angle of a stone wall was a small blue Toyota car plastered with mud and with its wheels embedded in deep ruts. With a non-existent driver’s side window and police tape all round it we could only assume that it had been stolen and abandoned after getting stuck.
From Fremington a ‘B’ road took us through the village of Grinton and another area of moorland to the junction with the road leading to Redmire. The daylight was fading rapidly by then and Alan didn’t fancy doing another run in the dark so we decided to split from the group, make our way back to the A684 and head for home.
It was 7pm when I got dropped off at the end of the street, and though I hadn’t done much during the day other than ride around in the back of the Landrover I still felt quite tired. It had been a long day but also a very interesting and enjoyable one; it was a shame that the weather had been so cloudy and misty as the scenery around the Yorkshire Dales would have been lovely but now I’ve had my first taste of green laning I’m looking forward to experiencing another day later in the year and hopefully in much better weather.