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It wouldn't be Norfolk without a water crossing : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen
Patrick Cruywagen heads to Norfolk with some G4 Land Rover owners for a day of greenlaning, fords, and fish and chips

If one is having a great time on a trip, then often we promise ourselves that one day we will come back to the very spot, area or experience. This could be because of the food, the weather or the company. In 99 per cent of these cases most people never return because life and a lack of time or willpower just seem to get in the way. Occasionally some do return, though, as I’m doing right now as I make my way towards the McDonald’s in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. No, I am not some sicko who gets his kicks in a Macky D’s car park – this is the meeting point for several G4 Challenge Land Rovers that will be joining me on a day of greenlaning in Norfolk.

I did a similar trip with the same crew nearly two years ago and was promised fish and chips afterwards. Because of a few breakdowns, the fish and chips never happened. This time around I’m determined to eat this traditional English dish somewhere along the north Norfolk coast.

The 11th century Church of St James provides the perfect backdrop on our first lane of the day

I’m in a 2008 Discovery 3 that was supposed to be used on the 2009 Mongolia Land Rover G4 Challenge which never happened because of the financial crash. Incredibly it has only done around 10,000 miles and today it is part of Land Rover Classic’s very impressive collection.

I love the D3; it is without a doubt an important part of Land Rover’s success story. The hard-not-to-miss box shape, spacious load area, high-up driving position and, most importantly, its effortless off-road capability. I have with me a good friend Mark Mackenzie, and when on the lanes he’ll take over the wheel, so that I can get a photograph or two of the action.

Recent rains meant there were loads of great fords to splash about in

A few minutes after we stop at the McDonald’s car park, the other Tangier Orange G4 Land Rovers start to arrive. You hear the Range Rover Sport before you see it, then there’s another D3, a pair of Discovery 2s and a lovely Defender 110. Mick Moxon and his wife Karen are in a V8 D2 and they will be leading our mainly orange (and one black G4) Land Rover convoy.

Before we get going there is the usual Land Rover banter about who has replaced and fixed what since our last outing, and Mick suggests we stop next to the Alexandra Dock for a group picture. To get there we drive all along the Great Ouse river: it brings back memories of the time I paddle boarded from Bedford to King’s Lynn over three days – that adventure finished where this one is about to start. This old part of town is very popular for film and photoshoots and the beautiful old buildings provide the perfect backdrop for my first picture of the day while the Tangiers Orange Land Rovers are still sparkling and clean.

Our first pair of lanes lie just to the east of the town and it doesn’t take us too long to reach them. Our first lane starts near Mintlyn Wood where we head north towards Warren Farm. Even though the D3 is nearly 15 years old, I instruct Mark to raise the suspension and leave everything else as it is. It will be okay on these tame tracks.

We quickly find ourselves at the ruins of the Church of St James, Bawsey. Use of this 11th century church stopped around 1517 when 60 acres of the surrounding land was turned into pasture. The ruins are well worth an explore and picture.

Not long after we pass the ruins we encounter our first water crossing of the day, a sure sign of things to come, although the sandy tracks here traditionally do drain pretty well.

Some of the lanes cut through active farmlands. The views across open fields are stunning

​​​​​​The notion that Norfolk is as flat as a pancake quickly turn to doo-doo as we make our way to Warren Farm and our second lane.  As we head east we climb up onto a ridge just as the morning mist slowly starts to clear. The timing couldn’t be any better as we are now able to take in the great all-round views of the stunning farmland. This is my favourite part of greenlaning. Meanwhile, there’s no sign of the bobtailed Discos we saw this morning when reporting for laning at McDonald’s. I’m reliably informed they’re at a nearby pay-and-play site.

This D3 is nearly 15-years old but still smells like new

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Further proof of the tame nature of the lanes that we are on is when a two-wheel drive VW Golf approaches from the front. It has decent off-road tyres and a roof rack. Its driver and passenger give us the mother of all smiles. Their light vehicle on decent tyres is probably just as capable as some SUVs, though it does lack ground clearance. The sand does thicken a wee bit on some parts of the lane but nothing to set the alarm bells ringing for a powerful TDV6 motor.

From Grimston we drop south on the B1153 towards Gayton and our third lane. More scenic gravel tracks which slice through farmlands follow. When we find ourselves on the edge of the Soigné Wood, Mick calls a halt as it is nearly 11 minutes past 11.00am and today is Remembrance Sunday. We all disembark and find ourselves a quiet spot.

Stopping for a few minutes’ silence on Remembrance Sunday

I recently finished reading John Nichol’s book Lancaster: The Forging of a Very British Legend. Many of those bombers took off from airfields not too far away from where I now stand in silence. Many, sadly never came home. After a few minutes we all return to our Land Rovers. Our grateful orange convoy slowly snakes on along the orange, sandy tracks.

It would just not be a Norfolk laning trip if we didn’t at some stage join a small section of the popular 46-mile-long Peddars Way, and so on our fourth lane we do exactly that, just to the west of Little and Great Massingham. This popular walking trail is often combined with the Norfolk Coastal Path which when combined totals 133 miles. I would love to do Peddars Way on my mountain bike one day.

Mick once again calls a halt and this time it’s for lunch. Soon the smell of bacon fills the air which is rather ironic as we have driven past a pig farm or two already. I take it easy on the bacon sarnies (though someone forgot the bread) as I am still banking on an end-of-day fish and chips dinner.

Our fifth lane takes us from Barwick Hall Farm to the finish at Manor Ho. To get there we go along some tree-lined grassy tracks and by now the sun is shining brightly. While sitting in the heated cabin of the D3 one could almost be fooled into thinking this is beach weather. That all changes when I get an Arctic blast of wind when jumping out to photograph the ford crossing at the end of the lane.

Our sixth and final lane of the day is from Waterden down to West Barsham. But the fun doesn’t end there. Mick has a few fords planned for us. The area has received a fair bit of rain in the last few weeks so Mick warns that we will have to first check that they are not too deep. The first two are at Walsingham and the final one at Houghton St Giles – most importantly they all are driveable and heaps of fun. Who doesn’t enjoy driving their Land Rover through a bit of water?

Splashing through a ford never gets boring

By the time we do the last ford crossing there’s hardly any sunshine left. Do we head home after this? Hell no! I’m determined to have fish and chips after a day of laning in Norfolk. Everyone else feels the same. Mick leads the convoy to Thornham, home to Eric’s Fish and Chips shop, and we all decide to have a sit-down meal. I savour the flavours and the smell of vinegar on my hot chips. The long wait has been oh-so worth it.

 

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