08 July 2023
Editor Martin visits Dalton 4x4, where you can get your off-road thrills with greenlane views
For as long as there have been Land Rovers, their owners have been taking them out and driving them on unpaved surfaces, both for work and play. It’s what they were designed to do, after all, and that desire to get out and experience what your vehicle can do in different and difficult conditions hasn’t gone away.
The trouble is, there’s a big lack of understanding around the terms associated with driving off-tarmac in the UK, and the sort of driving and overall behaviour that’s acceptable depending on where you go. Arguably the most common mix-up among those just getting in to 4x4 ownership and wanting to venture off-tarmac is the difference between off-roading and greenlaning. While they might both involve getting sand, mud or rock under the tyres of your chosen steed, they are two very different activities.
What is off-roading?
Well, the term is fairly self-explanatory – you’re driving on ground or in an area that isn’t a tarmac road. In the UK, off-road events are generally held at pay-and-play sites; privately-owned pieces of land that are either open for business every day, or opened up on specific dates throughout the year for visitors to drive around. Most off-road sites offer lots of different obstacles to suit those with standard or modified vehicles, and there will be something for every skill level from first time drivers to seasoned experts. Expect everything from gentle slopes, open plains and shallow puddles to windscreen-deep water, dug-out ruts and vehicle-swallowing bomb holes, and everything in between.
Plenty of chances to wave a wheel in the air in the deepest elephant’s footsteps
Some pay-and-play sites allow non-road legal 4x4s to be trailered to and from the event, which means there’s generally a much wider variety of vehicles on-site. Others only allow road-legal 4x4s to take part, which brings an extra element of care into the equation, as they all need to be driven home at the end of the day.
Most also run an open site with no real routes to follow, so there’s a need to be vigilant at all times for other drivers. Generally, your fellow drivers are courteous and everyone is there to have a good time, so the lack of a set route is rarely a problem, and marshals are normally stationed around the site to help recover stuck vehicles and offer guidance where needed.
The main draws for off-road sites are the big variety of challenges on offer, the ability to drive where you want, when you want, and the camaraderie. The other big bonus is the ability to attempt the obstacles as many times as you like, without worrying about churning the ground up or spinning your wheels and causing damage to the surface.
What’s greenlaning, then?
The tracks at Dalton 4x4 Off Road have a real greenlane flavour
The first thing to learn about greenlaning, is that it is not off-roading. By its very definition, a greenlane is an unmetalled, unsealed or unclassified legal road – which means whatever vehicle you drive on them needs to be fully road legal with insurance, a valid MoT and tax. This also means that, because they are public roads, they are open to be used by walkers, cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders and anyone else.
The second thing you need to know about greenlanes is that they allow access to some of the most spectacular countryside the UK has to offer. This is a huge draw for many greenlane users, and is one of the reasons why areas such as Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District are so popular for laning. It’s vital to know the lanes you’re driving on are legal, to be courteous and polite to other users, and to be respectful of the countryside. Organisations such as the Green Lane Association (GLASS) and All-Terrain UK (ATUK) are massively helpful resources if you are just starting out in greenlaning, and it’s well worth joining up for the amount of information and support that’s on offer.
Venturing 'off-piste' on greenlanes can cause problems
The difficulties begin when drivers wanting the sort of challenging, technical driving that a pay-and-play site offers go looking for it on greenlanes. While some lanes in the UK do offer sections that will test your skills, that’s really not what these rights of way are about. In wet conditions ruts get deeper, grass gets torn up and otherwise well-kept lanes become total quagmires, making them impassable to other users. And when drivers venture off the tracks and onto adjoining land – known as going off-piste – this is where problems really start, and often end with the lanes being issued a temporary or permanent Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). Essentially being closed.
Social media and YouTube are a blessing and a curse when it comes to greenlaning. On one hand, there’s lots of really useful information and loads of communities that welcome and help newcomers, often arranging responsible greenlaning trips and showing newbies the ropes. On the other hand, there are plenty of people making content showing irresponsible use of lanes and driving off-piste, which makes others think it’s acceptable to do so as well. Another issue is lack of understanding from watching (often very entertaining) videos from other countries such as the US and Australia, and wanting to recreate what they get up to in the UK, without considering the differences between the culture and rules regarding the hobby in different countries.
Tackling the issue‘‘We have an off-piste driving problem in the area, but understand the thrills they're seeking’’ admits Nigel Simpson, co-owner of new off-road facility, Dalton 4x4 Off-Road. The 26-acre site, based in a disused iron ore mine in south Cumbria, is run very differently to a traditional pay-and-play, and for good reason.
Sometimes you just want something more challenging
‘‘We want to encourage people to come to the area and experience the amazing countryside responsibly,’’ Nigel explains. ‘‘There are some stunning greenlane routes in Cumbria, and we’ll gladly share them with locals and visitors. But we also know there’s a hunger for more challenging terrain, which is why we decided to open the site. It gives people the best of both worlds; they can explore the local lanes, then come here and get their fix of technical driving.’’
Got a roof tent? You can camp over at Dalton 4x4 and make a weekend of it
Instead of turning up and paying a fee to drive wherever you like, the site is laid out in different zones linked by single-lane tracks. You book a time slot, and are led around the whole site in groups of up to six vehicles – the maximum number you should go greenlaning in – and given the opportunity to take on a vast number of different obstacles and challenges. If you don’t want to try something, you don’t have to, as all of the sections can be easily by-passed.
‘‘We wanted to recreate the feel of a greenlaning trip, but being on private land you don’t have to worry about ground damage or meeting horse riders, walkers or bikers. We’ve also got a grass area for overnight camping, which is becoming a more popular side to adventuring in the UK.’’
Slimy surfaces are no trouble for Nigel and his 90
Nigel runs a Defender 90 Td5 and a new Defender 110, which he isn’t afraid to use on almost all the areas of the site. I ask which he prefers, and his answer makes a lot of sense. ‘‘I enjoy driving both, but they’re completely different animals. This is another reason why we feel it’s important to fulfil the want for this kind of driving – the vehicles are so capable now, that it takes much more to get them stuck or even remotely challenge them off-road. They’re as far removed from a stiffly-sprung Series Land Rover with open diffs as you can imagine, they just walk over most things.’’
After a short briefing and signing on in the cabin, Nigel gives us all a two-way radio and we head out to the first area. Technical Editor Ed Evans has joined us for the day in his newly-completed Freelander project; like my Freelander 2, it’s on standard suspension and wearing all-terrain tyres, which fill up quickly with the sticky red mud. As if to answer my concerns Nigel comes over the radio: ‘‘On some of the tracks between sections, I’ll tell you to clean your tyres. Pick up your speed slowly, but don’t spin the wheels.’’
Martin's Freelander 2 gets the hump
We start out on some axle twisters with a muddy dip at the end. Nigel traverses them first, then hops out and spots Ed and myself over in our lower-slung Freelanders. Despite my worries about grip, the tyres dig down to the stony surface below and with Terrain Response in
Mud/Ruts and some guidance from Nigel, I make it through unscathed. Ed follows, using just the right amount of momentum to bounce his Freelander through without issue.
Ed's Freelander 1 finds traction
As we make our way around the picturesque hillside, the tracks and obstacles get more and more daunting. ‘‘We’ve got stuff here that needs 35-inch tyres and twin locking diffs,’’ buzzes Nigel over the radio. ‘‘And we’re tweaking and changing the routes all the time to keep it fresh and interesting.’’ I try to concentrate on keeping the Freelander 2 moving, but as the early morning fog lifts, I keep glancing out the side windows at the sprawling Cumbrian countryside.
The zones are becoming increasingly tricky; my Freelander 2’s underside has taken a couple of clonks here and there, and the towbar has collected an impressive amount of soggy mud from digging into the ground. With a long drive home ahead, I decide that discretion is the better part of valour and jump in one of the Defenders to tackle the rest of the site.
Perhaps you'd like to try some mud, Sir?
What’s impressive is the variety of terrain Nigel and the Dalton 4x4 team have crammed into these 26 acres. There’s woodland, open grassland, rocks, deep mud and watersplashes, all linked by tracks that weave and meander their way around the old mine, past a stone building and across a disused railway line. Being led around, guided through the different sections over the radio or with Nigel spotting from outside, it feels like a real adventure.
Ed gets a few pointers from Nigel
‘‘The site has been really popular already,’’ he explains. ‘‘We have a great team of instructors. As well as myself, we have an ex-Land Rover Experience guy, one who’s winch-certified and another who’s ex-armed forces and has spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a Wolf Defender. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve been off-roading for years or this is your first time, we’ll make sure you leave smiling.’
Martin finds it a bit less stressful someone else's vehicle
Soon, the Defenders are lifting wheels high in the air over extreme cross-axle obstacles, and powering through slush-filled ruts deep in the woods. We’re having a brilliant time, pushing the Land Rovers further than you would ever do on greenlanes and learning fresh skills. I’m genuinely sad when it’s time for our visit to end. But I’m already planning to come back on a longer trip, to take in some of the amazing greenlanes the Lakes have to offer, as well as more time playing on the tracks here.
Off-road quick tips
Help is on-hand to guide you through trickier sections
1 . Get some guidance
Driving off-road isn’t rocket science, but does require skills you won’t have learned just from driving on tarmac. Be familiar with how your
Land Rover’s traction systems work – centre diff-lock, low-range gears, 4WD selection and electronic aids such as Terrain Response and Hill Descent Control will all help where applicable.
It’s well worth jumping in with an experienced driver or instructor to learn the basics, and then you will find your skills and confidence growing the more time you spend behind the wheel.
2. Read the ground
To avoid getting stuck or potentially damaging the Land Rover, jump out and check the area before driving in. If you know ruts are too deep and will cause the underside of the vehicle to get hung up, straddle them where possible.
Similarly, never drive into unknown water or deep mud without checking the depth first. Wade in with boots and use a stick to check the level, and prod around under the surface for any big rocks or stumps that could catch you out on your way through.
3. Be prepared
Make sure your Land Rover has suitable recovery points front and rear, and that they are easily accessible. Only attempt a recovery if you are confident you can do it safely – if you can’t, leave it to someone who can. Strap down all heavy objects inside the vehicle to prevent them from bouncing around and potentially causing injury in the event of a roll-over. Check your oil and water levels, and ensure the vehicle is in overall good mechanical condition.
Easy does it
4. Remain in control
You may have heard the age-old phrase of ‘as slow as possible, as fast as necessary’. It’s true – you need to keep the speed down low enough to make calculated decisions as you drive and ensure the Land Rover and its wheels are in the right places, but sometimes momentum is needed to carry the weight of the vehicle through an obstacle without getting stuck. Use speed sparingly and only when you can be sure you can stay in full control.
All-terrains will struggle in wet mud
5. Tyres mean traction…
…and traction is everything. Choosing the right tyre for the terrain comes with experience and time, but grip is vital to stay moving, steer and brake effectively. All-terrain tyres give a good blend of on and off-tarmac capability, but for wet mud and slippier surfaces a mud-terrain tyre is what you need.
Lowering the pressure lets the tyre squash slightly and increases contact patch with the ground, and also lets it mould around rocks and roots more easily. Always re-inflate tyres back to the correct pressure before driving on the road, though.
You're in safe hands at Dalton 4x4
Nigel is a Land Rover enthusiast, experienced off-road driver and veteran greenlaner, who loves to share his knowledge of the Lake District with visitors and locals alike. Dalton 4x4 is still in its relative infancy, but with its unique style and idyllic location, it’s sure to be a big hit with both newcomers and seasoned drivers. And don’t worry if your Land Rover is standard or on road tyres; the team at Dalton have sets of steel wheels with mud-terrain tyres available to hire for use on your own vehicle, to make your experience even more fun and see what your Land Rover can really do.
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