Mike Morrall is Britain’s oldest greenlaner – and both he and his family are changing people’s perceptions of how others see greenlaning
Why Britain’s oldest greenlaner, together with his family, is on a mission to change perceptions of greenlaning
It’s a fine summer’s day in Shropshire’s Welsh Marches with a clear blue sky punctuated only by cotton wool cumulus clouds and the occasional buzzard, soaring on the thermal currents. The densely-forested hillside is still, apart from the distant sounds of the sheep far below in the valley of the River Lugg and the muted mechanical chatter of approaching diesel engines.
Suddenly three Land Rovers break cover from the closepacked pine trees and slow to a halt on the sun-dappled track. The drivers emerge – first a middle-aged man in the Range Rover at the head of the convoy, followed by a much younger man in the Defender 110 at the rear. Finally, a third man emerges from the Discovery. He moves a bit stiffer than the others, and he’s clearly older, but he’s lean as a whippet and his grin is the widest of the trio as he takes in the stunning view across to the Welsh mountains.
Meet Mike Morrall, 81 years young and Britain’s oldest greenlaner. His travelling companions are his son-in-law, Adrian Bishop, 55, and grandson Matthew Bishop, 20. They are three generations of a family that has a unique take on the controversial recreation of driving and exploring Britain’s greenlanes.
Yes, greenlaning is controversial. There’s no getting away from the fact that the harmless enjoyment the vast majority of Land Rover owners get from legally and unobtrusively driving the country’s ancient unpaved roads gets other members of the public hot under the collar. Some ramblers, horse riders and mountain bikers dislike us. The rest hate us.
Why? Well, Britain is an over-populated small island with too many people who want to get away from it all in the countryside, only to find other people with different interests in the same place. And, let’s be honest, there are a minority of moronic 4x4 owners who have misbehaved in the past and given the rest of us a bad name. Even today, you’ll still find the odd Neanderthal who sees churning up the mud on greenlanes as an acceptable alternative to coughing up a few quid to do the same thing on a pay-andplay off-road site. The difference, of course, is that nobody cares what grown adults do in a private quarry, but they feel very strongly indeed when they do it on what is actually a public highway.
Greenlaning needs a PR makeover. It needs to be seen as something not just acceptable, but sustainable and enabling in the modern world. And that’s where the remarkable family we’ve just met on a Shropshire hillside come in. Between them, they tick all the boxes for the future of greenlaning.
When Adrian retired from the West Midlands Police at 50, he reckoned he was too young to sit at home, so he
became HR manager at an outdoor education centre. But more importantly, to this story at least, he also set up a new company called Green Adventure Tours.
“I have always loved Land Rovers and fine food,” says Adrian. “This was my chance to combine my interests and create a business I am passionate about.
“I live just outside the town of Ludlow, which is seen as the gourmet capital of Britain. There are Michelin-star restaurants and two food festivals here every year. People come on holiday here just for the food but once they get here they want to do other things besides eat. They want to explore Shropshire and see what else it has to offer.
“At Green Adventure Tours we take convoys of people out in their own Land Rovers and do just that. We start with breakfast, then go out greenlaning, stop for lunch, followed by more greenlaning, then enjoy an evening meal together. People who enjoy the tour get a taste of the best cuisine and countryside that Shropshire has to offer.”
They also get to drive non-damaging tracks – ones too rough for ordinary cars to negotiate, but ones where drivers of modern, shiny Land Rovers will get through without getting a scratch. Meanwhile, the tracks don’t get damaged, either. Everyone is a winner.
Most of these tracks are private Forestry Commission roads that are exclusive to Green Adventure Tours, although Adrian sometimes also uses carefully-selected public byways, of which there are plenty in this county.
Adrian’s operation is joined by both his father-in-law, Mike, and son, Matthew. And octogenarian Mike brings a particularly compelling pro-greenlaning argument to the equation – namely access to the countryside for the older generation and disabled.
“There are a lot of people who would like to see greenlaning banned, but they forgot that not everybody is young or able-bodied and fit enough to do it on foot or on mountain bikes,” he says.
“I’m 81, but I’m very active. What I love most about greenlining in Shropshire is the ever-changing scenery. Suddenly the track you were driving through dense trees emerges into the open and you are greeted by brilliant views down into the valley and up and across to the distant hills.
“I was brought up in an industrial area and I think that makes me appreciate the countryside more. The beauty of the countryside never ceases to amaze me – and I know I’ve got greenlaning to thank for giving me the access to these very special places. I think it is my passion for Land Rovers and greenlaning that have kept me young.
“I first fell in love with Land Rovers more than 60 years ago – in 1955, when I was doing National Service in the Army. I was based with the Fighting Vehicle Research and Development establishment at Chobham, Surrey. We tested vehicles and systems for the Ministry of Defence. We were also involved with Austin Champs, which were seen as the rival 4x4 to Land Rovers with the military in those days. I
“I think my passion for Land Rovers and greenlaning has kept me young”
“People often see three generations out driving the tracks”
even drove them underwater, but that’s another story.
“Although I loved Land Rovers, once I was demobbed I put them to one side. It wasn’t until 1995 that I got my first Land Rover – a P38 Range Rover, as a company car. That was the first car I went greenlaning in. I was getting too old to go walking in the hills, so greenlaning seemed the obvious way to explore and enjoy the countryside.
“The biggest problem with my P38 was its electrics. If I parked it anywhere near a police station, fire station or ambulance station it wouldn’t start again. The radio frequency used by the emergency services immobilised the key fob and wouldn’t let it work.
“Apart from that it wasn’t too bad. The clutch let me down once in Scotland when the transfer box failed, but it didn’t put me off Land Rovers. Far from it – in 1997, when I retired, I got involved in Land Rovers again. It was then I had time to spend on them. Since then I’ve had two Discovery 2s, two Discovery 3s and two Discovery 4s. I’ve also got a 200Tdi Defender 110 – I put the engine in myself – and a Discovery 1.
“There’s nothing I like better than working on my own cars. The trouble is that when I get under a car these days I have trouble getting out again!
“I’ve driven almost two million miles in my lifetime and – touch wood – I’ve never had an accident that was my fault. I have had other people run into the back of me, though. I can thank the army for that. They taught me how to drive and one of the first things you learn when you drive in the army is that if you have an accident it doesn’t matter whose fault it was – you were always put on a fizzer.
“I like modern Land Rovers. As you get older you appreciate how much more comfortable they are to the old Land Rovers, so you won’t find me knocking the cars of today. You’ve got to give it to Land Rover: they do build some great cars. When the Range Rover Evoque came out, I thought it would never take off. It wasn’t a proper Land Rover, I thought, just like a lot of other people. But just look at the success story it has been – Europe’s best-selling 4x4 with three-quarters of a million sold already.
“I’ve got no ambitions to go on big foreign expeditions, or anything like that. I travelled all over the world in my job and I’ve had enough of foreign travel. It used to be fun, but it isn’t any more, so you won’t catch me driving across Africa, or anything like that. Exploring Shropshire and Wales is more up my street.”
Mike is fortunate that he can do so with his family. Grandson Matthew works as a technical adviser in the automotive industry, but in his spare time either tinkers with his Land Rover or takes it greenlaning or off-roading.
“My 300Tdi Defender 90 is my first car,” he says. “I was thinking of doing what most lads my age do and buy a hatchback of some description, but Dad and Grandad influenced me to buy a Land Rover. I’ve got no regrets because I made the right choice. With a hatchback I wouldn’t be able to go greenlaning or off-roading and these days Defenders are seen as really cool.”
Adrian adds: “The three of us often go greenlaning together. I think it comes as a bit of a shock to other people to see three generations of the same family out driving the tracks.
“It’s good family fun. Many people bring their kids and dogs and have a marvellous day out in the countryside. My wife, Michelle, often joins us at weekends, as does Heather, Mike’s wife.
“But I have to admit you don’t meet any drivers as old as Mike. He must be the oldest greenlaner in the country. I’ve met countless greenlaners over the years, but nobody even close to his age.
“Greenlaning and his three Land Rovers are his passion: when he’s not greenlaning he’s tinkering with his vehicles. He does all the repairs and servicing himself. He’s an inspiration to us all.”