Greener Green­lan­ing

Mike Mor­rall is Bri­tain’s old­est greenlaner – and both he and his fam­ily are chang­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of how oth­ers see green­lan­ing

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Words and Pic­tures: Dave Phillips

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.”

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