Exploring the heart of England in leafers
Neil Watterson joins up with fellow Series 2 Club members to form a ‘Three Nations’ convoy along Rutland and Leicestershire greenlanes
An Englishman, a Scotsman and a Frenchman walk into a bar. The barman asks: ‘Is this some sort of joke?’ But it’s not – it’s just our latest greenlane run which, despite being in central England, has a real international feel to it.
Gordon Lowe is the Englishman; he’s driven over from Lincolnshire with wife Wendy in their soft-top 1970 Series IIA. Gene Maxwell has come down from central Scotland in his 1969 Series IIA Lightweight and Manu Delacroix has rumbled across from the Vendée region of France in his 1977 Marshall ambulance-bodied 101 Forward Control. They’ve converged on Rutland, England’s smallest county, for the annual Series 2 Club International Rally and are keen to sample the greenlanes the area has to offer.
This year’s rally, based in the village of Wing, just south of Rutland Water, attracted some 100 Series II and IIA Land Rovers, plus a few others, like Manu’s 101. It’s a great turn-out to celebrate the marque’s 60th anniversary – helped by the venue’s central location and easy access to the nearby A1.
Organiser John Stokes had created some scenic drives for visitors, and I’ve based our runaround one of them, adding a few extra lanes that more precious owners may prefer to omit – they’re still undamaging, but can change with the weather and seasons.
As it is, we’re getting towards the end of a very dry spell – weeks without rain have left the fields parched. Some crops have already been harvested and the prolonged spell of good weather means farmers won’t have to rush to get the job completed.
We drive a flat byway near Ridlington to start with before crossing into Leicestershire and picking up another leading off the A47 near East Norton. Our third greenlane of the trip (above) is an unclassified county road (UCR) that’s only suitable to be driven when the ground is dry – the ground becomes just too soft during the winter months.
I’m leading, pushing through the bumperhigh grass that’s growing along the lane. There are ruts, but they aren’t too much of
‘It’s a UCR that’s only suitable to be driven when the ground is dry – the ground is too soft during the winter’
a problem to start with, though they do become deeper as you get towards the triangulation pillar halfway along. We straddle the baked-hard ruts with ease.
Back on tarmac, we head through Hallaton, having a quick look at a tarmac UCR in the village, before taking the field road towards Goadby (Lane 5, below). This starts off as tarmac, but becomes a well-used gravel track with good views once you crest the rise.
Turning south towards Glooston, we pick up another gated, unsealed road westbound (Lane 6; see p36). I try not to use a lane more than once on a trip, but I’ve planned to re-drive this later today – for reasons that will become clear. The lane itself, mostly gravel, follows the route of a Roman Road that ran between Corby and Leicester. Another unsealed road spurs off in a pasture, where we stop for a short break.
A couple of walkers stop to chat with us. They’re out doing a recce for a walk they’re organising for their local group and give us some advice on the lanes we’re about to drive.
They head off, as do we, and we’re soon splashing though the small ford across a tributary of the River Welland before climbing up towards the B6047. We continue along the line of the Roman road past Illston Grange and stop at the end of the next UCR.
Blazing a trail
This road (Lane 7, see map on p38) is the one the walkers warned us about. They told us that it was overgrown but we initially doubt their advice – although trees overhang the field-edge lane, it’s not too bad, but ruts do tilt us at what feels like quite alarming angles.
Then it does get overgrown. As you can tell from the pictures, I’m not fussed about the paintwork on my 1969 IIA so I’ll drive it anywhere, and Gordon and Gene are happy to follow. But Manu’s 101 is huge, especially with the roof-mounted boxes, so he turns around.
It’s a good job too. My boomerang mirror hinges do their job and fold back as the branches scrape along the side of the 88, but Gordon and Gene have fixed arms – one of Gordon’s snaps off and the glass pings out of one of Gene’s units. Gordon and I are both covered in berries, insects and foliage – I’m driving without the doortops on and Gordon has removed the canvas from his.
We fix the mirrors, plunge through the short ford and continue to the end of the lane and turn up to King’s Norton.
The most striking part of King’s Norton is St John The Baptist Church. Completed in 1761, the church stands proudly upon the hill in the village and dead in line with the byway (Lane 8, p38) out of the village. It fills what’s left of our rear-view mirrors as we drop into the valley then climb out again.
Manu is waiting for us at the end of the lane so we regroup and head back along the Roman road towards Glooston.
‘There should be enough clearance, so we spot the leviathan 101 through – there are inches to spare’
As luck would have it, we arrive at the junction with the UCR heading south at the same time as John Stokes’s group reaches the gate to the pasture, so we wait for them and have a quick chat before John gets them rolling – the pub will be closing soon. What – really? It’s only half past one!
We’d better get cracking too, so I lead our group along the lane to Stonton Wyville (Lane 9, p38) and along the UCR to Thorpe Langton (Lane 10, below right). This lane is a firm, field-edge road but has a pleasant little ford towards the end and in winter it can be quite deep – but is just a shallow, axle-deep crossing now. Manu’s 101 barely looks like it’s in the water at all.
We decide to stop for lunch at the village pub, but it’s closed – it opens at lunchtimes only on weekends. At least the Red Lion at Welham is open and we grab a snack from their reasonably priced lunch menu and eat outside, talking Land Rovers. It’s a lovely day and the conversation is flowing, so it seems almost rude to break it up and continue our journey, but I’ve another lane I want to do before heading back.
We turn west and drop on to the short UCR under the railway near Kibworth Beauchamp. It’s subject to a two-metre width restriction but the gates are often open – as they are today. Gordon, Gene and I wouldn’t have any problem anyway, but the ambulance body on the 101 pushes it oversize. Oh, and there’s the small concern about the height of the vehicle, with its storage boxes on the top.
Manu expresses his concerns when he sees the low railway bridge. He’s partway through a pan-european trip and has already been to Scotland and is heading to Portugal next – he doesn’t want to damage the 101. I don’t want to damage the bridge!
We walk it. There’s a small bit of metal hanging down, but there should be enough clearance, so we spot the leviathan through – there’s a good few inches to spare. But the gate at the end of the road is locked, so although the 88s can get through, the 101 won’t, and we turn around.
As it happens, I had thought this lane was a different one; a lane with a lovely ford along it. But I was wrong. I check the maps, find the one I was thinking of and suggest we go and drive that. The others are up for more lanes so we head off through Kibworth Beauchamp and along the UCR to Debdale Wharf (Lane 12, p38).
Starting off as tarmac, the lane soon becomes a track and passes through a field of cows. As soon as they hear the rattle of
the engines they start to move towards the gate, so we swiftly block their exit. But they’re more interested in the Land Rovers than making a bid for freedom, and start to lick the lichen that has taken hold on my SIIA’S panels.
We pass close to Foxton and its impressive canal lock staircase and continue to the west of Market Harborough for our furthest two lanes. The first (Lane 13, p38) is grassy and crosses the dismantled railway line between Market Harborough and Rugby; and the second has the ford I was thinking about. The footbridge has seen better days, though.
Now we can turn back towards the start, but we’re not finished yet. We re-cross the ford on the UCR at Thorpe Langton and retrace our route along the unsealed roads through Stonton Wyville, Glooston and Hallaton before driving a gravel, tree-lined UCR to the east of Slawston (Lane 15, p38). The sun is starting to drop and the warm light is flooding the roads. Cyclists are enjoying the quiet roads and birds are feasting on the flies stirred up as we pass.
A sun-drenched gravel road takes us between fields from Medbourne to Blaston (Lane 16, p38) and a tarmac ‘white’ road follows. We continue east to drive the tarmac road around Eyebrook reservoir in the Welland Valley. This was built between 1937 and 1940 to supply water to the nearby Corby steel works, which is now owned by Land Rover parent company Tata. The reservoir also played a part in the preparations for the Dambuster raids in 1943, acting as stand-in for the Möhne Reservoir.
A little further east we pass under the impressive 82-arch Welland Viaduct near Harringworth. It is the longest masonry viaduct in the UK, with an overall length of 1275 yards. It had been relegated to freight use only in recent years, but is now in use again for passenger services.
Passing under the arches a couple of times we head back towards Uppingham, taking in one final lane, Gypsy Hollow Lane, a white road to the south of the town (Lane 18, p38).
Surprisingly, this is the most technical lane of the day, with ruts and a short, sharp climb. It’s not one for winter driving, but the long grass tickles the undersides of the vehicles now.
It’s a short drive back to the campsite at Wing. With our unplanned extra lanes it’s been a long day, but the driving has been great and has given us plenty of memories of a cracking international rally.
Easy on the eye – and Leicestershire’s rolling countryside is pretty too
Dry weather makes for easy driving
Badger setts eat into the lane... ... and make you pick your line carefully
Tall grass suggests UCR gets very little use
Neil helps remove Gordon’s remaining mirror
Three very different Series IIA Land Rovers
Manu limbos the 101 limbos under the railway bridge
Fording the Welland near Market Harborough
Neil was chuffed to find that his chat-up lines could still attract the girls
Gene has mirror issues too