Le­ices­ter­shire green­lanes

LRO (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOS: ALEX TAPLEY

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.

Re­cent his­tory

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.

Grid ref SP 797993

Easy on the eye – and Le­ices­ter­shire’s rolling coun­try­side is pretty too

Grid ref SK 851022

Dry weather makes for easy driv­ing

Grid ref SP 798992

Badger setts eat into the lane... ... and make you pick your line care­fully

Grid ref SP 795994

Tall grass sug­gests UCR gets very lit­tle use

Neil helps re­move Gor­don’s re­main­ing mir­ror

Grid ref SP 691992

Three very dif­fer­ent Se­ries IIA Land Rovers

Grid ref SP 702931

Manu lim­bos the 101 lim­bos un­der the rail­way bridge

Grid ref SP 683862

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

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