Wilt­shire is awash with ‘reg­u­lar’ green­lanes as well as un­sealed roads with ‘per­mis­sive’ ac­cess. Neil Wat­ter­son finds out more

LRO (UK) - - Greenlaning Salisbury Plain - PHO­TOS: BOB ATKINS

Most green­lan­ers I know rate Wilt­shire as Eng­land’s green­lan­ing cap­i­tal. Not only are there shed­loads of un­sealed roads, but it’s a county steeped in his­tory, so there’s plenty to see to make up a long week­end. No won­der Rus­sians make the long trip there for just the week­end…

And, for green­lan­ers, things have just got bet­ter. A seven-year project has just fin­ished way­mark­ing a net­work of ‘per­mis­sive’ by­ways across Sal­is­bury Plain – green roads you’re al­lowed to ex­plore that aren’t shown on OS maps – and I’ve come to meet up with Dale Wy­att, the driv­ing force be­hind it.

Dale is the Green Lane As­so­ci­a­tion’s (GLASS) pres­i­dent and mag­a­zine ed­i­tor and, up un­til re­cently, he was the Wilt­shire rep. ‘I de­cided to pass on the ba­ton now the project is com­pleted,’ he says.

I’ve been green­lan­ing with Dale be­fore and he’s nor­mally in his Bowler 100 – but it’s cur­rently in bits, so to­day he’s in the pas­sen­ger seat of Paul Wood­ward’s fab­u­lous Ninety.

We’ve met up just north of Marl­bor­ough and grabbed a cof­fee in the layby. There are loads of by­ways in this neck of the woods, but many have sea­sonal re­stric­tions on them over win­ter, so we’re head­ing south.

And the first green road of the day isn’t a by­way at all; it’s a per­mis­sive road run­ning through Sav­er­nake For­est. Grand Av­enue is a three-mile-long straight road that ul­ti­mately leads to Tot­ten­ham House, a grade I listed stately home, built in 1820.

‘It’s closed one day a year to pre­vent it gain­ing rights by de­fault,’ ex­plains Dale over the CB. ‘Lots of lo­cals use it – and I’ll of­ten cut through on the way home from the plain.’

With a 15mph speed limit it’s not a rat-run, just a gen­tle drive through the trees; and we turn off along one of the side roads to have a look at the mon­u­ment erected by Thomas Bruce Earl of Ailes­bury in 1781 at SU 229648, from where you can just make out the house in the dis­tance. Hav­ing been sold by the Earl of Cardi­gan in 2014, plans are be­ing made to turn the house it into a ho­tel.

We jump back in the Land Rovers – I’m driv­ing our 2007 TDV6 Dis­cov­ery 3 com­mer­cial – and head through Burbage, its main street lined by pretty thatched cot­tages. We pick up our first by­way from a layby on the A338.

This takes us down to­wards the Sal­is­bury Plain Train­ing Area (SPTA) and, af­ter a very brief road tar­mac sec­tion, we’re on to an­other by­way on mil­i­tary land. Strange shapes loom in the wood­land be­side the lane and af­ter a

‘The first green road of the day isn’t a by­way at all; it’s a per­mis­sive road run­ning through Sav­er­nake For­est’

while I re­alise they’re ve­hi­cles and tents, cov­ered in camo net­ting to soften the edges. I look ahead and spot a sol­dier on guard. He nods in ac­knowl­edge­ment as we drive by.

Hav­ing spo­ken to mil­i­tary per­son­nel over the years, they like civil­ians to be around while they are train­ing – be­cause that’s what it’s like in the real world. But they don’t like us get­ting in the way of it. So, there’s no prob­lem with us driv­ing through on the un­sealed rights of way, in the same way as there wouldn’t be if we were on a tar­mac road. But we mustn’t leave it.

That’s one of the prob­lems fac­ing the train­ing area. Bikes and 4x4s and leave the roads and drive through wood­land – places that the mil­i­tary use for camp­ing. To the drivers and rid­ers it’s just ‘a

bit of fun’, but it gets in the way of train­ing – but as I’m about to find out, there is so much you can drive legally, why do you even need to go off-piste?

Per­mis­sive by­ways

We reach the A342 at a tank cross­ing. Ahead of us lies a stone track, but there are no rights of way in­di­cated on the map. This is the first of our ‘per­mis­sive by­ways’.

‘SPTA byelaws state you can drive the stone tracks, but we’ve helped clar­ify it by cre­at­ing Per­mis­sive By­ways where foot­paths and bri­dle­ways run along them,’ ex­plains Dale, ‘plus we’ve added other per­mis­sive routes to help make the net­work more log­i­cal.’

The per­mis­sive by­way sign point­ing along the track is one that Dale and his team have in­stalled, so you know you can drive it.

‘Some ar­eas have signs up say­ing, “No civil­ian ve­hi­cles”, which means ex­actly what it says – you can’t drive it. And you must al­ways give way to mil­i­tary traf­fic on the stone roads,’ he con­tin­ues. Other ad­vice, like keep­ing group num­bers down are in­cluded in the SPTA Green­lan­ing Good Prac­tice Guide avail­able here:­ta­green­lan­ing.

We briefly join a by­way be­fore turn­ing off along an­other stone track to­wards Baden Clump and then along a bri­dle­way to­wards Baden Down Farm. ‘The bri­dle­way is still sign­posted,’ says Dale, ‘but the per­mis­sive by­way sign is above it, so you can drive it.’

Af­ter a bit of tar­mac work we’re back on the plain. ‘We’re go­ing to have a look at one of the by­ways,’ Dale tells me. ‘My good friend, the sadly de­parted Steve Gun­ning, plot­ted the route of the by­way when GPS was in its in­fancy. But when you see the route on the ground, it’s fairly clear that what’s shown on the map isn’t the orig­i­nal road.’

He’s right. We drive along the line of the by­way, the GPS marks on our Mem­ory Map apps show­ing that the lightly rut­ted route is spot-on. But the sur­face isn’t right. We reach a junc­tion with an­other track.

‘See the road here?’ asks Dale. ‘This is more what we would ex­pect to see. Vil­lagers would come out and help re­move the flint from the fields to make up the tracks, mak­ing it eas­ier to farm – while also build­ing a road. The chil­dren were in­volved too – they were given small ham­mers to break the stones up, and so the road was made. The track we’ve just driven on doesn’t have any sur­face – it’s just mud.’

That’s why, where there’s a dis­crep­ancy such as this, the way­mark­ers point along the line of the most likely route, rather than the line that’s shown on the map – it’s much bet­ter to drive a route that’s sustainable, than to sim­ply fol­low your GPS.

Red flags are fly­ing

Re­join­ing the stone track, we criss-cross the mapped line of the by­way and pass a busy dog-walker – she has about 10 pooches with her – be­fore cross­ing to the Tid­worth side of the train­ing area. I’ve driven this area fairly re­cently in the Au­tumn Leaves com­pe­ti­tion (see p186), but be­cause the red flags are fly­ing we stay out­side the dan­ger area.

More by­ways take us un­der the A303 and be­tween Ames­bury and Boscombe Down air­field, with a mile­stone at the end of one in­di­cat­ing that the by­way was once a sig­nif­i­cant road in the area.

Cross­ing the River Avon at Up­per Wood­ford, we make our way to Ber­wick St James and take a by­way to join the fast-mov­ing A303 for a short sec­tion. ‘We need to cross the A303 and the gap in the cen­tral reser­va­tion isn’t that big – give us a cou­ple of min­utes be­fore you fol­low us,’ ad­vises Dale.

The A303 from the east is sin­gle-lane and an ar­tic­u­lated lorry lum­bers into view. Even if we wanted to go sooner, we couldn’t – we have to wait for all the traf­fic that has built up be­hind it to pass. We get to the gap, wait for the traf­fic to clear, then cross.

The by­way that runs past Yarn­bury Cas­tle is a se­ries of peaks and troughs, with the lat­ter of­ten filled with wa­ter; but it’s dry to­day. One of the by­ways is closed, so we fol­low the de­tour via more per­mis­sive by­ways and re­join the route. Ger­man Vil­lage, a train­ing cen­tre on Cope­hill Down, sits di­rectly ahead of us.

‘They would like to move the by­way away from the north of the Ger­man Vil­lage,’ Dale tells me. ‘It gets very close in places, but the near­est hard track isn’t close enough to al­ter it – it would have to be stopped up and a new one ded­i­cated.’ Hav­ing driven the by­way be­fore, I know how bad it can get when the ground is wet – there’s one hole that has swal­lowed sev­eral Land Rovers.

As we ar­rive at the road lead­ing to the vil­lage a mil­i­tary con­voy is head­ing out. We let them go and fol­low along the stone road un­til we reach a by­way and break off. Paul is fine with the 255/85 R16 tyres on his De­fender, but I’m run­ning low-pro­file tyres on the Dis­cov­ery and the flint in the sides of the ruts would rip the paint off the rims, so I have to strad­dle them, crash­ing down with a thump as I have to drop in to­wards the end. I had for­got­ten to raise the sus­pen­sion first…

A stone road takes us down the hill and gives us a clear view of where you can, and can’t, drive. The road con­tin­ues up the hill and is crossed by an­other, but an un­signed pair of lines also spurs from the junc­tion. ‘You can drive the ones that are clearly roads,’ Dale ex­plains, ‘but that other track is off lim­its to civil­ian ve­hi­cles – we’ve no right to be there.’ It is clear enough, but the po­lice and mil­i­tary safety mar­shals still catch drivers and rid­ers where they shouldn’t be.

More stone roads and a by­way take us into Chit­terne and we’ve a long slog on the road around Warmin­ster for our fi­nal sec­tion of the trip. ‘Un­for­tu­nately, there are no ve­hic­u­lar rights on the south­ern sec­tion of the Im­ber Ranges,’ Dale tells me over the CB. ‘I’ve been in there way­mark­ing the perime­ter bri­dle path and the scenery is fantastic.’

As we reach Up­ton Scu­d­amore, we turn off the A350 and head along what’s shown as a bri­dle­way on the OS maps. The clearly signed per­mis­sive by­way takes us right round the top of the ranges. Some parts are tar­mac, oth­ers are stone, but they fol­low the bound­ary of the Im­ber Ranges most of the way.

Cross­ing the A360 at Gore Cross, we join the North­ern Tran­sit around West­down Ar­tillery Range. Oc­ca­sional ‘whumps’ echo as shells are fired into the range. Red flags are fly­ing, so the roads cross­ing the range are closed, but there’s one fi­nal sec­tion Dale wants to show me. A by­way fol­lows the North­ern Tran­sit, but there’s also a track be­side the edge of the dan­ger area. This also now signed per­mis­sive by­way, al­low­ing rid­ers and drivers to con­tinue round with­out stick­ing to the stone track.

Drop­ping off the plain and back to the Avon Val­ley near Upavon, we’ve cir­cum­nav­i­gated Sal­is­bury Plain, much of it off-tar­mac. Dale and Paul say farewell and head off. I start to plan my route home, then no­tice the per­mis­sive by­way sign across the road.

Time for one more lane? Oh, go on then – if you in­sist…

‘There’s a dis­crep­ancy. The track we’ve just driven on doesn’t have any sur­face – it’s just mud’

Fol­low­ing a Per­mis­sive By­way across Figheldean Down [Lane 6] UK AD­VEN­TURE GREEN­LANES YOU CAN DRIVE – IN ANY LAND ROVER! Easy-to-fol­low routes De­tailed OS maps and grid refs Over­all rat­ings:– tak­ing into ac­count length, drive­abil­ity, scenery, ter­rain and lo­cal in­ter­est

Chalky soil is clear to see at Crow Down [Lane 2] Grid ref SU 216574

‘What – salad cream? With ba­con? Se­ri­ously?’

Dale and Paul with one of the signs they in­stalled

Grassy ‘by­way’ prob­a­bly doesn’t fol­low the orig­i­nal route [Lane 6] How to make a Land Rover sud­denly look very small

Red flag means Wat­ter­son is driv­ing – take cover [Lane 7] Grid ref SU 216471 Watty presents a cake to Dale for his fourth birth­day

The only wa­ter of the trip, near Yan­bury Cas­tle [Lane 18] Grid ref SU 034409

A Ninety and some de­fend­ers

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