In the second part of our off-roading series, David Bowyer ventures into deepest Wales and explains how to prepare your route and store tools in your Land Rover.
If you will be driving close to trees and through undergrowth, push down the retractable radio aerial and make sure the CB aerial, if fitted, can’t get broken. Also, fold the door mirrors in if there is a chance of them hitting a tree or getting caught in bushes. I only fold my mirrors in at the last moment as rearward vision along the side of the vehicle is of paramount importance if you have a failed hill climb, or need to reverse back along a track.
Make sure all loose items inside your Land Rover are stowed away properly. Don’t run the risk of having bits and pieces flying around inside when you are bouncing about off-road. If you are one of those people who carry many items inside the vehicle, put them in a soft bag and wedge it behind the front seat – so that it is out of harm’s way. Even a pen, glasses case or audio cassette can be distracting if it falls off the parcel shelf.
If the rear of your vehicle is packed with recovery equipment, try and pack it together safely, then tie it down, or better still, secure a net on top.
Imagine having an unfortunate accident off-road, or on-road come to that and the vehicle turns over several times. You’d have enough problems without a ground anchor or Tirfor landing on top of you!
Stowing the Gear
Once you’ve been off-roading for a while, you will develop a method of storing your gear so that it is not only safe and secure, but also easy to get out when needed. From the pictures of my 90 you can see my method of storing tools.
I use bolted down, plastic storage chests with removable lids to stow away the tool kit, spare oil and fluid and hand cleaners, etc. In the other lives chains, webbing tree strops, snatch blocks, shackles and a small Brano hand winch. After closing the lids, a strap is secured across the top.
Behind each chest is a spare can (explosive-proof type) of fuel, starter leads and sundry vehicle spares in various plastic food storage boxes.
In between the two chests is my own custom-built box which houses a slightly shortened four-foot Jackall, an extended 90/110 adapter (to reach past the roof ladder and spare rear door-mounted wheel), torque wrench (which doubles up as a wheel brace), set of ‘T-Stake’ ground anchors and a sledge-hammer.
You will notice two restraint bars: one secures the centre box and chests and the other, luggage on top of the two inboard facing seats. These restraints stop the lot from falling out of the back of the vehicle when the rear door is open and facing up a steep hill!
The gaps between the chests and the wheel arches conceal the long handled pruners, a narrow bladed pruning saw, a machete, a bow saw with a spare blade and a wading/walking stick.
On top of the wheel arches is one box containing the food, flask and water container, while a coolbox lives on the other side with a box underneath for storage of useful emergency repair items. All these items are secured down with straps or bungies.
When driving, the luggage, waterproof clothes and camera case are tied down with straps. Fortunately, there are not too many of us in the ‘rollover club’.
Things can, and sometimes do, go wrong, so make sure everything is secure!
Gear to Carry
Talking of recovery gear, make sure you carry a few essentials. Cheap tow ropes you get at the local DIY motorist’s shop are simply not up to it. A nylon three-strand rope, 24mm in diameter and 4.5 metres long, with a 12-tonne minimum breaking strain, is your most useful general towing rope. The stretch factor that you get with nylon takes all the shock and jolting out of the towing operation. And before now I’ve pulled a 38-tonner off a dangerous bend on the road with one of these.
The second heavy-duty rope is the Kinetic Energy Recovery Rope (KERR), which I developed, with Marlow in the mid-80s, for light-skinned military vehicles. It is a special nylon 8 strand (four lying one way and four the other) rope, again 24mm in diameter, but eight metres between sleeved eyes with a 12-tonne minimum breaking strain. Before use, check the safety instructions, as these can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
Carry a Jackall high lift jack and an adaptor if necessary and a plywood base for soft ground use, to change wheels or jack a stuck vehicle up out of deep ruts. You can use one as a short pull winch using a couple of alloy chains and shackles. And with a top clamp you can also use the high lift to either spread or clamp items.
Carry a shovel, preferably a pointed-mouth type, which can often come in useful. My personal preference is a good metal-handled spade, ideal for digging out a rock, filling a rut or digging yourself out. When changing a wheel use the shovel to lift it onto the studs, making the operation much easier.
Carry a couple of shackles, no less than ¾ inch, preferably one ‘D’ and one large Bow. For towing and attaching, these are invaluable. When greenlaning I carry a bow saw, machete and a pair of long-handled pruners to cut any overhanging undergrowth.
Also carry a bow shackle which is handy for towing and attaching. If you’ve checked your off-road route out beforehand these few items should suffice. As my colleague Keith Hart always joked in the classroom, all you need to travel around the world is a high lift jack, a tow rope and a shovel! There’s a lot of truth in that statement if you always read the ground ahead.
The more adventurous you get, the more items you can acquire: a Tirfor or Brano hand winch or even a vehicle-mounted winch. Enjoy the progression of getting more adventurous and you will undoubtedly appreciate your vehicle and your minimum recovery gear more.
A reasonably comprehensive tool kit is also a good idea to carry, and depending on the vehicle and its age, perhaps some sundry spares wouldn’t go amiss. If you intend to travel abroad, carrying essential items of spares is very important.
If your vehicle is a petrol-engined model and you expect to drive through water, do apply some waterproofing to the distributor and coil. I am assuming that your distributor cap and leads are clean to start with. Lift the cap off; apply a one-millimetre diameter bead of silicone grease to the rebate, under the edge of the cap, which locates down onto the main distributor body. Apply too much and it will squeeze out inside on to the rotor arm and contacts – so be careful. Replace the cap squarely and refasten clips. Should there be any gaps surrounding the high-tension cables, either in the distributor cap or coil, then seal these with silicone grease.
On later Efi engines, the high-tension connection into the centre of the distributor cap is a two-piece affair. Carefully seal the joint up between these two sections. To help apply the grease, obtain an injection syringe – you don’t need the needle! Finish off by spraying aerosol silicone grease over the outside of the distributor cap, all leads, coil and plug covers. Old leads tend to become porous so spray them to help prevent problems.
I recommend that you finally cover the distributor cap with an upturned bottom half of a plastic bottle, and in the case of a V8, use a larger bottle. It can be shaped with a pair of scissors so it sits neatly over the HT leads.
This outer cover for the distributor cap not only sheds water away from the bakerlite cover, but also stops condensation from forming inside, which nearly always happens when you dunk a hot engine into cold water. Secure this new cover with a long cable tie. If you really want to go to town, fit orange waterproofing cable glands over the plug caps, which seal very nicely over the hexagon nut of the plugs themselves.
I must be honest – distributors shouldn’t really be completely sealed all the time. The odd gaps that you get in the joint between the body and cap allow a certain amount of breathing that is required to vent off the gases caused by the high tension sparks within. In a sealed system you can get a plaque build-up on the rotor contact points, which could cause a problem if left sealed for a very long time. All you need to do every service is take the cap off, clean the rotor arm and adjacent contacts, and reseal as before.
When inspecting the engine bay, if you spot any pipes or cables which are loose and floating above, or near the steering gear, belts, pulleys and manifolds, secure them with cable ties. The last thing you want when you venture off-road is either a dead short or a melted pipe when bouncing around off-road.
One last thing, for some unknown reason, the bottom door seals on Discoverys come in several pieces giving two open through joints. You’ve guessed it. If going wading protect your carpets from getting wet. Simply seal up these joints using a short piece of tank tape, also known as duct tape, gaffer tape or single-sided carpet tape.
Preparation of yourself and passengers
Fortunately, even here in the U.K. we are still able to travel on legal unsufaced byways into the mountain regions of Wales, Scotland and many moorland areas in England. As some of these rules can take you many miles away from civilisation, it is important to ensure the safety of your vehicle, yourself and companions before you embark on a lengthy journey.
Obviously driving correctly is going to help enormously in reducing the risk to life and limb and damage to your Land Rover. However, you must always go fully prepared – so plan ahead.
Never Go Alone
Never go off-roading alone. Ideally, every driver needs a passenger – perfect, not only for company, but for navigating, opening and closing gates and sharing the driving.
- Fill up with fuel.
- Check all fluid levels, including engine oil, brake and clutch fluid, radiator, power steering reservoir and screen washer bottle.
- Fit wading plug/s.
- Check remote axle breathers are in place, if fitted.
- While underneath, check that everything ‘looks alright’.
- Check tyre condition and pressure, including the spare.
- You may need to tie up mud flaps.
- Remove low-mounted fog and driving lights.
- Consider removing front spoiler if fitted.
- Is rear adjustable towing unit going to foul the ground?
- Standard drop plates OK?
- Know your recovery points both front and rear.
- Is the battery secure?
- Aerials may need to be retracted and door mirrors folded in if passing close to trees and bushes.
- Stow away loose items and tie down any recovery gear.
- If you have a petrol engine, waterproof ignition.
- Inspect radiator, heater hoses and drive belts.
- Check under bonnet for wandering looms and pipes.
- Check all lights are working, including instrument gauges and warning lights.
- Check door seals for gaps.
- Check fire extinguisher.
- Check first aid kit.
- Always take more than one vehicle. If you do get stuck in the mud, a second vehicle could be very useful! Better still – take three vehicles. Many people will have learnt from experience that it’s better to have half-a-dozen people to manhandle a vehicle is something goes wrong, whereas if you are on your own you could have a serious problem.
Depending on where and what time of the year you are going on your trip, whether it is a 4×4 Fun Day or greenlane trip, always consider the following:
Along with Wellingtons and extra socks, take a full set of waterproofs and hat. Include warm jumpers and a change of clothing – I’m not just thinking of rain. You could fall in a river while attaching a rope to a vehicle. My colleagues always laugh when I throw my waders in as part of my kit, but they have come in very useful on several occasions when crossing rivers on foot first.
Food: take plenty of food especially high-energy bars and don’t forget to take a flask of hot drink. You never know how long you are going to be away from civilisation. Take a container of fresh water – this could be useful for either drinking, washing hands, cuts and bruises or radiator requirements.
Tools: a selection of tools appropriate to your vehicle is a must should something need attention. An oddments box is a good idea, which should include spare nuts, bolts, washers, fuses, insulating tape and stiff wire.
Spares: it’s only when you start preparing for an expedition abroad that you take everything including the kitchen sink with you! But, if you regularly go off-road with the same group of vehicles, the more adventurous you get, the more you can start putting together a few items like fan belts, hoses and sparking plugs. One day you may be pleased you did.
Fuel: it’s always a good idea to carry a spare fuel can of fuel. Ideally, use an explosion-proof can which is filled with a special gauze and secure it with a strap. When travelling off-road you are often down only to four or five miles to the gallon. If you run a V8 90, like myself, with a normal-sized fuel tank, you could have an embarrassing end to the day! If on a long run fill your vehicle’s tank before commencing your off-road journey, and at any opportunities during the day.
CB: all vehicles travelling together as a group should always have a CB radio fitted to each. You can converse with ease, the ‘lead’ vehicle can tell ‘tail-end Charlie’ whether he or she found the gate open or closed, or simply to confirm the route ahead.
It’s not a bad idea to carry just one hand-held CB unit, which is useful when the lead vehicle passenger walks ahead to check the ground. After walking what could be several hundred metres, he or she can simply tell the convoy to come ahead, or forget it. An amateur radio operator has a better chance of communicating over a much greater distance, which could be useful in an emergency.
Radio Telephone: If a member of the convoy has got a mobile, then definitely take it.
Estimated time of arrival back to base: do let someone know where you are going and roughly what time you expect to get back. No doubt you and your colleagues will be enjoying every moment of your fun off-road. But those back at base can get concerned if it’s getting late in the day and you’re still not back. That’s when the cellular phone can come in useful!
Preparation – where are you going
We have bought our vehicle, prepared it to go off-roading and prepared ourselves for the trip ahead.
Although the next chapter takes you through the various driving techniques, I recommend that you first attend one of the country’s recognised specialist off-road training schools. The school’s instructors will help you put all this theory into practice. You may want to further your knowledge by taking part in one of the many Land Rover magazine Driving Days.
Remember to always drive safely and sensibly off-road and set an example to others. Don’t rush everywhere, don’t take unnecessary risks and don’t endanger yourself or anyone else. It is great fun joining in on one of the many off-road days that are being set up all round the country. Professional off-road training schools call these ‘playpens’.
Enjoy yourself of course, gain all the experience you can, but be careful. It is easy to be egged on by others with either more, or less, experience than yourself. Don’t get drawn into driving routes on these private sites which could either damage your vehicle or cause a major recovery.
Recoveries have been known to go wrong, so be warned, don’t take risks with poor ropes and towing points. Watch others who are happy to drive difficult sections and only join in when you have plenty of confidence. If you do become stuck, then I’m sure there will be helpers to ease you out of your predicament. It is often safer, and more controllable, to be winched out.
Woodland areas are brilliant to drive through, but trees, even small ones, can cause vehicle body damage if you slide off the track. So keep your speed down, and watch out on wet, grassy banks – they can be lethal.
Finally, watch out for ‘show-offs’. They have a habit of appearing from nowhere when you least expect them. Your next thoughts on where to drive off-road may turn to greenlaning. And if they do, we really must stop, think, and consider where to go.
Driving off-road on public rights of way simply means driving off the sealed highway but all the usual legal requirements governing the use of vehicles on the road apply. Vehicles must be road-legal and drivers must comply with traffic regulations. Greenlaning is the general term that the off-road fraternity use when referring to driving the legal byways in England and Wales.
Let’s remind ourselves of the various definitions of the three types of highway
Public Footpaths: on which the public has only the right to walk and vehicles are not usually permitted. On the Landranger Ordnance Survey Map 1:50.0 (1.25 inches – one mile) these paths are marked in a red dotted line.
Public Bridleways: on which the public has only the right to walk, cycle and ride horses. Vehicles are not usually permitted. On the OS map these are shown as red dashes.
Public Carriageways: on which the public can do all the above, plus drive a motor vehicle and use horse drawn vehicles. These are shown by many different markings on the map depending on their classification.
Motorways, trunk roads, main roads, secondary and minor roads are shown in blue, red, brown and yellow. The lesser tracks shown in white, dotted or otherwise, start to get our interest.
The main interest to us as off-roaders are two markings which can be seen on the map’s legend panel normally shown under public rights of way – below footpath and bridleway.
Roads used as public paths (RUPPs) are shown as dots and dashes in red. This is an old classification and these RUPPs are being gradually reclassified as either byways open to all traffic (BOATs), bridleways or footpaths, depending on whether or not there are public carriageway rights over them. Some highway authorities will be able to tell you which RUPPs are considered to have vehicular rights over them, but the rights of way officers of the various 4×4 clubs may well have more information at his or her fingertips.
Byways open to all traffic, the next higher classification, are shown as red dots and crosses. The public has a right to drive on any BOAT. On newer OS maps these are simply shown as a byway.
Just to confuse the issue, there are other lanes on which we may drive which are either recorded by the highway authority as minor public roads, commonly known as unclassified county roads (UCRs), or those which have no recorded status at all!
Even more confusing in just a few instances, a dashed black line earmarked as a path may also be legally driveable. In these few cases, this black-pecked path will probably be a UCR.
Just to complicate things a bit more, some BOATs (byways), RUPPs and UCRs with the public rights to drive could be restricted by a traffic regulation order (TRO). These orders limit or prohibit driving on those roads subject to the order. Such regulations are put into effect by standard ‘no vehicles’ signs, or similar, at each end. It is an offence to ignore such orders.
Occasionally you may come across ‘temporary notice’ signs displayed at each end of a lane, which has been either overused or damaged by heavy rainfall. Rights of way officers with agreement of both authority and user groups put them there. Please obey these notices.
In Britain, we must remember that every piece of ground is either owned or controlled by somebody, even though it may look deserted.
We must be careful not to trespass, and, in certain cases straying onto railways or military establishments could well be a civil offence.
Marking the Maps
So, how do we find out where to drive? The first thing to do is purchase the latest edition of the Ordnance Survey Landranger map for the area you would like to explore. The scale is 1:50.000 (1.25 inches to one mile – two centimetres to one kilometre).
Unless you have good eyesight, use a magnifying glass and check across the map in blocks, of say, three or four grids at a time. Mark the start and finish of likely ‘through’ routes bearing the markings of RUPPs and BOATs (Byways). Look out too for interesting UCRs, which continue right through to other roads. Do not bother with any dead-end routes, which, more often than not, will only lead to farm buildings.
Use a yellow highlighter pen to show the ‘ends’ of these possibly legally driveable through routes. Then, contact the county hall in the area you will be exploring and speak to the rights of way officer. Ask if you can inspect its definitive maps to confirm RUPPs, BOATs and byways. You can then check your maps against its very large-scale definitive maps and hopefully some of your chosen routes on your map will be confirmed as legally driveable. You can then mark the length of each route with your yellow highlighter. Before reaching any conclusion ask to check the revisions list, just in case the definitive maps haven’t been updated with any changes that have been made. You should also ascertain if any routes are subject to a TRO.
You could also ask to see the UCR map and mark up your own maps accordingly. More often than not, you will need to visit the highways office to check unmetalled UCRs, including those black pecked paths that I mentioned earlier. I suggest that you mark up the ‘ends’ of all UCRs with a blue highlighter pen, so that at a glance you can differentiate between RUPPs, BOATs, byways and UCRs.
This method of how to find out more about greenlaning is by far the most enjoyable as it gives you a challenge and puts you in a good position of knowing just how you stand, which could save you a lot of embarrassment. When you go to the county hall or highways office, make notes on the side of your OS map as to the date you gained the information. Do bear in mind that whatever you have seen, or been told during your visit, that information regarding the status of any lane could change at any time. So what’s legally driveable this year may not be next. That’s life!
Whereas every council in England and Wales must, by law, maintain an up-to-date definitive map, councils in Scotland and Northern Ireland do not. So, if you live or intend visiting either of these you will have to do a lot more homework first.
Another way of getting to know where greenlanes are would be to join your local or national Land Rover, Range Rover or four-wheel drive club. Most clubs have rights of way officers who are willing to help you to read maps and confirm that you are on the right track, so to speak.
Remember too, that OS maps are only reprinted every few years, and therefore can become out of date very quickly. What I do is keep a list in my wallet of the map numbers I own, with the published dates alongside. If I spot a newly published version in a map shop I may buy it.
So, having marked up our maps, we can plan to go greenlaning. Within Britain, we have about 5,000 miles of unsurfaced ancient byways open for our use and it is very important that we lose as few routes as possible in the years ahead during the re-classification of public rights of way. Eventually the grey area RUPPs will disappear, leaving simply footpaths, bridleways and byways.
Unfortunately, there will always be lanes which are lost from year-to-year through erosion by the natural elements.
Having driven ‘your’ green lane, why not mark your yellow highlighted route with a green marker over it to identify RUPPs, BOATs and byways and highlight UCRs in blue. In future months and years you will be able to tell, at a glance, which routes you may still be able to drive and which routes you have driven.
Put pencil notes along the route where obstructions, such as washed out gullies are, so you know for future reference; or, if a tree is down, you can give an exact reference to where the problem is. Report problems found to your club’s rights of way officer, county hall or highway authority. Using vehicles on greenlanes is an emotive subject.
There are many organisations that would like to see recreational motor vehicles confined to major surface roads only. Motoring organisations, such as Land Access and Recreational Association (LARA), believes that all users of the countryside can enjoy their pastime without upsetting others, as long as we all exercise a little care and consideration.
Having prepared our vehicle, ourselves, and our route, my next part will cover off-road driving techniques.