During the course of a typical working week I ride extensively through the Shropshire border country and , being a keen observer of nature and local history , I reckon I don’t miss much . In fact I have been described on more than one occasion to having the ocular capability of a latrine dwelling rodent. It therefore never ceases to surprise and delight that I keep coming across new lanes and tracks. Take yesterday for instance; Ken, an old Laverda-riding buddy of mine, had booked a day out and I’d carefully planned a route which would show off the spectacular Shropshire countryside to its best advantage. The previous evening whilst poring over the maps I spotted a route which traversed the extremities of two 1:25,000 Landranger OS maps. Depending on which map you were looking at the route was a road to nowhere leading off the edge of the page and for some reason I’d never bothered to connect the dots, so to speak. By coupling the maps It became apparent the route would handily link two key riding areas and eliminate a rather tedious road section. Further investigation was required.
Take it easy Ken, somebody’s got to clean that later
I wouldn’t normally go exploring a new lane with a customer just in case a motorcycle-hating, shotgun toting farmer lives along the lane or packs of feral pitbulls roam freely around the fields. Not that I’ve ever met an irate farmer or even seen a pitbull in Shropshire. Mind you, I did once happen across a feisty pointer who was big enough and had a loud enough bark to make me think twice about venturing onto his turf but fortunately he turned out to be a softy. The point I’m trying to make is I don’t usually busk it when planning routes for paying customers because I’m wary of leading customers into potentially unforeseen peril but, with Ken being a mate an’ all and blessed with an unusually good-humoured disposition I reckoned I could get away with it. He’s also a big lad with hands like shovels and could be useful in a tricky diplomatic situation.
Now here’s an interesting thing. The route was clearly marked on the OS map and was clearly signposted when we got there. It also connects two stunning locations, in fact it leads into one of the most beautiful , unspoilt valleys in the region which for some reason I’ve overlooked despite doing two years of intensive research into the area. Not only have I missed it but it seems like every other off road enthusiast in the area has also passed it by because the lane looked as if nobody had ridden or driven on it for years.
Ken emerges from the undergrowth on the recently discovered trail. A lovely unspoilt section of single track.
The lane is wonderfully secluded piece of single track, unspoilt by 4x4s with just enough tricky technical sections to keep you on your toes but in good enough condition to make it passable during the winter months . So, I hear you ask, will I be sharing this unspoilt ancient gem with the wider off road community at large? Not on your Nellie.
Selfish? Moi? Well, actually yes I am. Allow me to explain.
For many years trail riding has been an unglamorous hobby pursued by true off road enthusiasts who put the graft in , researched the lanes and went exploring remote corners of the beautiful English countryside. Marked-up maps showing the legal byways would be treasured items shared only amongst fellow green laners along the lines of I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. It all worked well enough and the vast network of the UKs unsurfaced lanes were by and large kept in regular if not exactly continuous use. This is now changing. The advent of the internet, GPS plotting and satnavs are now making the lanes available to a much wider audience. This is all well and good and I would always welcome and encourage people to enjoy our wonderful countryside. The downside is , like so many things in life, is if people haven’t had to work or pay for something they often they undervalue or disrespect it and , at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old fart , the ‘wrong’ people are now finding their ways to places that they would never previously have discovered.
By ‘wrong’ , I mean people who don’t have a love of the countryside. These are people who simply want to do some ‘extreme’ weekend activity and by the miracle of modern technology they can now access various websites , download a route without even looking at a map, load up the sat nav and set off for the wild blue yonder armed with a 4×4 , a “One Life, Live It” sticker and an iPod. They can then tear up a few lanes, film it all and upload the results on You Tube for the whole world to see. The next thing you know these videos are lifted off the ‘net and presented to local authorities by groups seeking to obtain lane closures . The result? We lose the lanes. If you don’t believe me look up ‘Viking Way’. This was an ancient green lane repeatedly abused by 4×4 enthusiasts who frequently published their moronic antics on You Tube and it’s now closed to traffic. And do these people care about this? No, they’re not countryside lovers, they’re thrill seekers and they couldn’t give a toss. They’ll move on to the next extreme activity which takes their fancy and seek out the same instant gratification with no thought for the consequences.
That’s why I don’t publicly share my knowledge of the lanes .
I should point out at this stage I’m not by any means anti 4×4, I an however anti anything which abuses the lanes be it a driver of a 4×4 or a motorcyclist. And there’s an element of the two-wheeled fraternity who are just as irresponsible although their transgressions of lane etiquette tend to be speed and noise which are transient nuisance problems, rather than the long lasting physical damage caused by groups of heavy vehicles.
Small bike, big scenery. Ken crosses Offa’s Dyke. These 1200 year old earthworks provide a conundrum for modern historians who aren’t quite sure what its purpose was. Asser, King Arthur’s biographer wrote the following “.…a certain vigorous king called Offa……had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea.”
Anyway, I’ve digressed enough. Getting back on the subject of hidden lanes, Ken and I stopped off for a pint on the way back from the ride and, parking up outside the excellent Three Tuns pub in Bishop’s Castle, we were accosted by a nice chap who was a local trail rider wanting to know where we’d been. I gave him a quick precis of the route and it was obvious he was extremely well-informed and asked to have a look at my map . He nodded sagely at my highlighter pen lines criss- crossing the map and proceeded to point out a number of legal routes not clearly or properly shown on the map. I appreciate OS maps aren’t always 100% accurate but I was amazed how many other hidden lanes there were dotted around my routes . I pointed a few lanes he wasn’t familiar with and all in all it was a very worthwhile exchange. My new found pal was no chancer , he could cite the names of the lanes, knew who owned the dwellings or farms along the route and was absolutely sure of his ground. I felt as if I’d been riding around with my eyes shut.
This is how the knowledge of routes used to be conveyed. By one individual weighing up the integrity of another and then sharing common rights of way knowledge knowing the likelihood of the lanes becoming abused is very remote. Contrast that approach with posting the stuff on the internet for every man and his dog to see and you start to see the problems. I don’t like it and I won’t participate in it. I prefer the more analogue horse-drawn approach. Like I said, you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
Bugger, the battery’s gone dead in the satnav and I don’t have a map, what on earth should I do now? [this is a reconstruction for dramatisation purposes] Truth to tell I was cleaning my googles when Ken took the pic.