Off Roading

A happy day out in the Yorkshire Dales, mid-1970s. I’m the chap at the rear, with lots of hair and a bald forehead. That was my Landrover. The chap just landing on the bonnet took the photograph, with my camera on a tripod with the self-timer.

These days I’m not so keen on the idea of driving on these off-road tracks – with so many people having vehicles capable of it, the wear and tear on the countryside is quite excessive. I think it should be outlawed now, except for genuine farming purposes (NOT landowners selling the right to do it to the rich!) or rescues. In those days there were so few of us doing it (in the UK at least) that it really wasn’t an issue.

I didn’t feel guilty at the time, because I hadn’t thought about the issue at all. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been allowed to do it then, but nobody tried to stop us, and right or wrong, we did it. Yes, it was fun.

But times change. Whether it was right or wrong then, I think it’s wrong now.

There are many things we can’t enjoy today that our ancestors enjoyed, because the world has changed. Equally, there are many things we can enjoy today that our ancestors couldn’t – again, because the world has changed.

In the hills, where recreational off-roading is more fun, it can do far more damage than any farm activities do – hill farmers don’t use heavy machinery. It’s definitely recreational 4x4 drivers who do the damage.

Part of it is that modern off-road recreational vehicles are far more powerful than my old Landie was – or, for that matter, than the farmers’ vehicles are. The drivers often don’t have the driving skills the farmer needs and has, or that I had. They have sophisticated, powerful vehicles instead. And those powerful vehicles are liable to do far more damage than a little old Landie. Even an overpowered 4x4 could be driven gently and carefully so as to minimize the damage to the tracks – but they’re mostly not. Just watch them.

But mostly it’s numbers. What we enjoyed was being out there by ourselves, on a track that was rarely used. Tracks that are open to recreational 4x4 drivers aren’t rarely used any more, and if you use them you aren’t out there by yourself. And that really isn’t my fault, or my hypocrisy.

I think that when we were driving on these green lanes in the 70s, we were doing so with the tolerance (possibly the ignorance) of the landowners. Theoretically we probably should have had their permission, which we never did. Technically, I think the tracks are pretty well all – very likely all – private, with no right of public vehicular access.

My impression is that the majority of drivers try to avoid upsetting other users – certainly most (not all) are careful of horse riders and walkers. But I think an awful lot of them really don’t know how to avoid causing deep ruts, and some seem to enjoy wild spinning of wheels and slithering about – either that or they’ve got too much power and nowhere near enough control. Modern 4x4s encourage this kind of driving – they’re vastly overpowered for off-roading, more suited to towing boats or overweight caravans at speed on motorways. (Or to mounting the kerb outside your Kensington kindergarten to get half off the road over the double yellow lines while you pop inside to pick up Hyacinth and Attila...)

You might wonder why my Landrover was red and black. It had been standard green and cream when my Dad bought it new, and originally I kept it like that. I painted it red and black for a trip to Northern Ireland, during the troubles – not wishing to be mistaken for the military...see Special Branch for more of that story – and it stayed red and black for the rest of its days.

©Clive K Semmens 1977-2017