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North Wales is plagued with unsurfaced right of ways which are popular with off roaders, bikists, ramblists and other general outdoorsy types.

As a lazy outdoorsy type I've done all these lanes a number of times as a passenger in various friend's 4x4s - especially in that of Don Parry, an off road instructor who works for Land Rover and therefore is a bit of an expert at pushing these vehicles to the extreme.

Don's always been adamant that my Freelander would be well suited on a lot of the lanes he uses on the Land Rover Owner Adventure Club Wild Wales trips - so after years of "maybe one day", I bit the bullet and arranged a day of trying out the Freelander's abilities on these tricky trails.

The first rule of driving these rights of ways (green laning), is to never go alone. You never know what could happen - you could get stuck, or breakdown and be miles from civilisation. That's why I was being followed by my mate Rob in his tricked up Land Rover 90, complete with waffle boards, tow ropes and a winch - "just in case". I should emphasise that when green laning it's looked down upon to use most of these tools on the right of ways - it's not off roading and if you have to use a winch to get up a lane, you're likely to be damaging the surface and will upset the locals. It is however, better to be safe than sorry.

On our first lane of the day, a half ORPA (Other Route with Public Access) and half BOAT (Byway Open to All Vehicles) near Llangollen, there was never a risk of the Freelander having any issues thanks to the firm surface and few ruts. It was a pleasant start to the day, trying out the Freelander's Hill Descent Control (a clever mechanism that uses the brakes to control your speed when going downhill so you can take your feet off the pedals and concentrate on steering), before taking a sharp turn and heading up through woodland.

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I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive after this first lane. It was a pleasant drive and if all the lanes of the day would be this easy I'd be happy - but I knew that things were going to get much trickier on the next lane, an ORPA known as the Wayfarer. The Wayfarer is one of the most popular routes in the country for 4x4s, bikes (both powered and unpowered), and ramblers. It's six miles long and has only just reopened after being closed for repairs for 18 months after a section got badly washed away and was impassable. Since the repairs I've been along the track once as a passenger, and I knew there was a tricky section with a bit of an axle twister where the repairs had been made.

We decided to do the sensible thing and walk a section of the lane before taking the vehicles up there. The last thing we wanted to do was get part way along and then have to reverse all the way back.

Unfortunately we didn't have the time or energy to walk the entire length of the lane (which I have done before on shorter lanes when I've not been sure of what's around the next corner), but we walked far enough to settle in my mind that there was nothing to particularly worry about.

The axle twister was indeed tricky and took a couple of goes before managing to get the Freelander through it. Rob's expert spotting helped a great deal here - when you're in the vehicle it's difficult to judge which wheel is doing what, and you have to rely on a confident spotter to tell you where to turn the wheel.

I will admit that it was my driving here that let the Freelander down. As soon as there was any hint of the wheels losing grip and starting to spin, it was instinctive to hit the brake pedal, back up and have another go. This didn't give the traction control a chance to kick in. As the traction control is reactive you need to let the wheels spin for the system to realise there's a problem, kick in, and help the vehicle continue forward. This is different to how diff lock on other Land Rovers work. Diff lock is proactive, i.e. when you think you're going to lose grip you lock the differentials to prevent all the power going to one wheel which causes it to spin.

In the end, as soon as the Freelander started to spin its wheels, I pressed down on the accelerator instead of the brake. This caused the traction control to kick in, stop the wheels from spinning and make light work of the difficult terrain.

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The one thing I would have liked in this situation was a low range gearbox. First gear in the Freelander is a bit high for tackling off road obstacles - and to go any slower you need to slip the clutch which is obviously not ideal, creating unnecessary wear.

After getting through this section the Freelander plodded along nicely at tickover in first gear. This is equivalent to third in vehicles with a low range 'box - the ideal gear for tackling gentle lanes at a relaxed pace.

The next obstacle was what is known as the sleepers. The right of way cuts across a bog which, if a vehicle drove onto (or indeed if a walker walked onto or a biker rode onto), they would just sink. To prevent this from happening planks of wood have been laid down. These work well but there is a bit of a step up from the track onto the sleepers. Fortunately with a few well placed rocks to create a bit of a ramp, and with some very careful spotting we managed to get the Freelander onto the planks.

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With gravity on our side getting off the sleepers shouldn't have been an issue, but just to make things interesting there was a pool of water at the end with a few large rocks conveniently placed to create a large hole in the Freelander's sump if they were hit.

This is where I decided to change into my wellies and check the depth of the water myself before driving the vehicle into it. This is a good idea if you have the time - you never know what's hiding in water and there have been occasions where anti-4x4 types have hidden barbed wire in water to burst tyres. A few burst tyres is one thing, but you can imagine the damage it'd do to horses which are the vehicle of choice for some lane users.

After surrounding the big rocks with smaller ones, with Rob's spotting we managed to get the Freelander nicely onto the rocks without grounding out once.

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After this we had an easy run to the highest point of the lane. Unfortunately there is lots of evidence here of 4x4s going off piste for a bit of fun. This should not be done on public lanes - you have a right to drive on the track itself but not on the land around it. Churning up land gives 4x4s a bad reputation, and ammunition for those who want our right to drive these trails taken away. If you want to drive off road, willy wave and get muddy - go to a private off road site.

On a lighter note there is a guestbook here kept in a metal box to protect it from the elements. People often write in it how they got to the remote location, so I was happy to put in a cheeky note saying "a Freelander made it here!".

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Now it was all downhill to the end of the lane. There were a few interesting bits but by driving carefully and with gravity giving us a helping hand the Freelander made light work of the obstacles. It was along here we saw a few other people, not a surprise on such a popular route, firstly a group of ramblers and then a couple decked out in vintage motoring gear. They had everything except the motorbike, but it turned out they were doing the same as what we did - walking the route before driving it. They were friendly enough, asking how passable the sleepers were.

Before we knew it we were off the lane and heading towards the touristy town of Bala for lunch. I regularly find myself in Bala when in North Wales - it seems to be the centre of everything and has an excellent chippy - just the job after a hard morning of green laning.

By the time we left Bala it was starting to get late and the weather had taken a turn for the worse so decided to tackle just one last lane before heading home.

This turned out to be my favourite lane of the day - a not very well known ORPA that goes in a big loop near the village of Rhydymain. This lane seemed perfect for the Freelander. There were spectacular views across the valley and it was challenging enough to be interesting, but not too challenging that we needed to leave the comfort of the vehicles in the now heavy rain to work out how we were going to get through sections.

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In fact, the biggest problems on this lane was the width of some of the narrow gates. The Freelander is wider than you'd expect, especially with the large mirrors which don't fold in. I've seen a Discovery scrape nicely down the side of one of these gates in the past, and we were getting through with barely an inch on each side.

After this lane we said our goodbyes and headed home after a good day of pushing the Freelander to the limits. It was on the way home along the A5 that we faced the biggest hazards of the day, including an idiot in a Focus ST overtaking on a bend and sheep in the road.

I couldn't help but feel proud of the Freelander and how well it had done on the lanes. She's pretty much standard (just ignore the garish stickers, bright orange CB radio and the light guards) yet had done the job well. On lanes like these where farmers and ramblers will hate you if they think you're tearing up "their" countryside you're better off in a standard vehicle that blends in.

If I was to modify the Freelander I would perhaps fit some more suitable tyres instead of the road biased tyres it currently wears. It's tempting to fit a lift kit but these are expensive and complicated (having to extend things like brake hoses) so I think I'd be more tempted to upgrade to a standard Discovery or Defender. These would also come low range gearboxes and, in the case of the Defender and some Discoverys, a diff lock.

For these lanes though there is no need for snorkles, massive tyres and winches. Rob has all of these on his 90 - I was worried that he'd find the day too tame (there are certainly more extreme lanes in Wales for those who feel the need), but he said the excellent views more than made up for it.

 





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