A Week of Ups on the Downs

Originally Published: December 2015 Words: Sue Coulson Pictures: Sue Coulson

Back in 2002, an intrepid crew from the Essex Land Rover Club took their caravans and went to camp on a mountain in Wales. A local guide offered to show us some lanes, the sun shone and everyone had a wonderful time. Questions were asked about where the next one would be and our annual laning holiday was born.

The whole event is very informal – you don’t have to camp (some members stayed in a local B&B), and you don’t have to come for the whole week (some arrive late and some go early). We do however spend all year looking forward to it and we always enjoy some great lanes.

This year, a group of us headed towards the South Downs and a campsite at West Meon. Very different to Wales, of course, but there are loads of lanes around here – enough to keep a person occupied all week long and then some.

Day one and on our agenda was a 60-miles route in East Hampshire, around the Watercress Line. At this point, our group comprised just three vehicles – two 90s and a Lightweight.

The first couple of lanes were very ‘Essex’ in style, with close hedges and not much to see. It wasn’t long before we encountered our first obstacle in the shape of a fallen tree; we all hopped out and decided that we could cut enough away to make the road useable again.

With the sun shining, we were really enjoying the best of the English countryside as we continued on to Chawton, where we made a small detour to see Jane Austen’s home. There were two more trees to be cleared on the route and while we were stopped at one, I found a vintage glass beer bottle from a local brewery, Amey of Petersfield, which was brewing between 1883 and 1951 – a brilliant memento from the holiday.

Day two, which was a Monday, saw us venture to the Meon Valley on a 46-mile route. The views and lanes were slightly different here – they were more open, with great views of the rolling chalk downs.

It was another great day which finished once again around the campfire. We were sitting chatting, as all Landy drivers do, of great days on the lanes and who has the best light bar etc, when Pauline announced that the International Space Station would be along at 9.48pm! It was a superbly clear evening with great views of the stars, but I have to say that many of us were sceptical. Is the ISS like a bus? Is the timetable reliable? We weren’t sure. Amazingly, dead on time, there it was racing across the sky, far faster than any of the planes we could see.

On Tuesday, it was our turn to take on the club’s Green Route, which consisted of 41 miles of Butser Hill and the South Downs. This route incorporated lanes we thought were exactly like ‘Hobbit homes’, sunk down among huge earth banks with trees on top – the banks have naturally eroded over the years and the roots were exposed in huge gnarly tangled masses.

On day four we all took a break from the lanes and went out to enjoy the local attractions instead. Although for some, that actually meant doing more lanes!

We reconvened on the Thursday to tackle the Ox Drove and Three Castles Path – a total of 65 miles. According to our route book, there should have been eleven miles to the start of, but we changed things a bit and took a detour over to Keith Gott’s to get some new wing mirror glasses. That’s the downside of tight lanes!

The first lane on this route went up the side of a golf course and jiggled through some tight trees, then up a technical climb that had most of us scrabbling for grip. Definitely an entertaining start to the day!

Then came what was for us the last day of the holiday. And it was a big finish, as we headed for the club’s designated Yellow Route – a 63-mile run via the Devil’s Punch Bowl.

The lanes were different again, more sandy and not too tight. Following lunch, via a lovely water splash, we were off to the Devils Punch Bowl itself. The old road has been grassed over and the byway skirts the edge of the Bowl itself. Sadly, it was a bit misty, but nonetheless atmospheric as we stopped by an old milepost. The stone was found when digging the new A3 road tunnel and then replaced, using old OS maps to find its original position on the byway.

Though this was our final day, some were staying on for one more trip on the lanes. Thanks to Essex LRC stalwarts Ray and Pauline for organising another brilliant week – and helping us a keep alive a tradition that makes our club very special to all of us.

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