There’s nothing more enjoyable than testing out the impressive functionality of your newly acquired car and this absolutely rings true when it comes to 4MATIC vehicles, SUVs, and other cars with 4×4 capabilities. In order to see what these impressive beasts can truly do, we need to venture a little further afield than just a quick trip around town. Fortunately, the UK, and especially the South West, is replete with fantastic locations and routes to drive off-road and on stunning traditional drives that will allow you to fully appreciate your new favourite toy. But where are these locations? And what are the rules for driving off-road? Let’s take a look and explore some of the best off-road routes in the UK.
So, you’ve returned from your nearest Mercedes-Benz dealership, thoroughly pleased with your new vehicle, and are keen to test out its off-road capabilities. While this is an excellent idea, it’s not as easy as turning off into the nearest forest, there are a number of dos and don’ts regarding off-road driving.
GLASS (Green Lane Association) is the authority on legal driving away from tarmac, and before you get going, it is suggested that you join the association to help keep the countryside and green lanes open to drivers.
But what is a green lane? Green lanes are off-road public rights of way though not all are available for driving on. For example, a bridleway allows pedestrians, cyclists and horse traffic but only byways (BOAT) and unclassified roads (UCR) are open to all types of traffic, meaning these are the routes you will be able to enjoy with your new vehicle.
GLASS themselves have a number of suggestions for those wanting to locate green roads in their area and how to become familiar with driving on them. Speaking to Matt Henchcliffe, the communications officer for GLASS, their suggestions include joining them for your first green lane trip with one of their reps, as well as getting advice on which routes to take:
“There are many amazing routes down in the southwest of England with spectacular views and technical ability often pushing the vehicles to the uppermost reaches of their capability. Devon, particularly Torbay and Dartmoor, has to be one of my favourite areas to drive unsurfaced public rights of way second only to Wales.
“Although a word of caution, the routes in Devon in particular are occasionally quite narrow where overgrowth takes place during the spring and summer months with an almost inevitable rash on vehicle paintwork.
“Having said that there are still many routes which are easily accessible and non-damaging but still require a level of ability. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that drivers whizz off tarmac without at least entry level experience in driving unsurfaced roads.
“Glass local area reps are on hand to assist and guide those wishing to try their hand at off tarmac driving, working hand in hand with our excellent TrailWise software application offering a unique mapping service and user data for the vast majority of the accessible rights of way in the UK, which is a godsend when planning a day out on the lanes.”
GLASS also suggest becoming fully aware of your vehicle’s capabilities before heading out, such as knowing how deep it can wade, its ground clearance, and things of this nature, all helping you to know where you can safely drive.
A key component of enjoying your car’s off-road capabilities is being able to map read as you will need to understand what the icons on a map mean, be able to spot field boundaries, and of course find your way home. The map to use will be your local Ordnance Survey (OS) map, then you will be able to locate the routes you are permitted to drive on.
For more information on green lanes, rights of way, and all other things off-road driving, make sure to visit the GLASS website.
Off-road routes in the UK.
Beyond locating appropriate off-road routes in your local area, there are certain locations across the country that are perfect for enjoying your car’s off-road capabilities.
Bovey Castle at Dartmoor National Park offers an off-road driving experience that enthusiasts will do well to take advantage of. Bovey Castle allows drivers to bring their own four wheel drive vehicle to manoeuvre around their heart pumping track as well as the option of hopping in a member of their own fleet. Allowing drivers to see the grounds from an entirely different angle, this exhilarating day out could be just the place to test out your latest Mercedes purchase.
While exploring Bovey Castle in one of their own 4×4 behemoths is a great pleasure and absolutely recommended to help you practices your skills, we were delighted to hear from them regarding those that want to drive their own vehicle:
“If you have your own 4×4 you can bring this along to get your own wheels dirty and also press buttons on it that you were too afraid to push – yes the ‘mud and ruts’ button and ‘ice’ button will help you out of sticky spots in the real world and we will show you how! If you have a 4×4 that’s new to you or had one for years and want to let the lion out of the cage our course is a brilliant opportunity to see what the vehicle and you are capable of.”
Named as one of the top 5 best 4×4 off-roading destinations in the UK, Bala 4×4, who have a number of locations around the UK (two being in Wales), is another fantastic place to engage in some exhilarating off-road driving. We were delighted to speak to Bala 4×4’s Hannah Lewis, who told us about her favourite places to drive and what people can expect at Bala 4×4.
“Personally my favourite on and off road routes are mid/north Wales. There are routes for novices and for the more experienced. For me the scenery makes the routes so much more enjoyable.
“Bala 4×4 offer professional training courses, the 4×4 Experience for those who want to give off road driving a go and a vehicle familiarisation session for those who have a 4×4 and would like to learn more about their vehicle and get the most out of it. We have training sites and facilities suitable for all levels.”
Your new 4MATIC or 4×4 can be enjoyed in many more ways than just off-road, of course, and with the large number of stunning scenic drives in the UK, there are plenty of options for enjoying your vehicle without having to get muddy. The Atlantic Highway along the Cornwall coast is one such example, a truly beautiful long drive from Barnstaple in Devon all the way to Newquay. This 160 mile cruise through the South West offers wonderful coastal views of spots like Constantine Bay and the Bedruthan Steps.
Another traditional drive that is absolutely recommended is a trip to Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge. Not only is Cheddar Gorge a wonderful attraction to visit itself but being one of the UK’s most picturesque natural wonders, with its stunning cliffs and striking caves, there are a number of wonderful sights to witness from the comfort of your car.
We were delighted to speak to Cheddar Gorge themselves, who helped to paint the picture of this glorious drive, providing details of what drivers can expect to see along the way, and recommendations of what to do at the gorge itself:
“The drive through Cheddar Gorge is one of the most dramatic in Britain – four miles from the heart of Cheddar village onto the roof of the Mendips. The Gorge itself is three miles long and winds dramatically between towering cliffs soaring vertically up to 450 feet high.
“The highest of them, the three peaks of The Pinnacles, provided the inspiration for JRR Tolkien when he was setting the scene for Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings. All are magnets for thrill-seeking climbers.
“Watch out for the rare breed Soay Sheep and British Primitive Goats, all completely wild and convinced they own the road as well as the rest of the Gorge.
“There is plenty of parking available for people up for the challenge of a trek to the top of the cliffs, where the more adventurous can complete a breath-taking three-mile circular walk down both edges of the Gorge, providing wonderful views over the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury, the Quantocks and the Bristol Channel to the distant Brecon Beacons and Exmoor.
“At the lower end of the Gorge, check out the gushing Blind Yeo, where it emerges from Britain’s longest underground river system. A million gallons a day burst out near to Gough’s Cave, generating enough power to have once driven seven water mills in the Gorge alone. Now only the mill ponds and waterfalls remain of the industrial past.
“Whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss Cheddar’s two spectacular show caves, as well as the Museum of Prehistory (the oldest complete skeleton in Britain was found in Gough’s Cave, along with over 7000 bone and flint tools and weapons), a little cinema giving a virtual tour back in time as well as over the clifftops, and the infamous 274-step Jacob’s Ladder.”
Enjoying the ride
As you can see, there are a number of fantastic locations, both off-road and on tarmac, that can be enjoyed in your vehicle both near and far. No matter where you are in the country, there are stunning drives and adventurous routes to explore. Just remember the rules and laws of green lanes if you are looking to head off the beaten path. Enjoy our suggested off-road routes in the UK.