Find out about Green Lanes

Across the AONB

From : Valerie Belsey

W.G. Hoskins

“Green Lanes” are all around us in the AONB. They are part of what makes South Devon so special.

You will know that you are standing in a green lane when there is no tarmac beneath your feet and, on either side of you there is a grassy bank, stone wall or hedgerow. Moles, shrews, dormice, field mice and sometimes lizards and frogs will rustle away at your approach.

On today’s Ordnance Survey maps green lanes can appear as footpaths, bridleways, byways or just as plain white roads which remain private. Above all they are, of course, green and mainly narrow.

Tunnels of biodiversity

There are hundreds of green lanes in South Devon, often running from the coast and up towards Dartmoor. All lanes were green to begin with. Some have been made into ‘roads’ with tarmac laid down from the 1920s onwards. 

They pass through many habitats: estuaries, river valleys, woodlands, marshy areas, heathland and meadowland.  This network of green lanes creates important links to and through all these habitats and without them the patchwork field pattern of this area would not exist. Green lanes form tunnels of biodiversity connecting other types of habitat such as heathland, wetlands, and woodland. A large variety of flowers, mosses, fungi and ferns are to be found on all levels, from the sun loving scarlet pimpernel to the towering broad buckler fern.

Following in ancient footsteps

Since our hunter-gatherer ancestors first created tracks and ridgeways to reach water and food, we have been following their footsteps. When we try and find out about the history of a green lane we are tracing a communication pattern formed by many different ways of life, driven by different commercial and social needs.

Evocative names sometimes reflect the use for which the lane was best known. There is Sweetheart’s Lane  Galmpton, Drunkard’s Lane  Aveton Gifford, Orchard Lane  South Pool, Lambside Lane  Noss Mayo and Runaway Lane Modbury.

Walking helps to keep green lanes open

These ways are as historic as any ancient church or hillfort and are being kept open by their increasing use as paths for recreation. The best way to explore them is to take yourself to any village in the area from which you can see a pattern of lanes emerging, and then just walk out. You can explore the countryside through which you are walking and you will be reluctant to return to the roaring roads which surround green lanes.

These ancient routeways are an endangered species which can only be preserved if we change our ways. Because of our reliance on main road transport patterns and the fact that so few people actually now work in the countryside green lanes have been driven into reserves. In their turn they protect many kinds of wildlife.

Exploring them is best achieved entirely on foot and it will give you a better understanding of these time tunnels and their important place in the landscape of our AONB.

See more in this section »

Find out about Green Lanes

Audio Clips

Glimpse the green lanes through sound

Here are some sound clips to evoke aspects of the green lanes of the AONB. We start with a song about walking the lanes, The January Man by Dave Goulder. The version here is performed by Bonny Sartin of the Yetties, and published with his kind permission.

The other recordings are reminiscences collected by Stephen Pedrick, independently of the AONB. They are also published with his permission.

Listen to Terry Stone talking about how it was at Portlemouth. Ken Parnell describes delivery services to the small settlements. Arthur Irish gives an account of ploughing near Modbury. Ethel Ellis describes her journey home from Loddiswell Station. Jack Tanner remembers deliveries from Kingsbridge, and Phyllis Hutchins talks about mole catching in the lanes. Alfred Cleaves describes the lanes around Slapton, and you can also hear Harry Jervis on blacksmithing and local crab deliveries.


Q. I'd like to walk a green lane but don't know the area well. What do you suggest?

A. Visit the main South Devon AONB website for walks and trails across the AONB, to download and print. Many of them take in a stretch of green lane. Here's the link: Walks and trails

When you're out why not take a few photos and let us know how you got on. We'd love to publish your notes on this site: Add to scrapbook

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