Debbie on the Coast to Coast
‘You are crackers‘ were the words I used when responding to Debbie after she announced that her and her husband Andy were going to complete the Coast to Coast and she would do it in a wheelchair! Debbie has been suffering with a degenerating spine for many years but was determined not to be kept away from the fells of the outdoors she loves so much. My role was to help plan the route!
You will find out more about Debbie by Clicking Here
That was over a year ago but last week I joined her and Andy on the first leg of the trip, through the Lake District. Thankfully she had been persuaded not to embark from St Bees in February (‘it will be easier to get accommodation’ she said) but headed off in mid April. She left St Bees in pouring rain on a short but not pleasant day and ended up at Ennerdale Bridge where I joined her for the next 4 days ending in Shap.
The first thing to say about the trip was that Debbie was not being pushed across country by Andy but was sat in a marvellous bit of kit, a Terrain Hopper. A Terrain Hopper is a battery powered wheelchair with thick tyres, a stable wheel base and capable of travelling at 4 mph across most terrain. It is impressive and proved to be reliable as well as robust. One of the reason Debbie decided on the Coast to Coast was to raise funds for a similar Terrain Hopper to be used by the Calvert Trust, a charity who provide adventure holidays for children with disabilities.
A second reason she was doing the Coast to Coast was to raise awareness of the difficulties of people in a wheelchair have in accessing the outdoors. In theory a bridlepath should be suitable as it has gates not styles (a normal footpath being useless as a result). Much of the route planning myself and Andy undertook was based on bridlepaths but even then not all would prove to be suitable. The difficulty in planning the route was that Debbie wanted to get up high, away from crowds and roads and experience the outdoors as she always used to whereas myself and Andy were more concerned with safety. I think we reached a good compromise although Andy’s blood pressure certainly took a hit at times.
The third reason Debbie wanted to travel the Coast to Coast is of course because she wanted to! She had previously travelled the route twice on foot, was experienced and comfortable in the fells and had even taken a winter skills course before her diagnosis.
Back to Ennerdale Bridge. On Day 1 (their Day 2) we headed headed from Ennerdale Bridge towards Loweswater on quiet roads and once at Loweswater we took the excellent bridleway to the south of the lake. My reconnaissance of a more rugged crossing via Hen Comb had proved the route unreliable . The local ranger Larry turned out and was mending a gate as we passed. What was plain to see though was that Debbie and my dog Mist were leaving myself and Andy way behind, a pattern that was repeated throughout following 3 days.
The route on Day 2 was a matter of some debate but we agreed to head out from Buttermere over Newlands Hause rather than the more straightforward route though Whinlatter Forest. Although this involved a certain amount of road work it was not busy, it got Debbie up amongst the hill she loves and Newlands itself is gorgeous. It was hot and sunny, we lunched at the perfect Newlands Church and helped a group of Duke of Edinburgh students who clearly had not yet worked out the joys of navigation (they were only on gold!). A glorious day but still mainly on quiet roads and lanes.
This changed on Day 3 when we left Keswick past the Stone Circle for the Old Coach Road which runs under Clough Head and above the village of Threlkeld. This was proper off roading, steep, rocky with deep ruts on parts of the track his proved the mettle of both Debbie and the Hopper. Both performed well and even the sun came out after a thoroughly miserable start to the day. A long day ended in the ‘lost valley’ between Little Mell and Gowbarrow and the final pull down to Ullswater. A fine day, sore and tiring for me and Andy, a beaming smile of pleasure from Debs.
My final day with Debbie (at least till the Yorkshire Moors a week later) took us over a splendid bridleway from Pooley Bridge and in to the Lowther Valley crossing the northern end of the High Street ridge. Debbie was keen to explore further up the ridge to see how far she could get but we decided to leave that for another day! We separated and I returned to Pooley Bridge via Askham whilst Debs and Andy went south towards Shap. Mist wished she had continued with them, a companion who could keep up with her as opposed to us mere walkers.
I joined Debbie again in a long section between Great Broughton to the minor road just short of Glaisdale, roughly 16 miles across the high Moors. The weather was superb, warm sunny and there was next to no-one about. Andy had damaged his foot so was taking a day out so just the 3 of us (Debbie, me and of course Mist – a more popular companion than me) trekked along the excellent bridleway initially to the Lion and then across the head of Great Fryup Dale.
I say excellent but there was one particularly irritating episode courtesy of the Forestry Commission. They had locked the gate out of Great Broughton which is understandable as it stops unwelcome off roaders but the gate to the side had a large wooden beam across it blocking any chance of a wheelchair (even the physically robust Terrain Hopper) passing through. It is probably put there with the best intention and cyclists and horseriders could probably get over ..but not us. It is something that we hope to raise awareness about for all parties involved and a major purpose of the walk. I will not say how we passed through but we managed it!
I joined Debbie on the final day as she dropped in to Robin Hoods Bay to complete her 14 day crossing of the country. It was wet but this did not bother her and she ended up staying with a large party of her friends and relatives in the Bay Hotel, a fitting end to an exceptional crossing
So what have I learned? I have learned that it is possible for people with a will and determination to achieve much more than society dictated they should. Debbie herself is determined but it is fair to say without the support of her husband Andy none of this would be achievable (or without Sandra, their ever patient driver), congratulations to both equally. Clearly not all wheelchair bound people have access to a Terrain Hopper but surely they could become available for hire through charities, the national parks etc any organization who have a will to want this. They are nor cheap but as I say if there is a will….
Debbies Just Giving Page for the Calvert Trust. CLICK HERE
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