Wheelchair Access in the Fells

2017 Update: I am delighted that Debbie has joined the team at the Outdoor Guide and is working closely with Julia Bradbury on making the inaccessible accessible to many more people. Her latest venture is to appear on Julia’s walks on the 13th January as they climbed Peny Ghent. Find a description of their day by clicking here

In 2015 Debbie and her husband Andy completed the Coast to Coast using a Terrain Hopper (yes really). Since then she has completed a number of excellent one day walks/climbs including scaling Blencathra and Skiddaw in the Northern Lake District and a 2nd long distance challenge across the North of England. . 


My view on Debbie’ Coast to Coast Crossing on her All Terrain Hopper. Click Here

About Debbie & Andy


Debs is an inspiration to anyone for for whom life has thrown them a curved ball. I met her and Andy her husband in Malham a number of years ago and was immediately impressed by her positivity and enthusiasm.

She has a degenerative spine but is absolutely determined to make the best of it, not just for herself but also for other wheelchair users who are often short changed when they visit the fells.  Her first project was to raise funds for the purchase of an all terrain wheel chair which is now housed housed at the Yorkshire Dales National Park offices and most importantly available for hire. Having watched Debs struggle along to the foot of Gordale Scar it brought it home to me how essential a good wheelchair is to help access even the better paths in our upland areas.

A few years ago I was climbing Ben Ledi in the Trossachs  when I witnessed 3 strapping lads pulling a wheelchair up the track on ropes with an excited young girl sat in it, taking the bumps and bruises but happy to be out and about.  Amazing. Its people like her and Debbie who make me appreciate how fortunate we are to enjoy the fells without any thoughts of restrictions and difficulties. 

Accessibility Opportunities Today

On TOG there is more information on what we are trying to achieve, information on the ‘kit’ that Debbie uses and MOST IMPORTANTLY a number of Wheel Chair Friendly Walks in the Yorkshire Dales & the Lake District. This is set to grow in the coming months.


Further down this page are 2 blogs written by Debbie from a year or two back which show how far we have already progressed

From being unable to get to Gordale Scar to the summit of Skiddaw! 


Life Changing Decisions

What do you do when your life changes completely?

I’m so use to getting up at 6am, ready for the taxi to pick me up at 7.15am.

On the way to school my mind becomes a working diary;

  • a meeting at 8.30am,
  • assembly at 9am shit! – forgot to plan it – what’s the theme? Friendship- that’s it – I’ll tell them about  Kev, my longest ever friendship – that will fill in 20 mins.
  • Must remind the site manager about the hole in the fence- had a complaint last night from a neighbour that her dog got out of her house and onto school ground, because some of our children had made a hole in the fence. She’d seen them at lunch time picking at it.
  • Got a governor calling in to review Child Protection Policy at 11.30
  • Bloody School Improvement Officer is in tomorrow- have I got it all ready?

And the list goes on…

But I loved the job. It was a very busy job, a very hard job but I loved it.

The only time that I could ever switch off from my manic life style was when I was up in the hills and mountains. When weekends came, and holidays too, my husband and I would set off walking. We would explore the Dales and the Lakes mainly, but have dipped our toes into the Peaks District.

We loved our long distance walking.

When you are out in the hills and there is no other person near you, and the nearest shelter is ten miles away, and the light is starting to fade then you can’t think about anything else except your own wellbeing. Your busy working life doesn’t exist.

The beauty of your surroundings takes over your mind. The peace is just so wonderful. So spiritual. So…I can’t think of words to describe what it feels. It’s just magically.

February 28th. That date will be a date that is sketch on my internal memory bank.

February 28th 2011 – the date that I’m told that I will no longer work- I stripped off my title. I’m plain old Debbie North.  I don’t own the title of Head teacher any longer.

Every day is now an ill health holiday.

But like a child leading up to the end of the summer holiday, I’m getting bored of the holiday. I want something to do. Something that makes me want to get up in the morning. Something to do of worth, within my limited laminations!

That is why I have set up the ‘accessthedales’ blog.

My mission is to get out and about in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in my wheel chair.

So far I have had several visits and have attempted several routes. I have had some positive experiences and some not so positive ones.

Yesterday I had some really good news – The Yorkshire Dales National Park  have agreed in principal to having Trampers (an all-terrain) wheelchair in the Park and have now given the go ahead for the fund raising to begin.

To raise about £8,000 for a Tramper. I get the money together, the Yorkshire dales National park Authority will get the Tramper.

This looks like the start of ‘accessthedales’ for real.

Any help in raising the fund will be appreciated.

I don’t even know where to start!

‘accessthedales’ – making the Yorkshire Dales more accessible for wheelchair users.

Visiting Gordale Scar

I’ve just been looking at the pictures from our visit to Malham.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood and my skin tingled.  I have just wiped a little something from my eye…

It must be ten years ago since I last went to Gordale Scar. Very little sun (if any) reaches into the gorge and even on a sunny day it always seems cold. There is an eerie feeling, cold, still, harsh and yet so beautiful.  It must be something to do with it being 15 million years old; or being on the Craven Fault; or not wearing your balaclava.

I took a party of school children during the winter months. It was blooming freezing! There were twenty-five youngsters and three staff huddled together underneath the towering sides of the scar, all trying to keep warm.   We burnt copies of the Ofsted inspection schedule to keep us warm and basked in the warm glow of knowing we were doing something productive… and right.

Whilst we were there and without any warning, there was a deafening crack and a huge icicle plummeted down from the overhang. It shattered on the ground with a resounding boom.  It was one of those moments when you feel privileged to be witnessing something but then you get the thoughts that go along of the lines, ‘Glad I wasn’t under that!!!’

We managed about fifteen minutes before the bitter chill that was biting our finger tips beat us into an icy retreat.

I returned there again last Friday.

The nearest car park is in the village of Malham.

We drove closer and parked the car on the roadside just before the gate which leads onto Gordale campsite (GR914645). It isn’t an official parking area; there’s only room for a few cars, but it’s a great place to designate for disabled blue badge parking, if the council could be persuaded.  I feel a bout of ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style letter writing coming on – and for those of you who also want to write, here’s the address:
Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 1AH
Once we’d parked up, we met up with JONATHAN (a thoroughly decent chap, who is living the dream… and good on him!!!) Jonathan and I made contact with each other via twitter. Jonathan is a very keen hill walker and has been walking in the Yorkshire Dales for most of his life. He has set up the most wonderful website Where2walk, which provides a wealth of information about walks in the Dales and Lake District. He was keen to know what I was getting up to and I was keen to tap into his knowledge of the Dales, so we agreed to meet at Gordale Scar. The pink carnations, which we all agreed to wear for the purpose of identification ( it was akin to a blind date!) were not required. I recohnised Jonathan from his website;he recognised me from my wheelchair.

From our parking spot, it’s only a short amble to the campsite and the path leading up to Gordale Scar.  It is so clearly marked even we couldn’t lose the route and it follows alongside a small brook, which I am told is home to freshwater cress.

We stood for a while just breathing in the 360 degree scenery.

The sheep graze freely between the camper vans and tents that were pitched in the camp site.

One of the sheep had taken a step onto what it thought was hard ground but landed with a splash in the brook. We stood and watched it splashing around in nervous panic. I wanted to help it.  Plan A, B and then C was hatched to rescue the sheep.

I was made official photographer, just in case there  were any comic moments during the rescue involving either Andy, Dave, Jonathan or all three of them.  (Well a video clip of a fall in the stream, if shown on the TV programme ‘You’ve been framed!’ is worth £200 – all proceeds would go towards an all-terrain wheelchair!).

Just as rucksacks had been thrown to the ground, boots were off, socks removed, and trousers rolled up  the sheep stepped out, gave us a nod of appreciation for our kind thoughts and then plodded off to do its grazing further away from the brook!

A lot of work has been done on the path to prevent further erosion and made accessibility into the Scar easier for visitors. It is wide enough for a wheelchair, and my motorised chair had no problems moving over the bumpy ground. However, I don’t think that it would be suitable for a manual chair and it is uneven ground.

I was feeling the bumps in my spine.

Unfortunately, to experience such magnificent views I have to be topped up on pain killers! I suppose some might argue it’s a price worth paying.

We did have a little difficulty at a couple of spots as there had been a small landslide of scree, which covered the path. Thanks to my walking partners and a couple of other hikers, the bigger stones were moved to the side so that I could pass them.

It is a pretty impressive sight to walk through Gordale Scar, but the magical bit of the whole walk is turning the corner at the end of the scar. The wonderful rock formation is then exposed in full view.

Even though there were our people there, the end of the scar seems to command the respect of a visitor to a library or art gallery. All that can be heard is muted, softly spoken voices and the sounds of water crashing down onto the rocks and the birds.

Beautiful peaces… save for the screams and yells of those who’ve gone and got themselves stuck trying to climb the waterfall.

That is where the path stopped for me, but I was quite happy to sit and watch my friends climb across the rocks to the water fall, and wander through the great limestone boulders that had slid down the scar at some time during the ice age.

A group of walkers were attempting to climb the waterfall. Some approached the climb from the left, the others from the middle. One party walked up to the start of the climb and then came back and joined us to watch the other group’s attempt at the climb. They were not going to do the climb this time – they told us – because of the dog. Wonder how many dogs have been used as an excused not to go that way?

It is £9 each now to go the cinema.

Entry to Gordale Scar is free.

I guess that such wonderful sights as this are priceless.

It was hard to leave.

I could have sat for hours just watching the changing shapes of the clouds, looking for faces in the limestone, and wishing I’d brought my sketch pad and pencils with me. However, the chill crept in, and we had other thing to explore.


  1. Utterly inspirational – and gives me great hope.

    My head is screwed on to my body with much titanium; and walking is becoming increasingly difficult (a slow lap around Buttermere is my current limit…). To know that you can still get to such beautiful places is wonderful… – and I hope you keep on getting to see them for many, many years to come…. Thank you, Debbie!

  2. claire unwin says:

    Does anyone know if there is wheelchair access from ribblesdale station to the viaduct (via the pub!)?

  3. Debbie North says:

    Hi Michael,
    Doing the C2C has been a fabulous experience.
    I am more than happy to share my experience with you.
    You are taking on a massive challenge to walk with crutches as the ground can be very uneven and you could easily be knocked off balance.
    Jonathan helped me by planning a route through the Lakes that took in the bridleways.
    We reached some good height and the views were breathtaking.
    I will email my contacts and perhaps we can chat.
    All the best, debs

  4. Michael says:

    Hello Debbie,
    Oh how fabulous to read about your past and present sojourns. I am particularly interested in how you got on with your Coast to Coast. I have a mobility disability but can get about well with two sticks and the like. I am extremely melt fit and have set myself a challenge for next year 2016. The coast to Coast is top of my list and I intend to do it using adapted crutches. How was the terrain on the route you chose? And did you use hostels or B&B’s? Any advice you feel able yo offer would be greatly appreciated.
    Best regards and well done you.

  5. Michael says:

    Hello Debbie,
    Oh how fabulous to read about your past and present sojourns. I am particularly interested in how you got on with your Coast to Coast. I have a mobility disability but can get about well with two sticks and the like. I am extremely melt fit and have set myself a challenge for next year 2016. The coast to Coast is top of my list and I intend to do it using adapted crutches. How was the terrain on the route you chose? And did you use hostels or B&B’s? Any advice you feel able yo offer would be greatly appreciated.
    Best regards and well done you.

  6. roy clements says:

    Hi Debbie, I am from Liverpool and now live in fort Langley British Columbia, Canada. I am deeply impressed by your quest and wish to contribute to your cause, please forward me the details. Thank you.
    I too will be doing the C2C beginning in June to raise funds for the local hospice where the Love of my Life passed away however I do not wish to solicit from you or your supporters on the contrary I would publicise your journey. When I went back to Liverpool in the eighties I would push my mum round in the wheelchair and what a challenge that was
    Good luck Debbie to you and your husband.

  7. Debbie north says:

    Thank you to all who have left such lovely comments. If you wish to be involved in helping to raise funds please contact me and I will happily send you a sponsor form! Thanks xx

  8. Joan Almond says:

    Inspiring story – we have accessible cottages which our customers use to enjoy the Lake District. One of our visitors brought his tramper and had a great week out and about. We would love to meet you, come and visit us here…we’re just up the road from the Calvert Trust (Bassenthwaite) who we see are kindly donating the use of equipment for your planned Coast to Coast trip…good luck.

  9. Sue brierly says:

    Hi- lovely site, fantastic that you are promoting access for all. We live just outside the Dales and Lake district on the edge of the forest of Bowland in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We own a holiday let next door to us, which is designed to be accessible, come and stay ! suebrierly@hotmail.com

  10. fiona haigh says:

    Hello, I would be interested in any information about access for a wheelchair user to the Dales. I have a very good friend who is a wheelchair user and would love for them to be able to join me on walks. They previously were a lover of camping and the countryside themselves, before a motorcycle accident. I would love to help them rediscover that passion with share it with them anew.

  11. Tom Doughty says:

    Request contact info for Debs. I am tetra, looking for info on where to stay band b and push/hand cycle/clip on electric trike on the pennine way, weekend or overnight
    Stay in mallam in the scoring. Ta. Tom

  12. Simon Overton says:

    Hi there- live in the Dales and teach at Aysgarth School. I’m a wheelchair user. Interested in being involved in anything to improve disabled access if Debs would like to get in touch. Sounds like she is a teacher also.

  13. katie says:

    Hi, my daughter is 20yrs old and is an electric wheelchair user. before kids I loved the hills and walking but due to access problems and finding paths in west yorkshire we have struggled to show our kids the places I was brought up to appreciate and enjoy.
    your web page is fabulous. thanks for sharing your experiences.
    hoping to take my kids as a result to gordale scar on Sunday with of course our 20yr old!
    take care and enjoy the hills.

  14. Brian Irving says:

    Hello all, Gordale is one of my favourite places in the Dales, I only live an hour away and often go and spend a few days midweek in my camper van, it’s just such an idyllic location. I’m disabled but still mobile, just.. so I take my time and walk the entire area, will not attempt the waterfall again I think!
    We’ve been taking our Daughter there since she was a tiny child, 25 years later it’s even more of a joy to go with her and her own children, I’ll never forget one occasion a few years ago when she was so happy to arrive she leapt from the van, threw hereself on the ground and began to munch on the grass, she loves that place above any other!
    It’s also a fabulous place to base yourself for jaunts out to many of the other beautiful places in the area, in all directions lie amazing beauty, I just love it.

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