Wheelchair Access in the Fells
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 at the beginning of the summer and her positivity and enthusiasm simply shone through. 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 is to raise funds for the purchase of an all terrain wheel chair which will be 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 I witnessed 3 strapping lads pulling a wheelchair up the track on ropes with an excited young girl sat there, taking the bumps and bruises but happy to be out and about. They were training for the Ben Nevis race where a handful of wheelchair users are pulled up the slopes in what must be a truly inspirational sight. I did nothing about it then but now hopefully with Debs on board I can help promote the access for the fells for all those wheelchair users who thought that their chances of enjoying the great outdoors was behind them
To contribute to Debs’ Access the Dales project and help fund the all terrain wheelchair I will be putting up contact details shortly but in the meantime enjoy her story below and some of the walks she has been able to do on her push wheelchair.
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!
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 TOWN HALL
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.