Access the Dales

‘Access the Dales’ is the brainchild of Debbie and Andy North and their ceaseless drive to increase the accessibility of the outdoors for those, for a variety of physical and practical reasons, are at present unable to.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of their journey. Over the past 10 years we have achieved so much in promoting better access in the outdoors and countryside in particular. Many of our favourite stories; the Coast to Coast, Climbing Blencathra and others are at the foot of this web page but first I would like to list some of our main achievements and how much more needs to be done.

1. “Access the Dales” Charity

Launch of Access the Dales at Ravenseat

The charity “Access the Dales” was set up in 2021 to provide opportunities, for those with physical difficulties, to access the outdoors in the Yorkshire and Cumbrian Dales. A major part of this has been the establishment of a series of ‘wheelchair hubs’ in 6 (at present) locations in the Dales. The wheelchairs at these hubs are available to borrow for anyone at no cost subject to pre-booking. The following hubs are presently available but we are keen to add more.

  • Ravenseat, near Keld in Swaledale
  • Tebay in the Cumbrian Dales
  • Listers Arms, Malham
  • West Burton, Wensleydale
  • Kirkby Stephen in the Cumbrian Dales
  • Settle in the Western Dales

For more information, up to date news and to book the wheelchairs visit our partner website at

2. Walks without Stiles Book

Walks with Stiles book

For many years I have discussed with Debbie, and her husband Andy, the possibilities of detailing a set of walks that could be used to attract people with limited mobility further into the countryside. It just seemed unfair to us that artificial barriers were put in the way of those (whether wheelchair users or simply people of limited mobility). The biggest barrier is, of course, stiles over dry stone walls/fences – a walk destroyer for so many.
The 32 walks we have included in the book vary from straightforward strolls along a well pathed river bank to longer walks exploring the moors and hills in the Dales.

They are suitable for anyone with a disability, have a non athletic dog or those simply becoming older and stiffer in the limbs. Stiles can prove impossible, ruling out many great walk.
This book rights this wrong and describes 32 of the very best“Walks without Stiles.”.

3. Walks without Stiles Website

Gordale Scar

There are a number of Walks without Stiles on this website. This does not mean that they are suitable for everyone but they have one common factor. There are no stiles on the walk.

Follow this link for the Full List of our Walks without Stiles,

You can find them within the walk categories for all 3 of our main geographical areas.

  • Yorkshire and Cumbrian Dales
  • North York Moors and Coast
  • Cumbria and the Lake District

4. Debbie North, a force of nature

On Barrow in the Lake District

Debbie North was a head teacher (and keen walker) when she was diagnosed with a degenerative spine and confined to a wheelchair.

Since then she has been determined to enjoy both herself in the outdoors but also provide an inspiration for others with similar difficulties to do the same. From a personal viewpoint she has completed the Coast to Coast, climbed mountains such as Skiddaw, Blencathra and a number of the ‘Dales 30’ mountains. In addition she helped raise funds for a tramper chair in Malham and appeared on many TV and media outlets promoting accessibility in the outdoors. If in doubt , do it was her mantre.

Tragically in the summer of 2021 her husband Andy died after a short illness but his dying wish was that she continued the work, particularly encouraging the young to explore the outdoors. Since then Debbie has become a force of nature:

  • Set up the charity ‘Access the Dales’ with a high profile patron, Amanda Owen aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess.
  • Invited to be ‘Cabinet Office DDA Ambassador for the Countryside’. Close links with MPs in rural constituents.
  • Initiated the Yorkshire Dales Accessible Walking Festival in April 2022 with great success.
  • Inspired the book ‘Walks without Stiles’ including taking part in many
  • Continued her role as one of the Ordnance Survey walking champions

Getting the Word Out

Walks without Stiles near Hawes

Accessing the outdoors is for everyone. The benefits are obvious; good health (both physical and mental), reduced costs to the NHS, understanding of the countryside, learning new and practical skills, taking on challenges etc, etc.

Yes, more people have taken up walking, mainly due to lockdown restrictions. However increasing numbers are already retreating in to their past life. A significant reason for this retreat is the difficulty and confusion they have in accessing the countryside.

  • Lack of clear information of where the best walks are. The information which does exists always directs people to the same places, creating the over crowding that ruins the experience for many.
  • Confusion on arrival where they can walk, where they cannot.
  • Often a feeling of being unwanted.
  • Shocking public transport links.

In addition , of course, there are many other home based attractions, particularly for the young.

Where2walk and Access the Dales have approached the access issues from a specific angle. By necessity access via a wheelchair was our priority and that has had a successful start. We have set up a recognized charity, a book of accessible walks and some inspirational and important people on board. Access for those with a physical disability is definitely better.

However access is a much wider issue. I hold Navigation Courses and Guiding Days throughout the year and the people who attend them sign up because they are obviously keen to learn. However they all, without exception, express concerns and fears about going for walks in different places. It is not easy.

The government and national/local authorities appear to be doing everything they can to restrict people going for a walk in our countryside. Until that changes people as inspirational as Debbie will be as straws in the wind.

Our Story

How about some Munros?

One of Debbie’s characteristics that is so good is that if ever there is a discussion on anything she simply…

The Dales 30

One of Debbie’s challenges is to climb as many of the Dales 30 mountains as possible. The Dales 30 are…

Climbing Blencathra & Skiddaw

A few days off and Debbie was up for a challenge. Checking the weather it looked like a couple of…

Life Changing

Debbie describes how Accessthedales started, how she left her head teacher role and became a champion for the outdoors.  “What…

Gordale Scar, a revelation

Debbie describes a visit to Gordale Scar, near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales which certainly opened up my eyes to…

High Cup Nick in Spring..ish

We arrived in the lovely village of Dufton for a mid week walk up to High Cup Nick. It was…

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…