Access the Dales

February 16, 2022

“Access the Dales” is a registered charity with its main objective being to provide access (and remove barriers) for those through reasons of youth, age, infirmity or disability have been unable to enjoy the countryside. In particular, but not exclusively, is the introduction to hire of a fleet of All Terrain Wheelchairs for children and adults available for use across the Dales.

What is it about?

Filming on Helvellyn with Terry Abraham

The rather formal introduction disguises a lot. To give you a clue, we are not talking about a short ramble along the canal (although that is excellent) but walks which get people out in the open countryside, away from the towns and villages. Even climbing hills/mountains. Debbie North, the chair of the Trust, has climbed Blencathra, Whernside and other mountains of the Dales 30 in addition to her remarkable Coast to Coast crossing. All achieved in her all terrain hopper. The type of equipment that makes accessing, the previously inaccessible, outdoors is now available. However an all terrain wheelchair is not cheap and the publicity of increasing access in the countryside is fraught with prejudice, fear and ignorance. This is where Access the Dales comes in.

The Origins of the Charity

Approaching Mungrisedale Common from Blencathra

“Access the Dales” is the brainchild of Debbie and Andy North, a couple who have been in the forefront of accessibility in the outdoors for over 10 years. During that time they worked with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the YHA, National Trust (a tramper is already for hire at their Malham Outdoor Centre courtesy of Debbie’s fundraising) and the Bendrigg Trust to promote and improve access. To date they have been very successful but wanted more.

Debbie is a wheel chair user, an ex head teacher who developed a degenerative spine which had stopped (she thought permanently) her ability to enjoy the outdoors. Access to a terrain hopper meant she had not. Andy, her husband, provided much of the inspiration and support. Sadly Andy died of cancer in summer 2021 after a short illness. However it was his words that convinced Debbie to keep going, something she has taken on with spades. As an ex teacher himself Andy was particularly keen to offer access and adventure to school children and it is appropriate the first all terrain wheelchair raised by the charity is for children. It is presently based at Ravenseat, home of Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, who is patron of the Trust.

Hire an All Terrain Hopper

Tramper at Malham Tarn

The “Access the Dales” Charity is set up to provide ‘for hire’ wheelchairs for those who are presently unable to get in to the countryside. We plan for the chairs to be placed in strategic parts of the Dales, hubs I suppose, with information on accessible routes from its base. For many getting out on these local routes will be enough but not for all. For others the chance to try the chairs is something that will inspire them to buy their own or hire them for longer walks and experiences. The fact the all terrain chairs will be available for hire/testing in the Dales is the key. There is only a nominal rental cost. From then it is up to the individuals to decide on how they want to move forward.

“Access the Dales” already has its own website with much more information on the charity. The website also includes information on existing accessible walks and accommodation in the Dales. In addition information and blogs highlight the difficulties and opportunities for those struggling to escape to the country. There is also information on how to contribute to the charity either with support, financially or practically or just by contacting us and joining the family. If you can volunteer and can help, even better.

Planning the Routes

A perfect bridlepath above Kettlewell

I am involved directly as a Trustee of the charity. I have been walking with Debbie and Andy for 10 years so I have a reasonably good idea on what makes an accessible route. I therefore plan the walks that we test (always good fun, often interesting!). It makes for some interesting stories and incidents. One involved a river crossing on the Settle Loop using the remains of a fence (Debbie remained dry I was thigh deep in the stream). The floods had washed away the right of way.

Genuinally “Access for All”

However the charity is more than just access for those with wheelchairs. It is about access for those with other limitations as well, whether they be the simple consequence of age (youth or old), mental problems or other physical limitations. The main issue on any walk is the presence of stiles. The simple solution is to stick to walks on BRIDLEPATHS. Bridlepaths (Bridleways) theoretically have no stiles, just gates that open. Using bridlepaths is how I start to plan an accessible walk and then take it from there.

Look at the two photos below.

Inaccessible for so many
Access for All

The reality is that general access to the countryside for those with physical or mental difficulties is presently very poor. There are 3 main reasons for this:

  • Practical. The state/unsuitability of the path, locked or unopeneable gates and other physical problems. To be fair in the National Parks this is generally good, much worse elsewhere.
  • Lack of information. Although there is some information about short walks on some of the national park websites many want to really escape the crowds. Nothing at present tells them where is suitable.
  • Public Perception. There is a ‘perception’ that those with mobility difficulties should not be out and about. Therefore those people who have difficulties avoid going. How wrong is that.

That is where “Access the Dales” comes in.

Jonathan

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