Well that’s been one busy, busy year for AccessTOG! And I have loved it!
We have had such a great time, meeting new people and catching up with old friends. We have travelled from one end of the country to the other and back, filming stile-free walks and have had lots and lots of laughs along the way.
Here’s a roundup of 2019 for AccessTOG
January started well. In our bid to blow of the cobwebs that had gathered over Christmas, Andy and I met up with Rachel Briggs, Access and Recreation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park, together with Michael Briggs, Ranger for Swaledale, to walk the 12 mile track along the newly formed Swaledale Trail. This route is mainly off road and is ideal for anyone wanting a low level, stile-free walk in the Yorkshire Dales. I completed the walk in the TerrainHopper, which was the perfect all-terrain wheelchair for this walk, as the start from Keld is steep, and not suitable for a manual chair. Even experienced cyclists have said that they need to get off their bikes for this very short section of the walk!
It was in the middle of January that things turn a little sour for me as I had to spend an unplanned week in Carlisle hospital. Unfortunately, I had a few back problems which meant I had an early morning ride in an ambulance followed by complete bedrest in a hospital ward. Too make matters worse, the heavy snow fall meant that Andy was snowed in at home and was unable to visit me in hospital. Thankfully, our kind neighbour helped Andy dig out our 1/3-mile driveway and another friend lent us her 4×4 car so that Andy could pick me up at the hospital when I was eventually discharged. The care and support of the nursing staff and doctors at Carlisle was fantastic and I cannot thank them enough.
It didn’t take me long to get back on top of my game and I was ready to enjoy an exciting February.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park has some of the darkest skies in the UK and that is why we were very excited to be asked to be part of the Dark Skies Festival – an event that was happening in the National Parks around the country. Andy and I, together with our good friend and mountain leader, Jonathan Smith led a night walk around Grimwith Reservoir. Over 30 people arrived for our night walk. And TerrainHopper made it possible for five wheelchair users to experience this event. Debbie and Sam Dantzie made a six-hour round journey to travel up from Lincolnshire to bring TerrainHoppers to allow people with disabilities to join with us on the walk.
At the beginning of March, I was asked to speak at the Conference for Sherwood Forest Hospital NHS Trust. This was an opportunity to talk to newly qualified doctors about AccessTOG and the work I was doing with The Outdoor Guide to create a countryside for all. Doctors around the country are now beginning to promote spending more time outdoors as a self-help tool to fight depression and anxiety and for general well-being. Our presentation was very well received, with feedback that we had given much food for thought. We look forward to seeing how the prescription for Vitamin N (for nature) develops over the next few years.
Sense and The Outdoor Guide partnered to create two sensory walks in London. Sense is a national charity supporting people with complex disabilities. At Sense, they believe everyone, no matter how complex their disabilities, deserves the right to enjoy a physically active life. I was joined by Ben Wilson, who has visual impairment, to film two walks. It was great exploring the walks Golders Hill and Trent Park and learning more about multisensory walks. We recorded our walks for SENSE as a podcast which can be heard on the website.
Andy and I joined TerrainHopper at the NEC Birmingham for the Naidex Show in the middle of March. This two-day exhibition is the biggest disability show in the UK. Once again I was speaking at the show and I was able to showcase some of our TOG partners who provide holiday accommodation for people with disabilities and to talk about the different wheelchairs that I use on my various adventures.
Also in March, the TOG team travelled to the Peak District to take part in the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the National Parks. Campaign for National Parks led hundreds of individuals and organisations, including Campaign to Protect Rural England on a special walk in the Peak District, the home of the very first National Park. We joined the party with Matt Baker and the Countryfile crew at the viewpoint at Hollins Cross to celebrate the 70th birthday of the Access to the Countryside Act which created the National Parks Commission and the establishment of ten national parks in the 1950’s.
It’s thanks to the determination of thousands of walkers over the past 150 years who campaigned tirelessly for a countryside for all, that today we have our National Parks and our protected countryside.
The start of April was very special. AccessTOG was joined by a host of special people to hike to the top of Blencathra, one of the Lake District’s most famous and dramatic mountains. In 2018, the original bronze ring went missing from the summit. When John Beamson, mountain leader and keen hillwalker, heard about the missing stone, he started fundraising to replace the ring. On the 6th April, the new ring was laid. John organised for friends to join him on this day. He had mentioned that he wished that his father would have been able to join him at the summit, but due to ill-health he knew that this was not possible.
So, behind the scenes, the TOG team got their planning hats on and together with the fantastic support from TerrainHopper, we made John’s wish come true. We arranged for his father, Colin, to use a TerrainHopper and together with Amanda Owens, (aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess), film maker Terry Abraham, Chris Butterfield, Beth Pipe and the TOG team, we guided Colin up to the summit of Blencathra to meet his son and to see the new stone in place. Over 100 folk made the climb to the summit. It was an amazing sight to see. It was quite emotional. A few tears were shed that day. You can watch our film of the event on YouTube
May was also a very busy month and as soon as we returned from our family holiday in Ireland, I set off again on my travels – this time to Germany. I joined five other wheelchair users from around Europe on a ‘famtrip’ organised by the German Travel Mart. It was an amazing week exploring the Rhineland region of Germany. We visited Koblenz, The Eifel National Park and spent a fabulous 48 hours in Wiesbaden. Read about our wonderful road trip on the AccessTog Blog.
In June, we were back up in the Yorkshire Dales once again, this time working with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT).
TOG was involved with a great project ‘Stories in Stone’ with the YDMT. We were asked to film three stile-free walks located within the a triangular area of the Yorkshire Dales between Ribblehead and its impressive viaduct at the northernmost point, the small market town of Settle to the south, and Ingleton village to the west, known as the Ingleborough Triangle. It was really good fun working with this fantastic group of people and to learn about the unique character of this part of the Yorkshire Dales.
We also filmed a ‘walk with wheels’ for the Westmorland Dale Landscape Partnership at Smardale – a nature reserve just outside the market town of Kirkby Stephen. As a member of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, I am always keen to visit their nature reserves and learn more about the plants and wildlife. It is a beautiful walk and a hidden gem of the Eden valley.
The funniest walk Andy and I did in June was when I joined Beth and Steve Pipe on a hike from Blencathra Field Centre to Skiddaw House, as part of their new long distance walk ‘Brewer’s Loop’. Beth had a madcap idea to carry a beer keg from one end of the Lake District to the other, connecting local micro-breweries along the way. We joined Beth on this short section of her epic walk and had lots of laughs along the way… with a beer keg strapped to the back of the TerrainHopper. I look forward to reading her book when it is published next year.
In July I met up with an awesome couple who were about to launch their new company ‘Anyone Can UK’. Vicky and Chris invited me along to Fellfoot NT, to join them for a weekend of canoeing and sailing on Lake Windermere. Anyone Can offers adapted outdoor adventure for people of all abilities – from rock climbing to caving, sailing to bushcraft. I had a most wonderful time with them and I am so looking forward to my next sailing adventure in Scotland with them in October.
August & September
August and September were non-stop! I travelled from Cumbria to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Dorset, Dorset to Devon, Devon to London and London to the Highlands of Scotland! And it was brilliant travelling around in the ‘Bradder’s bus’. This summer brought with it a number ‘firsts’ for me.
It was my first visit to Dorset and exploring the Jurassic Coastline was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend a visit to Durlston Country Park. A beautiful location with two all-terrain wheelchairs available to hire from Countryside Mobility.
It was the first time I have had an organ recital played for me – and just for me – at Sidholme Hotel. This hotel in Sidmouth Devon, is undergoing a major refurbishment, including restoration of the magnificent music room. TOG is thrilled to be part of the project and excited to see the developments.
I climbed my first ever Munro in the Highlands of Scotland. Using the TerrainHopper, I was able to climb to the summit of Cairn Na Caim (914 m) and Cairngorm. That was a hike that I will always remember. It was highest climb that I have done so far in the TerrainHopper -climbing to the summit at 1,245 m. above sea level.
It was the first time that I have ever got so close and personal with a herd of Highland cattle. It was great to be able take part in the Highland Cattle experience at Uvie Farm, Newtonmore. Highland cattle are definitely gentle giants.
In October I led an accessible, stile-free ‘Children in Need’ Ramble around Windsor. Over 40 people joined us for our walk including good old Pudsey Bear! It was great fun and you can read more about it in my blog – A Bear, A castle and A Marching Band.
Straight after our Windsor Ramble, the TOG team drove up to Rutland to lead a walk around Rutland Water. This event was part of the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside day. Again, this walk was barrier-free and it was well supported by wheelchair users and walkers of all abilities. It was a very cold day and everyone was grateful for the soup and sandwich lunch provided by Barnsdale Lodge.
Excitement ran high on the morning of 19 October as Countryside Live opened its gates in Harrogate for families to pour through looking for a great day out – and they got one! Julia was headlining the two-day event, organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, for the first time and Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen and Peter Wright from The Yorkshire Vet made a welcome return. The TOG team were also exhibiting at the show. Lots of people came to our stand and it was great to meet so many like-minded people.
We had so much fun in November at the Welcome to Yorkshire White Rose Awards. This event, the biggest celebration of tourism in the UK, had several new categories added to the list of awards for 2019, including the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Award. TOG sponsored this award and I was honoured to be asked to present the prize.
So, donning evening wear (and how well we all scrubbed up), the TOG team, together with our guests from the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and DaVinci Mobility, headed to the First Direct Arena in Leeds for an evening of glitz and glamour.
I’d like to say December has been a quieter month for everyone at TOG, but it hasn’t!
There has been a lot of behind the scenes work taking place, for the new and exciting projects that will be taking place in 2020. I am so looking forward to getting started again in January with our outing in the Lake District.
There are many, many people I must thank for making 2019 a very special and memorable year for me – but here are just a few.
Firstly, thank you to my TOG family – to Gina and Holly for all the laughs (and the few tears) that we have had on our road trips around the UK. Gina is an amazing lady and the driving force behind TOG. Earlier this year she was nominated, and made the shortlist to the final three, for the Amazing Women Awards run by Woman and Home Magazine. Though she didn’t take the trophy, she is the winner in our eyes.
Holly works tirelessly behind the scenes. When we are out filming together, we always have fun – even when the days and long and extremely busy. Good old Percy Pig sweets keep us going! When we are not together, we are all working remotely, but I think I speak to them most days!
I must thank Jonathan Smith from Where2walk for his support too. Without Jonathan, who is always in the in the background, I would not be able to attempt many of the walking challenges that I have completed this year. The Munros certainly would not have been possible without Jonathan’s support.
And last, but not least, a huge thanks goes to my husband Andy for his continued love, support and encouragement.
Thank you, 2019
I have many happy memories.
Here’s to 2020.