Pretty much does what it says on the tin – and on my new waterproof coat, and my tee shirt and my water bottle.
And I’m now a ‘Get Outside Champion’ for Ordnance Survey (OS).
‘Champion’ – well, again, that sort of pretty much says what it does.
And I’m one of a team of Champions. They all have different labels on their tins, be it mountaineers, mountain leaders, teachers, scout leaders, environmentalists, conservationists. Young and… not as young as we used to be. And I’m more than a little bit proud, excited, privileged and, yes, thrilled, to be an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion. It gives all OS Champions, the perfect opportunity to share our love of the great outdoors as individuals and as a wide-ranging, enthusiastic and vibrant team.
The timing of the announcement of OS Champions coincides with the launch of The Outdoor Guide’s (TOG) partnership with Ordnance Survey. I work with TOG in developing and creating routes suitable for wheelchairs. Where Julia walks, I wheel; together we’re encouraging people of all abilities to get outside and explore new places.
I generally look at routes that follow bridleways. By their very nature, they should be free of any obstacles, such as stiles, and of a minimum width allowing passage of a horse or an 850mm-wide wheelchair. This isn’t always the case as I’ve discovered on a few occasions across different National Parks.
I travel all around the UK with the TOG team, filming many of my walks which then sit on the website, along with an accurate description of the walk. The films that we make are a valuable resource for people with disabilities who can watch them from the comfort of their own home before making an informed decision as to the suitability of their own wheelchair for the walk.
I use a variety of wheelchairs myself, from my manual wheelchair to my all-terrain electric powered 4×4 TerrainHopper.
I’ve been surprised by the number of emails I’ve received from people who are not wheelchair-users. They have chosen my walking routes because they either have children in buggies or because their dog cannot climb over stiles. My husband claims he’s in this category too. One gentleman said to me that he never really understood why I was ‘banging on about accessibility’ until he had to have a hip replacement and could no longer climb over the stiles.
Last year, as part of the OS Get Outside Day, TOG led an accessible walk around Rutland Water. We had a fantastic time with over 30 people joining us, including seven wheelchair-users. One of the ladies who joined us, who I had never met before, came up to me and gave me a big hug. She then went onto explain that her son had seen a waterfall for the first time in his life because of a walk that we recommended. I cried and so did she.
My work with TOG is very varied and I get to go to the most amazing places. I’ve been to many different National Trust properties and look forward to visiting many more over the next 12 months. Many now have mobility scooters that are available to borrow, making their gardens and estates much more accessible.
We also work with the Woodland Trust and Canal and River Trust, who are both working hard to make places more wheel-friendly. We have also been doing projects with the charity SENSE to create sensory walks.
I’m a volunteer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) with my key role being to assess their ‘Miles Without Stiles’ walks. I am also the Chair of the Access For All Forum for the YDNP Authority – a very active group made up of like-minded people all striving to create a countryside for all.
The YDNP, like many of the other National Parks that we have worked with, is keen to develop more accessible walks and, where time and finances allow, have made small changes which result in big steps forward in terms of accessibility.
As an OS Champion, I’ll be blogging about the places that I visit during 2020 and will be reporting about accessibility. It is a very challenging time at the moment for everyone in the UK and the rest of the world.
It is now more important than ever that OS Champions continue to promote the importance of getting outside. Just ten minutes in the fresh air and being close to nature can have huge benefits for the mind, body and spirit. Even just sitting outside in the wheelchair, with a cup of tea is good for you.
When the government restrictions are lifted, we will all be able to head for the hills again. But, for now, we’ve changed how we’re getting outside in a bid to help protect our communities. People can find inspiration for their next adventures from the films on our YouTube Channel and from our website – The Outdoor Guide.