Our Inclusion and Diversity expert, Debbie North, uses a range of wheelchairs to access the countryside and wants to inspire other wheelchair users to do the same through The Outdoor Guide’s wheel-friendly walks. These walks are carefully selected and range from those suitable for families using pushchairs, wheelchairs or bicycles through to more rugged off-road adventures.
TOG Says …
“We’re so proud and honoured to have Debbie, the face of AccessTOG trailblazing the way by creating routes for wheelchair users. It is something which is incredibly important to us, and together we aim to inspire thousands of other people who are in situations such as Debbie’s to use this resource to get outdoors and explore. AccessTOG aims to make the inaccessible, accessible for everyone.”
A Wheel Friendly Walk at Rutland Water.
Debbie visits North Yorkshire and tells us about her stay in the Craven Arms, Giggleswick.
Debbie takes us for an accessible walk around Malham Tarn.
Debbie our AccessTOG Mobility Guru and the Mountain Trike: Review
When I founded accessthedales in 2011, it was simply a blog. Something for me to focus on during my long periods of illness.
In my previous ‘life’, before I became a wheelchair user, I was a keen hill walker and spent much of my time in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and completing long distance walks like the Coast to Coast, The Dales Way and Cumbria Way.
From a hospital bed I began researching all-terrain wheelchairs (ATW) as I was keen to get back out into the hills, despite having to now use a wheelchair.
At the same I raised the funds to get a Tramper for the National Trust, which is now housed at the Malham Tarn Estate and is available for hire for a small charge.
Since then, as a result of major spinal surgery, I have got stronger and am now fulfilling my passion of hill walking by using an ATW. My real passion is finding routes that are longer, higher and more challenging. A real up close and personal experience, if you like, with hills, mountains and weather.
From writing my first ever blog I can honestly say that accessthedales has grown beyond anything I ever expected.
Andy, my husband and my walking partner, has supported me all the way.
In 2015 we created our own coast to coast route, travelling from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. We followed bridleways and paths that were accessible to us.
Our first book was published in August 2016. ‘In The Spirit Of Wainwright’ (Sigma Press) is a guidebook of our journey. It hopefully encourages others to make their own adventures.
As a keynote speaker, Debbie has drawn on her experiences as a lover of the great outdoors who has seen it all snatched away by chronic spinal degeneration through to her becoming a respected voice and author in the world of accessibility.
Debbie now brings her knowledge and experiences from her ATW to the world as an inspiring motivational speaker. Her story, In The Spirit Of Wainwright, can be tailored to provide relevance and motivation for virtually every type of audience with her presentations being able to focus on a variety of topics.
Book Debbie as a keynote speaker here:
In April 2016 we created a new 6 day, 81mile long distance route through the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. We called it “The Coast to Coast To Coast’ – from the shores of Semerwater to the shores of Ullswater, finishing on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake. It was a wonderful experience. The route will be published in our second book – funnily enough called ‘The Coast To Coast To Coast’ in 2017 (Sigma Press).
I am so pleased to be working alongside Julia, and the TOG team to create and develop all types of wheelchair accessible routes – from an easy stroll along the canal side to the more challenging routes up mountains and down dales. We will be finding hotels that are wheelchair accessible and looking for places to eat that are also wheelchair friendly.
Wainwright’s Coast To Coast
I first walked Wainwright’s Coast To Coast in 1999 with my partner, Andy. We walked it again in 2003 because our camera was broken first time round and Andy had forgotten to propose to me. At the end of our second crossing, Andy proposed to me as we stood in the sea. For many reasons, I have a very special love of the Coast To Coast.
In 2007, we moved to live on a farm in Lincolnshire. That’s when the problems began. It’s not Lincolnshire’s fault. Or the farm’s. No, the fault can be solely laid at the doorstep of my spine… if spine’s have doorsteps, that is.
Early in 2008, I started having problems with my back. It turned out I had spinal degeneration. To say my life – our lives – changed in a heartbeat would be an understatement. In the following period, I lost my job due to ill-health, my hillwalking hobby and, it seemed, my life. We moved from the farm. We had to. We bought a bungalow in the Lincolnshire Wolds as we prepared for my health to simply go downhill from here. I was on enough daily medication to bring down an elephant and then some.
Life was now a constant battle against the twenty-four seven pain inflicted by bone spurs compressing the nerves in my spine. Chronic. Agonising. Debilitating.
In 2011, I founded accessthedales. I figured if I yearned to be out in the countryside, there must be other people in my situation.
Our first efforts at getting out into the ‘wilds’ was no more than a simple jaunt along the footpath to Gordale Scar in the Yorkshire Dales. After all, it was only a footpath of a couple of hundred metres or so. And I was in my beast of an electric wheelchair. It was no big deal. Except, it was a big deal – on two counts. It was a big deal in the sense that the wheelchair, robust though it is, couldn’t deal with a public right of way in the Yorkshire Dales, which is in pretty good nick. The other sense… I was out there. Yes, we had to kick the smallest of stones out of the way (those brushes they use in curling would have been mighty useful here) to make headway, but I got there in the end… Gordale Scar. Was this as far as I would ever get? Not a chance!
In 2013, by sheer fluke, Andy was watching the local news and saw a feature about a company based just a fifteen minute drive away from us. They’d just won an innovation award for their robust all-terrain wheelchair – TerrainHopper.
Well, then life got complicated by a three month stay in hospital (with no weight-bearing), an 8 hour operation to put rods in my spine, a high speed car crash (not our fault!!!) and a serious bout of pneumonia. And it was when I was lying ill with pneumonia that I sent a card to Andy proclaiming that, in April 2015, we would do the Coast To Coast. After he came round and I slapped him a few times, he agreed it was a brilliant idea. Our erstwhile pal, Jonathan Smith of Where2Walk (who had been there on our very first accessthedales outing to Gordale Scar) announced I was completely “crackers” and promptly agreed to help.
On April 12th 2015, we left a rain-lashed St Bees and arrived in Robin Hood’s Bay on April 25th. I travelled in a TerrainHopper.
Access The Outdoor Guide and Debbie North – making the inaccessible accessible.
Access The Outdoor Guide is committed to creating a countryside for all through the development of wheel-friendly treks for people with poor or no mobility in and around places such as the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District.
Access The Outdoor Guide) is proud to work alongside The Outdoor Guide with Julia Bradbury, putting together complete wheelchair-friendly packages for wonderful days out in the hills, valleys and beaches, including the perfect pit stops, the perfect accommodation and the perfect cuppa.
This means you’ll often come across Debs and Andy on a hillside or somewhere researching new routes that are accessible for people with disabilities.
If they’re not outdoors, chances are they’ll be in a cafe researching hot chocolate. With marshmallows. And squirty cream.
In April 2015, I trekked coast to coast with Andy, my husband, in a TerrainHopper, a 4×4 all-terrain wheelchair (ATW).
Here’s our top tips for such an adventure:
- ATWs are all different. Research. Match your ATW to your goals/needs.
- Know your ATW is capable of dealing with distances, difficult terrain and bear traps in the North York Moors.
- Plan routes and emergency routes should the weather turn.
- You have many wilderness miles to explore. Consult an expert. Ours is Jonathan Smith at www.where2walk.co.uk
- Book accommodation carefully! Often a place offered accessible rooms but nowhere to charge the TerrainHopper. Or they could store the TerrainHopper, but not us up as we were far too common. People heard ‘wheelchair’ but not ‘all-terrain’.
- Know where your accommodation is. We fell foul of this in Shap. Our bed for the night was four miles south. We had a brilliant back up driver. We were saved.
- Clothing – Think waterproof. Think windproof. Think warm. I wear merino wool long johns and base wear.
- When traversing difficult terrain, don’t be badgered into things. If it feels unsafe, don’t try it.
- TerrainHopper is a Class 2/3 mobility product. It’s entitled to travel where anyone on foot can. You may be challenged. Know your rights. It’s supposed to be access for all so it should be access for all.
- Get out there -live it, love it, feel it!
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.
The Outdoor Guide have partnered with Sense to create two sensory walks in London – giving people the space to explore nature.
Walking is a great way to stay active and Golders Hill Park and Trent Country Park offer a wealth of sensory delights along the way. They embrace touch and smell to make up the picture of the route.
When walking, whether you are disabled through a physical or sensory impairment or just age, these walks will respond to your lifestyle, giving opportunity for an enjoyable and wholesome sensory experience.
For more information visit: www.sense.org.uk
“Deb has had a huge impact to creating a countryside for all. She is a valuable member of the team and inspires us all.”
A message to AccessTOG from Julia Bradbury.