Never underestimate a rambler on wheels.
“One of our members will happily go up a muddy lane in his powerchair to be met by a farmer watching him who’ll say: ‘You’ll never get up there!’ Which of course is like a red rag to a bull. So he’ll say: ‘I’ll see for myself.’ And off he goes.”
John Cuthberston of the Disabled Ramblers wants walkers to consider what they’d do if they had an injury or health issue which stopped them walking.
“What would you do with the rest of your life? Would you really be happy to sit at home and watch the TV all day?”
Last week, John joined Peak District National Park access officer Sue Smith and Yorkshire Water’s countryside and woodland adviser, Geoff Lomas, to ramble along rutted tracks and up and down Castleton’s alleyways on his off-road scooter.
The National Park has just launched its new ‘Miles Without Stiles’ booklet detailing official routes for ramblers with mobility problems to explore, along with their friends and families.
“These routes are for everyone,” said Sue Smith, who collated the book over the last two years with help from volunteers, rangers and groups including Access Derbyshire, Disabled Ramblers and the Experience Community from the northern Peak District.
“In the past people would so often say: ‘This will be good enough’ when they were designing a route for disabled ramblers.
“But we want a whole lot more than that, we want routes that showcase the best stuff in the Peak District. That take you somewhere you want to go.”
The 20 routes (so far) include moorland, riverside and farmland tracks ranging from a few hundred yards at Longshaw, Redmires or Curbar Gap to several miles along the Monsal Trail, Parsley Hay or around Damflask.
The latter trail was redesigned for disabled ramblers by Yorkshire Water, who also sponsored the booklet so all profits from sales (at £5.95) go back to fund further access improvements for the next set of Miles Without Stiles routes, hopefully to be published in a year or so.
The £40,000 worth of work by Yorkshire Water at Damflask included improving the path, widening bridges and better access from the local bus stop, said Geoff Lomas.
“We own a lot of land, and where appropriate to do so we want to encourage people to use that land.”
He added that routes like Damflask should not be seen as just for disabled people.
“They’re for joggers, runners, families, people with pushchairs. It’s about being inclusive.”
The Miles Without Stiles movement started in the Lake District, and the Peak District has now joined the Lakes as one of four National Parks to publish a set of routes (along with the Yorkshire Dales and the South Downs).
The routes at https://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/mws are graded so users can work out which to explore depending on their own mobility, experience or wheelchair type. Apart from taking out stiles, improvements for disabled users might involve surfacing or reducing gradients.
“But we don’t want to diminish the countryside experience,” said Geoff Lomas. “There’ll still be gradients and brambles. We make it easier for people to get out, but we’re also offering challenges.”
Attitudes have improved for disabled ramblers, said John Cuthberston, who told how his power scooting colleagues negotiated the official opening of a Thames-side path a few years ago by taking along a series of ramps to get over several ill-conceived kissing gates. “It was like the Great Escape on scooters.”
Designers are now much more tuned in to what disabled ramblers need, he said. “But there’s still a lot to be done.”
Many landowners are now committed to making routes and paths accessible to all as a priority, and as technology improves (with more rugged scooters and phone apps to list accessible routes, for example) wheeled ramblers will be exploring more and more of our countryside.
“With these routes we’re often giving people back their world,” said Sue Smith.
“Or opening up a world that they’ve never had chance to see before.”
For more local walks and walking events, see Telegraph rambling on page 44.