Rangers have made a path through hay meadows in Malham accessible to all, further enhancing the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s reputation as a welcoming place for people with limited mobility.
Joining Malhamdale Area Ranger Rob Ashford (pictured) on a visit to the newly accessible path, campaigner Debbie North said the replacement of kissing gates with wide gates which opened both ways was ‘just fantastic’.
She said the Malham path, taken together with similar infrastructure improvements elsewhere in the National Park, as well as increased availability of all-terrain wheelchairs for hire and a marked improvement to the information available on accessible routes, was a cause for celebration.
Mrs North said families had recently contacted her charity, Access the Dales, saying they had booked holidays in the National Park because they knew there was now ‘something accessible to do every single day’.
The access improvements to the path in Malham were funded by a ‘Removing Barriers’ grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The same pot of money will be used this year to design a path through Freeholders’ Wood near Aysgarth Falls National Park Visitor Centre that will enable wheelchair users to access the lower falls for the first time.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Access and Recreation Officer Rachel Briggs has worked closely with Debbie North for a decade.
Rachel Briggs said: “The route in Malham is easily followed from the Malham National Park Visitor Centre, so people can feel reassured there is somewhere to park and somewhere to go to the toilet. It’s a flat, well surfaced route which takes you to a place where you can sit and listen to running water, which from visitor surveys we know people enjoy.
“We’re auditing for new access routes regularly. Some of the routes we promote as ‘Miles Without Stiles’ are short routes that you could do in a manual wheelchair, places such as Cotter Foss in Upper Wensleydale. Other routes require an all terrain wheelchair, such as Sulber Nick in Ribblesdale, where you can get up close to the limestone pavement and go high for the views. And there’s something in between for everybody.
“Things are improving all the time. Two Changing Places toilets will open soon in the National Park, one in Hawes, one in Grassington. That represents a leap forward in terms of access for some people with disabilities; at the moment the nearest Changing Places toilets are in Skipton and Northallerton.”
Debbie North, who began campaigning for better access soon after she began using a wheelchair in 2010, described the difference that the changes to the Malham path would make to wheelchair users.
“To have gates that are easy to get through is just fantastic. The old kissing gates were totally inaccessible for somebody in an all terrain wheelchair because they were far too narrow. And the new gates open both ways. It’s far easier to go through a gate that opens outwards rather than inwards; with a gate that opens only one way you have to reverse to get through it.
“The fact that they are not spring loaded, too, makes a difference. A spring loaded gate is so difficult if you are trying to manoeuvre a wheel chair and hold the gate. These gates close behind which is excellent as that keeps the farmer happy too.
“Malham has become an accessibility hub. I’m using the chair which is kept at The Lister’s Arms. From the pub you’ve got a lovely walk to Gordale Scar. You can take the chair up to the Cove and right down to the bottom of the Cove. This is now a third route, which is just so beautiful. I could do this in my manual wheelchair. Within a matter of metres you’ve got that feeling of freedom and of space.”
The Lister Arms is an accessible pub, with accessible toilet. The General Manager, Chris Denning, said he was pleased to be able to host the all terrain wheelchair.
“After hearing Debbie’s story, we were touched by the initiative and realised that not only could some of our own guests benefit from the Wheelchair Hub, but those simply visiting for the day could too. We’re nestled in such a beautiful area of the UK, and I believe that everyone should be able to experience the wonders of Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar. We really do hope that it encourages as many people as possible to get out and explore the stunning Yorkshire Dales.”
Debbie North is a member of the Yorkshire Dales Access Forum. During her visit to Malham she was asked about the accessibility work that is going on across the National Park.
She said: “Being a wheelchair user for the first time, it was difficult. There was a lack of information and no signposting as to where you could go. I just think over the last 12 years or so the changes have been incredible. Within the National Park, there are so many more places that you can borrow the all-terrain chairs and the information is a lot better as well.
“We’ve had three different families contact us saying they’ve booked a week’s holiday in the Yorkshire Dales because they know there’s something accessible to do every single day. We’ve got a hub up at Tebay where you can now go up onto the Howgills, which is so off the beaten track; there’s a hub at Nateby near Kirkby Stephen, where you can get up to the tops and the views are just stunning over Wild Boar fell. And then you’ve got the wheelchair that is at Clapham nature trail where again there’s a gorgeous walk through the woodlands along by the lake. There’s Ingleborough Cave, the only accessible cave system in England, where you can go in a manual wheelchair and experience being underground – and that is a joy.
“The next hubs are going to be at Aysgarth Falls and [outside the National Park] in Leyburn and Bedale. At Leyburn there will be a different type of wheelchair – a fold up mobility scooter – that can fold up into a back of a boot and people can go off to explore Aysgarth Falls or up to the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes which is all accessible.
“In meetings I can see people falling asleep when it’s my turn to say something about access. But one of the chaps said recently that he’d never really understood what I was banging on about, but he did now because he’d had a hip operation and couldn’t climb a stile anymore. So it’s wonderful that ‘Access For All’ is reaching so many people.
“The Yorkshire Dales National Park is certainly improving as a place for people with disabilities. There is a strong team of people pushing the message that it is a countryside for all; that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is for everyone.”
Malhamdale Area Ranger Rob Ashford added: “’Access For All’ is one of the National Park Authority’s high priority programmes and it is beginning to show. Good access to the countryside improves physical and mental health and the Malham meadows walk is one of many where we are starting to improve access for disabled people.”