You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again’ Alfred Wainwright
This saying, by fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright, could not be more fitting to describe my life since 2010.
The diagnosis of spinal degeneration concluded in me having to use a wheelchair as part of my everyday life. But this hasn’t stopped me from literally and figuratively climbing mountains.
Before ill health took away my ability to walk, my husband, Andy, and I spent most of our weekends in the hills and dales of Cumbria and the Yorkshire. Fell walking was a passion we shared. It was a crushing blow to us that I could no longer ramble on our beloved fells, a hard hit that, on top of everything else, led to a period of depression. To kick start me back into action, I began to explore alternative ways of accessing the countryside, and getting my TerrainHopper, a 4x4 all-terrain wheelchair, was the start of my new adventures.
With this ‘serious bit of kit’, Andy and I were once again climbing the mountains. We have completed several of the Wainwrights in the Lake District, a few Munros in Scotland and a good selection of the Dales 30 – The Yorkshire Dales highest peaks. In 2015 we completed the Coast to Coast, with me using the TerrainHopper. We created our own route from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay using a mixture of bridleways and quiet country lanes.
Being outdoors once again gave me the drive, the passion and the determination to become one of the country’s leading campaigners for creating a countryside accessible to all.
Life was good and the adventures were aplenty.
But last year tragedy hit once again. Andy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and lost a short, tough battle against this terrible disease. In June he passed away, aged 56 years old. I have been left heart broken.
As a legacy to Andy, my family and I have set up a charity called Access the Dales. The charity exists to break down the barriers that prevent people with limited mobility enjoying the great outdoors, either independently or with their friends and family.
We are achieving this by making all-terrain mobility vehicles available to borrow at outdoor locations in the Yorkshire Dales.
With the £16,000 raised in memory of Andy, we have purchased a TerrainHopper which is specifically designed to be used by children with disabilities. The first hub was launched in April 2021 is up and running at Ravenseat Farm, home of Amanda and Clive Owen. Since the launch, the wheelchair has been well used and it is a delight to see the smiling faces on the children who are using the wheelchair to access the fells.
But our story does not stop there.
We have been bowled over by the generosity of wheelchair manufacturers such as TGA Mobility, TerrainHopper and Paratreker, who have donated different types of wheelchairs to the charity. So far, we have 8 mobility scooters and all-terrain vehicles. We have set up hubs in Malham, Nateby, Tebay and Leyburn.
With so much going on, researching and creating accessible walks for the charity, writing articles for Country File Magazine, television and radio appearances, fulfilling my role as a Get Outside Champion with Ordnance Survey and ambassador for the Ramblers UK and the numerous requests as a keynote speaker, I am once again climbing up the steep hill of life.
More recently I have been appointed by the Cabinet Office as Disability and Access Ambassador for the countryside.
I promised Andy that I would continue to forge ahead with my passion to create a countryside for all and though I may have crashed, I am determined to once again rise and soar.
To find out more about Access the Dales please visit www.access-the-dales.com
To find out more about Debbie go to www.debbienorth.org