Apparently, one’s first blog should be an introduction about who I am.
Technically though this isn’t my first blog, or my first ever piece of writing, as I write regular blogs as AccessTOG on The Outdoor Guide and I have written several articles for various publications. But it is my first blog for my new website, debbienorth.org
So for the reader who is finding out about me for the first time, here’s a quick summary of my life…. So far.
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.
I first walked Wainwright’s Coast To Coast in 1999 with my then work colleague Andy North. During the two weeks we spent together, we became good friends.
We enjoyed it so much that we walked it again in 2003. At the end of our second crossing, Andy proposed to me as we stood in the North Sea at Robin Hoods Bay. I said ‘yes’ and we got married in December of that year.
For many reasons, I have a very special love of the Coast To Coast.
In 2007, Andy and me 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.
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.
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.
For this walk we were joined by a chap who we had never met before but someone I had been having a bit of a twitter conversation. This was Jonathan Smith, who since that day has become a good friend and a tremendous support.
The footpath to Gordale scar is only a couple of hundred metres or so. It was no big deal.
Except, it was a big deal – on two counts. It was a big deal in the sense that my wheelchair, robust though it was, 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!
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.
It was when I was lying ill with pneumonia that I sent a card to Andy proclaiming that 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 announced I was completely “crackers” and promptly agreed to help.
And so 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.
It was an amazing adventure and from there we had 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.
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 in the Yorkshire Dales to the shores of Ullswater, finishing on the shores of Bassenthwaite in the Lake District. It was a wonderful experience.
As a result of the spinal surgery, I have got stronger and am now fulfilling my passion of hill walking by using a TerrainHopper. 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 my career has changed beyond anything I ever expected.
I met Julia Bradbury and Gina, her sister at Keswick Mountain Festival and Gina asked me if I would like to work with them developing accessible walks for their website The Outdoor Guide. It was an opportunity that I could not resist.
And as they say …. The rest is history.
Andy and I moved back up north and live on a sheep farm in Cumbria, right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
And now I've set up debbienorth.org so that I can share my expertise, experience and passion through my consultancy work, my talks and my writing.