Friday, 31 August 2012

King of the hill

As Access Development Officer, I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people with all levels of ability. With the Paralympic Games upon us, it got me thinking about some of the memorable experiences I’ve had with some of our less able visitors.

Steve Higgins and his trusty Tramper
A few years ago, I was contacted by a man called Steve Higgins who wanted to get out into the Yorkshire Dales on his Tramper. At the time, I knew very little about Trampers but learnt that they are all-terrain mobility scooters capable of steep gradients and rough terrain and which are legally allowed to go anywhere you can go on foot.

In 2005, Steve was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and when I first met him, he was unable to walk far, but felt that his Tramper had given him a whole new lease of life.

Now living in Bedfordshire, Steve had grown up in Halifax and felt his true home was his old playground of the Dales. He had heard about the Pennine Bridleway – the UK’s newest National Trail, 52 miles of which crosses the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and so we agreed to give the first section completed, the Settle Loop, a go. 

Tackling rocky ground in the gloom
We met on a cold, wet day. Steve had brought his friend Dick and I brought back-up in case of emergencies. We set off and I was soon amazed at what Steve’s Tramper could do, and what he was prepared to try. There were a few occasions when we had to push him up rocky sections - and when his Tramper gave up and ran out of battery power we had to freewheel it back to Settle – so we concluded that the Settle Loop was for hard core disabled ramblers only. But Steve – a really funny character and great companion - had a brilliant day and the look of achievement on his face is something that will last with me for quite some time.

On the back of his experience with us, the Disabled Ramblers, a charity offering hikes for people with disabilities, added the National Park to their list of annual events and its members have been visiting us for two or three days a year ever since.

Steve also continued to come – it was his second home really – and he always brought a team of supporters known as Team Higgi, close friends and neighbours. Meeting up with him had become one of the highlights of my year - especially the copious amount of liquorice allsorts he would provide!

Sadly, in December 2011, Steve passed away aged 69. When he was diagnosed he was given three years to live and I really believe that because he could continue to go to the places he loved on his Tramper his life was extended. 
The Disabled Ramblers and Team Higgi return
to the Settle Loop in memory of Steve this 'summer'!

This summer, the Disabled Ramblers came back for their annual visit and I was delighted to see Team Higgi, too. They had enjoyed the trips so much that they have now joined the group and intend to represent Steve on a day out every year. 

We did three routes over the weekend, ending with the tough 10 mile Settle Loop on the final day in Steve’s memory. I’m convinced he was watching us, laughing as we plodded on in the miserable, wet weather. He was much missed.

I recently found out that after he trailblazed the Settle Loop with us on that gloomy Dales day four years ago, Steve told his friends that he had actually done it all on his own, got stranded on the top with no battery power and that we had stumbled across him and helped him back to his car. His friends all thought this was hilarious and he never told them the truth. Whoops, they know now!
We believe that everyone should be able to enjoy some access to the countryside, no matter what their level of ability. To find out about opportunities to enjoy the Yorkshire Dales National Park, whether you are a wheelchair user, are less mobile, have a young family or even have an elderly four legged companion for whom stiles are increasingly difficult, start by visiting our access for all web pages for advice on trails, viewpoints, accommodation and facilities.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Yorkshire Gold

“There must be something in the water, that and the Yorkshire pride”
- Mick Hill, Jessica Ennis's javelin coach -

Our fancy was tickled this week - along with many other people’s, judging by the tongue-in-cheek chatter online - by a comment made by Yorkshire Radio reporter Jonathan Buchan, ahead of heptathlete Jessica Ennis’s Olympic victory on Saturday.

Jonathan said on Twitter that if Yorkshire were a country it would currently be 11th in the medal table.

This was all down to the number of Olympic competitors from Team GB who actually hail from our region.

This fun stat – at that time Yorkshire athletes had achieved four golds, two silvers and three bronzes - placed us above the likes of Australia on the virtual chart!

Medallists include rower Andrew Triggs-Hodge, raised in Hebden right here in the National Park, and Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, triathlon champ and bronze medallist respectively, from Leeds.
Bradford-based climber John Dunne
at Malham Cove

In The Guardian newspaper, the Brownlee brothers credited the natural training ground of the Yorkshire Dales as one of the reasons for their burgeoning success, and raved about their outdoor gym on Chris Evan’s BBC Radio 2 breakfast show. We hope to see them running on the fells again soon. 

We had a great live chat with local legend, climber John Dunne on Twitter last Friday as part of National Parks Week 2012. John has been our sporting ambassador for this year’s celebration of Britain’s beautiful winning landscapes and was there to answer all your questions. 

He told us his most thrilling climb was being the first to free-scale Malham Cove – ‘pretty special’. And his most useful bit of kit? Well, a flask of Yorkshire tea was right up there along with good rock shoes!

And we’ve a few ‘champions’ amongst our very own team. Cathy Bradley – Access Technician and fell runner – blogged earlier this month about how training here exhilarates and inspires her, while Recreation and Tourism Manager Mark Allum described how he prepared for a recent cycling trip to the Pyrenees in his beloved Dales hills. Click on the links on the right to read their experiences.

National Parks were created for the fantastic health and recreational opportunities they offer so it’s no wonder they are being used to such success as a green gym.

With summer finally arrived, now is the time to take in a few gulps of Yorkshire’s award-winning, champion-building air. We’ve got loads of ideas for getting active whether hiking, horseriding, climbing or caving is your thing.

The glorious 52 mile Yorkshire Dales National Park section of the Pennine Bridleway - the first National Trail designed specifically for cyclists, horseriders and walkers - opened this summer so be among the first to try it out. And for a breather you could take in the ‘Sporting Spirit’ exhibition at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes - which we’re excited to learn features the Olympic torch carried at Aysgarth Falls. It runs until 4 September.

The gold post box honouring Andy Triggs-Hodge's
Olympic win in his place of birth, Hebden in Wharfedale
In the meantime look out for this freshly painted golden post box in the lovely village of Hebden in Wharfedale when you are next out and about. This is where Men's Coxless Four Rowing gold medal winner Andrew Triggs-Hodge grew up. Well done, Andy, you did us all proud!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Yorkshire Dales National Park – a ‘green gym’

Fell running has a strong tradition in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, particularly with its link to local shows.  While it's just one way that the contrasting landscapes can be enjoyed, the National Park provides the ideal training ground for a fell runner.

It also doesn’t matter about level of ability. For example, the sheltered flat river bank between Bolton Abbey and Grassington, along the Dales Way, provides an easy run out or a recovery run after a hard race, while the huge mound of Elbolton Hill reef knoll near Thorpe is ideal to increase climbing strength.

Fell running in the Yorkshire Dales to me is a myriad of things – it’s exhilarating, inspiring and stimulating –it takes you to remote places and lets you see hidden gems.

And, despite the physical exertion when you are sometimes pushing yourself to the limit, it can be very therapeutic, releasing anxieties, giving you confidence and providing an escape from everyday life. And, of course, it’s free!

You are travelling fast and light over varied ground against the elements and in all weathers through breathtaking scenery.

On the steep run out of Kettlewell onto the top of Old Cote Moor on a late summer’s evening you are rewarded with a long view up into lovely Littondale, with Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough poking up in the distance.

An evening run around the Ingleborough massif finishes off with the descent to Little Ingleborough in the dark and you know you have been the last person on the summit plateau to watch the blazing red sunset over Morecambe Bay. It’s an experience not to be missed and I make sure I do it every summer.

Then there are night runs in fresh snow above Bordley, when the only sign of life is a fox’s tracks and the moon is so bright you can switch your head torch off.

Fell running club social runs take you across Rylstone and Cracoe Fell to finish off with a warm welcome, and drink at one of the Dales pubs.

Running home from work across Threshfield and Linton Moor up to Rylstone Cross, across Barden Moor bridleway to Embsay Crag, I take a quick stop on the top of the Crag from where I can see home.

On other days I look forward to leaving my car at Ribblehead to set off for a long day of running into the quieter dales – Kingsdale, Barbondale and Dentdale – getting back exhausted, but content.

I always get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of the scree descent and infamous ‘chimney’ in the Kilnsey Crag fell race – it’s soon over with though! And every year I get the same giddy feeling upon reaching the summit on Ingleborough in the Three Peaks Fell Race, with the thought that you have cracked it and it’s just a case of keeping on your feet for the final three miles to the finish line! 

But whatever the occasion – whether it’s a run or a race – it’s just a fantastic feeling to be out in the landscape of the National Park – it really is the perfect, beautiful green gym.

Find out more about 'Getting Active' in the Yorkshire Dales National Park on our website.

Read articles like this in our monthly ‘National Park Notes’ column in the Darlington and Stockton Times.