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.


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