Access to, in and around the Yorkshire Dales for all, no matter where a person lives or their mobility should be available to everyone. Yet, for many reasons, progress in resolving some of physical and cultural barriers that exist continues to be problematic.
Our own policy, entitled Countryside Access states that people have a right to access and enjoy the countryside. This means we support the policies of organisations such as the Ramblers which have secured a network of rights of way and a right of access to open country. We also believe that in order to access the countryside, it is essential that people both within and from outside the Dales should be able to travel to and around the area, which is why we continue to fund DalesBus − specifically supporting its weekend and bank holiday services. Indeed, our financial commitment to DalesBus has increased for 2023/4 in order to secure greater coverage and better service.
Another activity we have undertaken in pursuit of greater access for all, is to facilitate help through friendship and support, a local community women’s group build the necessary skills and knowledge to enable the individuals within it, should they choose to, feel equipped to access the Dales in their own time and on their own terms. The sociable, bespoke walks we have organised have helped many women overcome some of the language, cultural and confidence barriers of accessing the countryside. This is a rewarding relationship for both parties and one we intend to continue investing in.
Another initiative we have launched as a further complement to our larger outdoor events programme, is Social Strolls. These aim to be flatter, slower, more sociable walks incorporating less physical man-made barriers (such as stiles), which many relatively mobile people can find problematic. Our first Social Stroll is planned for 22 March.
It is also good to see that the YDNPA is working hard to make many routes more accessible through replacing stiles with gates and widening paths and gateways. It has also devised a range of routes entitled Miles Without Stiles which can accessed online or via an App.
The charity, Access the Dales founded by Debbie North is making tremendous advances in ‘making the inaccessible accessible’ for many more people through its development of motorised ‘all terrain’ wheelchair Hubs around the Yorkshire Dales. It now has nine Hubs offering free hire, including Ravenseat (courtesy of its patron, Amanda Owen) which offers a Terrain Hopper Mini for children aged seven and over.
Debbie in partnership with walking expert, Jonathan Smith, has also written a comprehensive guide to the ‘best 32 stile free walks in the Yorkshire and Cumbrian Dales’ entitled Walks Without Stiles. Inclusive of route maps and notes about accessible facilities and parking, its real value comes from its accessibility key (walks are graded as suitable for foot only / powered wheelchair or for all!) and the ’Debbie says’ notes offering Debbie’s own personal insights as a wheelchair user for each listed walk.
Photo: the footpath through the hay meadows at Muker – taken in October 2022