A new walking route suitable for mobility scooters launches in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 16:32 04 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:32 04 November 2019
A new route at Winchcombe suitable for all-terrain mobility scooters is the latest step in efforts to open up the Cotswolds countryside to everyone, explains Siân Ellis
Since the launch in June of a new 8.5 mile (13.7km) circular route at Winchcombe suitable for all-terrain mobility scooters and Tramper-style vehicles, disabled people have an ambitious - and welcome - addition to their outdoor adventure opportunities.
"Disabled ramblers can now enjoy one of the finest walks that the North Cotswolds has to offer," says Cotswold Voluntary Warden Paul Clark, who was instrumental in identifying and developing the route. "On the way up [there are] extensive views of the Sudeley Valley, opening up to views of Cleeve Hill and the distant Malvern Hills; once the top of the escarpment is reached there are extensive views across the Cotswolds towards the Chilterns in the distance. Although some of the route is hard track and tarmac, the predominant 'feel' is country paths and green lanes, with only short stretches of traffic-bearing road."
The need to improve accessibility for all to our countryside is a theme recently highlighted by Julian Glover in interim findings of the Landscapes review - National Parks and AONBs, stating "Our landscapes are open and free to all, but nonetheless can seem exclusive."
For ramblers who rely on mobility scooters it is a frustration that can be all too common when, despite careful research and forward planning of a route, they suddenly come across an unexpected manmade obstacle.
"Just imagine trying to do a circular ramble of, say, seven miles only to find that in the last mile there is a stile that you didn't expect," says John Cuthbertson, Chairman of the Disabled Ramblers. "The whole route now has to be reversed which might mean running out of [scooter] battery." By contrast, the enjoyment of a successful ramble is immense:
"Being in the outdoors, away from built-up areas brings a great sense of freedom which lifts the spirits," John says. "Many disabled people are 'trapped' in their homes for very long periods and to escape to the countryside once in a while is a great way to improve one's mental wellbeing."
Challenges and rewards
The Cotswold Voluntary Wardens have been working on creating easily accessible paths across the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for more than 20 years. The new, longer and more challenging route at Winchcombe for users of off-road mobility scooters is the result of a close collaboration with the Disabled Ramblers, landowners and the Gloucestershire County Council rights of way team.
In 2015 Paul and Disabled Ramblers member Eileen Scannell led a recce of the route to explore its potential, and following improvements and further trials the official opening ramble was led by another Disabled Ramblers member, Arthur Lee.
There are two starting points: Back Lane car park in Winchcombe for a longer ramble of 8.5 miles (13.7km) and Sudeley Castle car park for a shorter outing of 7 miles (11.3km). In places the route follows parts of the Wardens' Way and the Windrush Way.
"Fortunately, all of the obstacles [we had to remove] were concentrated on a half-mile section of the Wardens' Way," Paul says. "On this section we had to build a 20ft ramp to eliminate a perennially mussy section of path and to overcome a sharp change in ground level." A 'radar gate', unlocked by a radar key, opens wide to allow disabled scooters through.
Three further gates and a bridge required attention, and a supported platform had to be built "to prevent scooters from falling into a ditch." Disabled ramblers will also find spliced ropes attached to gates, so they can hold them open while passing through.
The improvements took 15 wardens around 40 to 50 hours to complete. "Most of the work was done in early 2018, working through the worst that the 'Beast from the East' could throw at us," Paul reflects ruefully. "Looking back, given the fact that most of us are OAPs, it's a wonder that we came through unscathed!"
John Cuthbertson appreciates the efforts. "Many routes for the disabled are only a half to a mile or so long and on tarmac. These routes are very important, particularly for manual wheelchair users. However, the new Winchcombe route is long enough to provide a full day's outing with the challenge of traversing land that is in the same state as used by the able-bodied rambler. Mud, ruts, crops and tree roots all add to the feeling of being in the natural open countryside."
Disabled Ramblers member Andy Jaynes from Bredon who took part in a preparatory recce of the new route and also cut the ribbon at the launch event this June adds that he particularly enjoyed "the challenges of traversing a variety of terrains - grassland, tracks, tarmac roads, up hill and down dale. The views along the Cotswolds were stunning. Being able to immerse myself in the beautiful countryside always brings me great pleasure and a great sense of freedom."
Get out and about
Winchcombe's 'Ultimate' Walk on Wheels circular for all-terrain mobility scooters can be downloaded from the 'self-guided walks' interactive map on the AONB website, cotswoldsaonb.org.uk.
You will also find lots of easier, stile-free walks in the Cotswolds. Here are a few favourites for some fresh air, great views, glorious countryside and heritage, picked by John Shaw, Cotswolds Head Voluntary Warden:
- Sample our Walks on Wheels - choose 'Wheelchair Friendly' on the interactive map
- Search near Chipping Campden to find an apple-themed route at Ilminster
- Search near Cheltenham for a truly scenic route at Crickley Hill
- For easier Stile-Free Walks choose 'Stile Free', 'Easy' and a location
- Near Stroud - the Stanley Tubbs walk for wonderful views and lots of history
- Near Charlbury - the Spelsbury walk through meadows and woodland recorded in the Domesday Book
- Near Bath - Old Sodbury: medieval castle, churches and fishponds, and stunning views
- Near Bradford on Avon - two great one-hour walks: at Winsley, shades of King Alfred, old cloth mills and an aqueduct; at Limpley Stoke, two ancient churches and charming views. Possible to do both walks in a day.
The Disabled Ramblers, a small charity working across England and Wales, organises a national programme of rambles for people who use mobility scooters. Previous rambles in the Cotswolds have included Cleeve Hill, Bredon Hill, Snowshill to Laverton, and Ilmington to Hidcote. For more information, visit disabledramblers.co.uk.
For further information on the Cotswolds AONB and the Cotswolds Conservation Board, visit cotswoldsaonb.org.uk.