It’s easy to be apprehensive about exploring the great outdoors when you’re a wheelchair user. Much of our countryside is out of bounds if you use a wheelchair, and the last thing you want is to find yourself trapped, literally bogged down or fenced in, when venturing out into the country.
I’ve used a wheelchair, and lived in Lake District, all my life. Up until 2017, my only experience of enjoying the local countryside was limited to childhood horse riding. Thanks to support from family, friends and colleagues in 2016 I raised funds for a new flexible wheelchair which I can transport in a car, and still use battery power which has opened up a whole new world. I had my first trip to Tarn Hows – an accessible walk near Coniston - on a stunning, blue-skied January day. It felt amazing to be immersed in the beautiful countryside, and to be doing so independently.
Getting out in a Self Propelled Wheelchair
If you’ve seen Africa with Ade Adepitan on the BBC, then you’ll know that with the right chair and good upper body strength and an occasional helping hand, you can go just about anywhere on a good manual wheelchair. A self-propelled wheelchair with attendant handlebars is the best option. They are lighter so less likely to sink into soft ground, and the large wheels also better spread your weight. Plus, if you are exploring with a non-disabled person, they can more easily give you a hand in difficult patches. The Outlander All-Terrain Wheelchair is a great option, it has good tread on the wheels, a rugged frame, attendant handlebars and can be folded up and placed in a car boot. It is also only 14kg – it ticks all the boxes!
Powerchairs - Use with Caution
By far the easiest way to discover new areas is with an all-terrain powerchair that is designed for outdoor use. However, a powerchair is ultimately only as good as the battery powering it, and if you are climbing hills or riding through long grass the motor will work harder than normal and a 20 mile range can suddenly drop to under 10 miles - and if that battery was not fully charged, you could easily find yourself stranded.
For this reason powerchairs are best used from a base, such as a cottage or hotel, where you can explore the surrounding areas, taking short trips out just a few miles. The Foldalite Trekker is one of the best power wheelchairs for such things - it has a range of up to 13 miles so is ideal for exploring a small area. So long as you never go more than 4 or 5 miles from your base before returning, you should be safe. Just remember to fully charge your battery overnight after every use.
Wheelchair Accessible Adventures in the UK
There are many places you go explore in the UK with your wheelchair today. I’ve been really impressed with the effort the Lake District National Park have gone to, to open up miles of countryside in their Access For All initiative. There are now 40 miles of footpaths without any stiles, as well as wheelchair accessible boats. And all car parks have blue badge spaces.
For more information on exploring the Lake District read my Top Four Accessible Lake District Activities.
If you enjoy exploring coasts and the seaside, then head to Caalm Camp in Dorset, where you’ll find accessible yurts close to the Jurassic coast, which has some wheelchair accessible paths. The Jurassic coast in Devon is so named for its geological formation from the Jurassic period, which is famously the time of the early dinosaurs. Fossil hunters still flock to the area in the hope of finding ancient dinosaurs in rocks along the coast.
There are also many accessible holiday cottages throughout the UK which make an excellent base to explore the surrounding areas. A good cottage in a small village can make a great holiday. Do check first that there are plenty of routes in the area suitable for wheelchairs though, and also check what shops and services are nearby.
Read my access review of The Anchorage, Cromer – an accessible holiday cottage on the Norfolk coast.
Being a wheelchair user should not stop you enjoying the British countryside and experiencing a little adventure. So long as you do your research, prepare well, plan for emergencies and breakdowns, then you will have a fun holiday and make memories that will last a lifetime.