Access The Dales: The charity moving mountains in the North 

We catch up with the 'Access The Dales' Charity and its founder Debbie North at Ravenseat Farm, the home of the Yorkshire Shepherdess.
April 7, 2022

Saturday 2nd April was a monumental day for widening participation in the North. It was also a very big day for the Yorkshire Dales National Park. And for me (because I got along to the famous Ravenseat Farm, the North Pennine home of Clive and Amanda Owen and their team of excellent kids). But much more than any of that, it was the day that inspirational new charity ‘Access The Dales’ formerly launched.

The driving force behind this amazing, empowering project is Debbie North. A former West Yorkshire Headteacher, she has done a huge amount over recent years along with her husband Andy, to promote getting outdoors, particularly into our more remote northern landscapes. 

In spite of having a degenerative spinal condition and experiencing difficulties walking, Debbie remains mobile and independent by using both manual and powered wheelchairs. Debbie and her husband Andy had blogged for many years about their accessible adventures in the Yorkshire Dales and have been long-standing enablement ambassadors, so were already widely known and loved, before the incredibly sad developments of June 2021. 

Andy, a former deputy headteacher of Ovenden School in Halifax, died in June last year at the age of 56, just eight weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of bowel cancer.

While there’s no question that ‘Access the Dales’ is the most fitting legacy for Andy, whose last wish was that friends and family raise the money to purchase an all-terrain wheelchair specifically for children, which could then be located in an idyllic spot in the Dales – without the drive, determination and belief of Debbie, this new organisation would be a fraction of what it is currently. 

Over £16,000 was initially raised following Andy’s death and that facilitated the purchase of the first Terrain Hopper – and the birth of Access the Dales. Less than a year later, the charity has already funded 14 specially-adapted wheelchairs to allow users to explore the great outdoors, an achievement thanks also to the efforts of partners like Terrain Hopper and TGA Mobility.

Access the Dales has established five unique ‘hubs’, each in different Dales settings. Debbie explains: 

“Our first hub will be at Ravenseat, home of Amanda and Clive. Here there will be an all-terrain wheelchair specifically designed to be used by children aged 7 and upwards, as well as an adult vehicle. This will enable visitors to enjoy a walk on the fells above Ravenseat.”

“Our second hub will be based with Diane and Andrew Howarth at Cottage in the Dales in Newbiggin, near Leyburn. Visitors will be able to take the wheelchair with them on day trips to enable them to enjoy a ramble around such places as Aysgarth Falls, Cotter Force and Hawes. Our third hub will be based at Settle Railway Station, where visitors can borrow a mobility scooter to enjoy a stroll around the town and a walk along the river to Giggleswick. Our fourth Hub will be at Hill Top Farm, near Malham. Hill Top organises regular school visits to the farm and an all-terrain wheelchair will enhance the visitor experience, as well as being available to the public to enjoy an experience in Malhamdale. Our fifth hub will be at Ewe Nique Lonnin, Tebay where visitors can explore the beautiful countryside of the Westmorland Dales.”   

Just like the team behind this brilliant project, the Access the Dales mission statement is similarly inspirational: 

Access the Dales exists to break down the barriers that prevent people with limited mobility enjoying the great outdoors, either independently or with their friends and family. We will do this wherever need, demand and our capacity allow, by making all-terrain mobility vehicles available to borrow at outdoor locations in the Yorkshire Dales.   

We are also working towards enhancing provision of access for all disabled people to the Yorkshire Dales through the development of audio and multisensory trails.  

Through our work we will be supporting businesses and organisations improve their access.  

The launch event on Saturday left everyone attending moved, uplifted and full of admiration for the efforts of Debs, her son Adam and their team of smiley, bright-orange folk – who are set to move mountains across the North.

I also secured a selfie with The Yorkshire Shepherdess – and was able to talk excitedly with Mel from the charity about Dogger Bank and our long-sunk land-bridge to Europe…so please email if you’d like me to wax lyrical about either!

Access the Dales has a wonderful website full of masses of information, ideas, routes and links to partners, all accessed at:

https://www.access-the-dales.com/

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