Thursday, 21 March 2013

If you go down to the woods today...

Strid Wood at Bolton Abbey
Did you know that today is the International Day of Forests?

Thursday 21 March is a day to celebrate the wonderful forests we have around the world and to raise awareness of their importance. It is also a day to be able to show how trees, forests and their surrounding habitats make a big difference to local communities.

So why do we, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, support the International Day of Forests, and why do we think forests are so important?

Snaizeholme red squirrel reserve
Forests (or woodlands, as we more often call them) are home to many rare plants and animals. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has some incredible woodland including fine examples of upland ash, particularly where it grows straight out of limestone pavement - such as at Colt Park on Ingleborough National Nature Reserve.

Conifer woodland is a great habitat for our native red squirrel, providing a vital food source. Red squirrel reserves have been designated at Garsdale, Mallerstang, Widdale and Greenfield Forest to help ensure their long term survival.

We also have some rare ancient woodland, which is often merited as being the UK's equivalent of rainforest, and is home to more rare and threatened species than any other UK habitat.

Torpid (sleeping) dormouse at Freeholders' Wood
Freeholders’ Wood at Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale has had tree cover since at least 1600. Ramson (wild garlic) and marsh marigold, nuthatch and speckled wood butterfly can all be found here. It is named for the ‘freeholders’ of the nearby village of Carperby who have an historical right (called ‘estovers’) to collect coppiced wood here.

And following a reintroduction programme in 2008, dormice are returning to Freeholders’ after nearly a century’s absence,.

Known by their long bushy tail and sparkly black eyes, these tiny, elusive creatures, immortalised by Lewis Carroll in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, could fit easily into a small teacup.

Grass Wood in Wharfedale
Dormice numbers have declined dramatically in the UK, mainly due to the loss and deterioration of their ancient woodland habitat, hazel. We were delighted to see the population at Freeholders’ Wood had expanded a year after our 35 adults arrived. Unfortunately, the endless deluge last year destroyed habitats and made food hard to come by for small mammals, leaving dormice monitoring results low. We are hopeful that 2013 will see an improvement - if the weather is kinder. 

Our woodlands are also places for relaxation and recreation. Grass Wood in Wharfedale, managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, is a magical place for a quiet walk, listening out for woodpeckers. Strid Wood at Bolton Abbey has a path accessible for wheelchair users and is renowned for its flora and fauna, particularly the carpets of bluebells in spring.

Native red squirrel

And our wonderful Snaizeholme red squirrel trail from Hawes takes you right into the heart of their woodland habitat - on the right day you can catch the little white bus direct to the reserve.

Not only do woodlands provide a home to an abundance of life, and are great to look at and be in, but they also have many other useful functions. They help to reduce flooding, improve water quality and can help to buffer the effects of climate change. 

Wood anemone
Managed sustainably, a woodland can also provide us with many of the resources we need, such as timber for building materials, fuel for our fires and paper to write on. 

Speckled wood butterfly

One of the major roles of the National Park is to protect and enhance these woodland habitats, as we do with all of our important habitats. Through the planting of new woodlands we can extend and provide crucial links between the existing fragmented pockets of woodland. Joining up existing woodland habitats can create much larger woodland networks than could be achieved by new planting alone. 

By managing the existing woodlands, we can also improve their biodiversity providing a home to a greater number of species, and can also help to make our woodlands more resistant and resilient to climate change. 

Wood warbler
So what have we been involved with this last year, and what are our plans for the year ahead?

Last year we were able to assist in the planting of 60 hectares of new native woodland within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. That is almost the equivalent of 60 full-sized football pitches, containing up to 67,000 trees.

This year we aim to work with our partners to bring at least 50 hectares of ancient semi-natural woodland into good management, helping to improve that all-important biodiversity. We will also work with others to support planting of at least 50 hectares of new native woodland, with a particular focus on planting where forest habitat networks will be created.

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Find out more about woodland in the National Park and what we are up to on our website at

For information about the International Day of Forests and to see some great photos or projects going on around the world, visit You may even wish to upload your own photos to their website, showing off our beautiful woodlands and successful planting projects!

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Our guest blogger Kate Wilding wears two hats – she has roles in both the Authority’s Trees and Woodlands Team and its Wildlife Conservation team, so has a great insight into these companion areas of work. 

Kate is passionate about woodland crafts and re-instigating traditional management of woodlands. Having decided she had a love of woodlands and all things related, she decided she needed to know more about them and how to be able to look after them sustainably. Kate spends her evenings and weekends studying for her masters degree in Forest Ecosystem Management.

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Photography: Whitfield Benson

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

In the dark of the Dales

As our memories of the dog days of summer fade like the afternoon light of autumn, it’s easy to see why at this time of year many of us turn to the habits of the animal world and find a cosy spot to hibernate in.

A full moon above Embsay Crag, Wharfedale

But there are some people who refuse to let the reduced sunlight reduce their enjoyment of the National Park.

One of the simplest and loveliest things to do is just look up. The night sky is truly a wonder, and with so few street lights in the Dales there’s little light pollution to ruin the sparkle of a sky laden with stars and planets. The annual Orionid meteor shower in late October can be stunning on a clear night.

If you’re not content with just stargazing, at points between dusk and dawn in the autumn you can also spot Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Venus. Plus there’s always the moon (made from Wensleydale cheese of course) to wonder at.

And just think - the nights are at their longest, so there’s even more time to enjoy the night sky. Dust off your deck chairs and grab a blanket, some binoculars and a big mug of hot chocolate, and get stargazing.

But don’t get your twinkling lights confused!

If it’s low and moving it might be a fell runner. The Swaledale Outdoors Shop in Reeth holds a monthly Full Moon Run through the winter. “Head torches essential”, they say. Local man Brian Stallwood loves a head torch fell run around Attermire Scar near Settle, while Tina Spence is out “rain or shine” every Sunday with Askrigg Ladies. She recommends some hi-vis clothing to go with the head torch.

The 12-hour Three Peaks walk gets even more
challenging during the darker months.
Or maybe it’s the front lights from a mountain bike? Our Facebook friend Jackie Cole says there are some great bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales to get out on, day or night. One of her favourites is the Settle Loop on the new Pennine Bridleway.

Another friend on Facebook, Paula Bray, likes nothing more than heading out on an evening with a full moon and hard frost to tramp over Lea Green and Yarnbury.

Although later in the year much of the wildlife of the Dales has migrated or started their hibernation, there are still opportunities to get close to nature. The distinctive hoot of an owl can echo across a dale after dark, foxes stay active year round, and in autumn red squirrels bury food to see them through the winter. 

Now all of that lot may seem like fun, but it’s nothing compared to the pub. It’s seems the warming wood fires and even warmer welcomes of our local hostellers are amongst the favourite autumn evening activities in the Dales. And a few locally-brewed pints go a long way to keeping you warm on the walk home after closing time.

And cue the twinkling stars…
On Wednesday 28 November the National Trust is running a Moonlit Night Walk from Buckden in Wharfedale starting at 18:30. Please contact the National Trust to confirm details and book your place – call 01729 830 416 or email

And on Saturday 1 December you might like to pop along to Hawes in Wensleydale at 16:30 to see lights of another kind with the switching on of the village’s Christmas lights and the arrival of Santa!

For more events in the National Park visit

A little note of caution.
Please remember to exercise common sense if you decide to explore the Dales after dark and follow the Countryside Code as you would during the day.

Our tips? Make sure you tell someone where you are going; wear suitable clothing as it can get very cold at night (consider high visibility clothing, particularly if your walk involves some roadside sections); take suitably bright torches with spare batteries so you can see the path and avoid falling down a hole or into a river; have plenty of navigation options – including maps, compasses and GPS equipment – if you are going out on rights of way, as things can look pretty different after dark; and remember your personal safety at night time, too. For more info see 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hidden history

If I were to ask you to conjure up a picture of a Dales resident what would that person look like?

Chances are we probably all thought of someone different, and it’s little wonder as the National Park is home to a wide variety of people of very different heritages.

And this has been the case for centuries. From the Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavian settlers, to the Romans, Vikings and Normans, and to more recent settlers from across the UK and further afield, the Dales has been a melting pot since 100 BC when the first outsiders, the Celts invaded from Europe.

Some people have come by force, some to escape or find freedom, and others to enjoy the location or seek economic success. 

October is UK Black History Month and we thought, with the help of the Dales Countryside Museum, we’d explore the people and places of the Dales that have been connected with Africa, the Caribbean and India.

Where people have come from, where they moved to, why they came and why they went may come as a surprise!

Slave traders, merchants and ships’ captains

For centuries, profits from transatlantic trading contributed to the development of the Western European economy, including that of the Dales. There was direct trade between Britain and Africa, the West Indies and the Americas.

Knitted stockings and ‘bump caps’ made in Dent were exported to the West Indies and sugar and other goods were imported to England. There is evidence of servants - enslaved and free - who were seemingly brought here by people living in the Dales and surrounding areas.

Local people also travelled along the shipping routes. They filled various roles including ship’s surgeon, captain of a slaving vessel and slave trader.


Planters and plantation workers

Several Dales families owned plantations in the Caribbean. Property names such as ‘Grenada House’ in Askrigg and what was known as ‘Africa House’ in Sedbergh provide tantalising clues to the history of their past owners.

Other people from the area worked in Jamaica, Dominica, Tobago, Grenada and Barbados, in roles such as overseer, surveyor, millwright, doctor and book-keeper. George Metcalfe of Rigg House near Hawes was a sugar plantation owner and president of the counsel in Dominica, while William Hillary, born at Birkrigg near Hawes, moved to Barbados in 1747 to work on climate and disease. He wrote a tropical medicine book on his return.

The contribution that Africa and enslaved Africans made to the wealth of certain Dales families must have been significant. For some, the inheritance of estate, property and trading interests raised both financial and ethical issues. William Place of Spennithorne for example, became a planter in Jamaica. Thomas Place, his son, “born of the body of a Slave of the name of Sherry Ellis on the Greencastle Estate in Jamaica” in 1823, was freed and came to England in 1835, eventually inheriting his father’s property in 1844.


Moving to the Dales

Various records show that people were brought to the Dales and the surrounding area to work as servants or nurse-maids.

John Yorke, a “negro servant”, was baptised at Marske Church in Swaledale and confirmed in Richmond. Yorke eventually married Hannah Barker at Kirkby Ravensworth and had seven children. It is interesting that in his book, ‘Richmondshire (1908)’, Edmund Bogg describes two of the Yorke children as “negroes brought ... from Afric’s sunny clime” despite the fact that they were born and bred in Swaledale.

John Dalton Esquire (1726-1811), an army officer in the East India Company, also appears to have brought a servant to the Dales area. This man, York, may have been of Indian origin.

We also know that women were brought to the area as servants. William Findlay of Thorns Hall, Sedbergh, came back to the area with a servant known as ‘Black Jenny’ and the Robinson family of Newby Park, near Topcliffe, Thirsk also employed a “malloto servant”.

There were many cotton mills in the Dales and Yorkshire area, all processing and generating income from a slave-produced product. Greenholme Cotton Mill at Burley-in-Wharfedale employed children from St. Margaret’s Workhouse, London. A letter from the Mill dated 3 November 1797 requests more children, “we ... rely upon you ........ for sending healthy Children.... Sophia the Black Girl is greatly improved in her industry.”

Thomas Rutling was born into slavery in America. He came to Britain as a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group established to raise money for the building of a University for African-Americans, at a time when American universities were strictly for “Whites only”. Rutling eventually settled in Harrogate in 1891, living there for at least 20 years. A linguist, he taught Italian, French and German in several local schools.

Children from the West Indies and the sons of rich Africans also attended school in the UK. In 1750, Francis Barber was sent to school in Barton near Richmond by Colonel Bathurst.



For some, the experience of living in other countries had a profound effect. On their return from the Caribbean to the Dales, some individuals chose to stand against slavery and to support the right for freedom and respect. They gave evidence at the House of Commons enquiries into the slave trade. Others also chose to stand in support of the abolition of slavery.

On 7 April 1798, a Leeds newspaper reported “the collection of £18 for supporting the application to Parliament for repeal of the [slave] trade ‘raised by voluntary contributions in a small part of the high end of Wensleydale... The contributors (being chiefly farmers) were informed of the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade by pamphlets circulated previous to the collection.”

Robert Boucher Nicholls, Dean of Middleham, was born in Barbados and together with several other Dales people, gave evidence in 1791 to the House of Commons Select Committee which was enquiring into the slave trade. In 1787 he wrote a letter of support to the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which they considered important enough to be printed. He was a supporter of the Cambridge-educated African Caribbean poet, Francis Williams.

Henry ‘Box’ Brown was an ex-slave who spoke in favour of emancipation and travelled throughout the north of England. He is known to have spoken in Keighley and may have visited the Dales area.

Closely related

The information uncovered about the Black history of the Dales by the Dales Countryside Museum and North Yorkshire County Council Record Office as part of our ‘Hidden History’ project in 2007 only revealed the tip of the iceberg.

There are many stories of enslaved Africans being brought to villages which as yet have no supporting archival evidence. There are families for whom we can find no modern day link and people that we have not yet discovered.

Can you help? Have you traced your family tree and discovered some ‘hidden history’. You could contribute to the research of the Museum by getting in contact and making sure we have a full picture of the history of the Dales and the many people that have helped shape it.

Jenny meets Leeds actor and writer Joe Williams dressed in costume as Equiano
an African writer and enslaved person who joined the British abolition movement
at the opening of the Hidden History exhbition at Dales Countryside Museum in 2007.

Jenny Thornton was one of those people who got in touch. She’s a descendant of the enslaved African John Yorke. Mrs Thornton was eager to offer new information about her family history and was able to exchange research with Museum staff and add photographs of Yorke and her other descendants to the display.

Museum Manager Fiona Rosher said, “Suddenly, John Yorke went from being a name on a piece of paper to a living, breathing person with a very real and direct link to the present-day. That’s what’s so interesting about local history – the effects are all around you.”

Inspired by a new interest in her family history, Jenny went on BBC Radio 4’s programme “Tracing your roots” to talk about her family history. She even got to travel out to Jamaica with another BBC series, “Who Am I?”, to find the tombstones of her family. “Who Am I?” was broadcast on BBC Local Radio and released as part of the BBC website’s UK Black podcast.

Dales Countryside Museum is open 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday and tells the story of the people and the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. There are regular special exhibitions and events throughout the year.

The ‘Hidden History’ and ‘Dales and the Wider World’ research is available to view in our research room, and we have volunteers on hand to help visitors explore the information on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Life through a lens

I fell in love with the Dales twenty five years ago when my grandparents moved to the area - and because of this ten years ago I moved here myself.

Dusk from Addlebrough

As well as looking after the IT systems at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority I’m a professional photographer and spend a lot of my free time out on the hills at first and last light trying to capture the beauty and strangeness of this extraordinary landscape.
Last year I took the opportunity to reduce my hours and finally pursue a photographic project I had been mulling over.

I work at the Authority because I believe in the valuable work the organisation does and, through my time here, I have become aware of the wide range of amazing people who also spend their time caring for the area.

Juniper in front of Ingleborough - the favourite view of
Fran Graham, Wildlife Conservation Officer, YDNPA

So I decided to put together an Arts Council grant bid to produce a book and exhibition celebrating the work they carry out. When completed, 'Working the View' will include the favourite views of forty people who work on the landscape - from farmers to landowners to employees of environmental organisations – all photographed by me.

However, images on their own can only show the beauty of the landscape – they don’t reveal the work which goes on behind the scenes.

Fortunately my sister Sarah is a professional writer (and soon to become a famous novelist!), so the second half of the project involves her interviewing these people to find out why they love that view, as well as learning more about the work they do to make it look the way it does.

Moughton Scar - the favourite view of David Sharrod,
Director, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust
Over the last year in my search to get the best photograph from these viewpoints I have witnessed the sun rise from spectacular locations such as the top of Barden Moor in Wharfedale and above Hawkswick in Littondale. I have watched it set from the top of Addlebrough in Wensleydale (image, top right) and the side of Ingleborough in Ribblesdale. I have discovered new locations to visit and have viewed familiar ones in different ways.
The light is magical and, apart from the struggle to leave my bed in the morning and the complaints from my legs as I spur them up steep hills before I've had breakfast, it has been a joy to experience the views at these times of day. As long as you research the weather well I would encourage everyone to try it at least once.

As a photographer, it has also been a challenge to take someone else’s favourite viewpoint and their relationship with it, and turn the 3D panorama into a 2D image that appeals to people who don't have that same personal connection. 

View above Hawkswick - the favourite view of Roger Gibson,
drystone waller/fencer and landscape contractor

While I have been out experiencing the views themselves, Sarah has been discovering the fascinating stories behind them.

Plucking her from her London base, I have sent her on trips all over the Dales to remote farmhouses and tucked away offices, from her city life to discussions about how to construct drystone walls, farm sheep and restore peat moorland.

Her different outlook has been an advantage. Although my countryside knowledge is by no means comprehensive, after a while you take certain things for granted. Having someone with a fresh outlook has resulted in many interesting discussions!

Sarah has gathered a wealth of interesting new facts - including how to sex a Juniper tree. Fran Graham, the Authority’s Wildlife Conservation Officer, discussed threats to the plant’s population and collecting seeds to propagate and use in regeneration projects.

Other people have described how they discovered the Dales, such as David Sharrod (Director of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust) who first came on a sixth form school trip, and Dave Higgins (Project Manager for the Yorkshire Dales River Trust) who visited on family holidays from Hull.
Ingleborough - favourite view of Louise Smith,
Lead Adviser for Land Management, Natural England

Most of all, people have been describing just how special the Dales is to them. Drystone waller/fencer and landscape contractor Roger Gibson said:  “There’s no place like the Yorkshire Dales anywhere in the world. When you go travelling, the best thing about it is coming back – a lot of local people tell you that. You can never beat that feeling you get when you come past Kilnsey Crag and turn into Littondale.”

And Louise Smith (Lead Adviser for Land Management, Natural England) describes how “the characters that basically make this landscape living and breathing are the farmers, the farmer’s wives…they are part of that landscape. They have such admiration for it.”

My sister and I feel privileged to have met just a few of those who live in and care for this very special place. 

A free ‘work in progress’ exhibition is on public display at the Authority’s Bainbridge office until 31 October, which will then move to the Mill Gallery in Skipton from 2 November. Mark’s images can be viewed at

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dropped right in it!

The stunning main chamber of
Gaping Gill (courtesy of Craven Pothole Club)
One of the best things about working at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is that you are reminded of how much there is to see in this beautiful part of the world – something you often forget when it’s all just down the road.

I’m currently compiling a list of the best and most popular tourist attractions for our website, and it’s pointing out some of the classic destinations I’ve never got around to seeing.

With that in mind, I headed out this summer with Craven Pothole Club on their annual winch meet at Gaping Gill.

With its enormous main chamber – big enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral – Gaping Gill is one of the National Park’s most spectacular natural features, but it can be hard to access even for experienced cavers, often being filled with water.

Enter the Craven Pothole Club, who ran their traditional meet for members of the public this year from 18 to 27 August. They set up a chair on a winch on a little platform at the mouth of the cave, and for a small fee (£15) they’ll lower visitors down to the cave floor.

It’s brilliantly simple, opening the cave up to many people who would otherwise never see it.

The Club has run this event since 1930 (they only stopped for the Second World War and the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak), so it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.

My day began with a nice 3 mile walk up from the village of Clapham past Ingleborough show cave and onto the flanks of Ingleborough itself, one of Yorkshire’s own Three Peaks. I arrived to find a little tent village had sprung up around the entrance to Gaping Gill. I handed over my money, got a wristband and joined the queue.
Watching others go ahead of me, the trip down seemed quite fast - and a bit frightening! When it was my turn, I was strapped into the little chair and then the floor literally slid away from underneath me, leaving me dangling over a sheer drop of over 100 metres.

After a few seconds of wondering if I should have stayed in bed, the winch started up and I shot straight down past the rocks and through the waterfall that was dripping down from the surface. The trip is thrilling but perhaps not recommended if you don’t like heights – or water!

At the bottom I found myself in a gigantic chamber. For a while it was pitch black apart from the twinkling lights of people’s torches and the shaft of light coming down from the top. As my eyes adjusted, the full splendour of it became clear. Apparently the floodlights weren’t working that day because of a problem with the generator, but it hardly mattered – the place is impressive even without lights, perhaps more so as your senses take over and you feel the enormity of the space. A Club volunteer took us on a tour of the chamber to get a real feel for it.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed by trip to Gaping Gill and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a different side to the Dales landscape. The weather was pretty awful on Saturday which spoiled things a little - it started raining heavily while I was queuing and didn’t stop from the rest of the day!

Not that that mattered while I was underground.

Next year I’m planning to go back again and get the best possible view of this amazing place.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park’s cave systems are some of the most dramatic and extensive in Britain. Exploring caves takes knowledge, the right equipment and experience and it is best to gain these either through a course run be a qualified guide or by joining a local club. Alternatively, you can gain a taste of the experience by visiting one of our show caves. Find out more at

If you fancy following in Dave’s intrepid footsteps, why not join Bradford or Craven Pothole Clubs for their annual bank holiday winch meets – check out the events pages of our website for details.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Opening up the past

You might be interested to know that on just a few special days each September you get a rare opportunity to see inside some of the most amazing buildings in the country, absolutely free.

In 2012 this wonderful annual national event falls this weekend.

Once a year, on Heritage Open Days, a large number of historically and architecturally interesting buildings open their doors to members of the public all over England, allowing people to see British building gems for free. Perhaps more interestingly, many buildings open up areas that visitors normally don’t get to see. Some of them may not be open at all for the rest of the year. This makes Heritage Open Days a great weekend for anyone who’s interested in architecture or local history and heritage.

Naturally, this includes some buildings in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre near Sedbergh is offering free entry on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September, giving you a great chance to see heritage displays and working looms, as well as craftspeople in action in the many artisan studios it houses. Elsewhere, historical churches will be happily welcoming visitors; St Margaret’s Church in Hawes will be offering tours and cream teas on Sunday, while St Wilfrid’s Church in Burnsall will be offering refreshments on Saturday and Sunday.
Linton Falls Hydroelectric Power Station is now providing
power to local homes again after nearly 100 years
 (courtesy of J N Bentley)
For something a little different, the recently restored Linton Falls Hydroelectric Power Station is a great example of the technologies of the past being used in modern times. After a century of neglect the turbine house – a scheduled monument – has been fully restored to its former glory, and on Thursday and Friday of last week visitors had a rare opportunity to see inside.

You can still ‘sneak a peak’ at this Edwardian building, and the newly installed Archimedean screws that power 90 family homes this year, by taking a short stroll along the River Wharfe between Grassington and Linton - there's an interpretation panel outside that will tell you more about its fascinating history. And if you're local, look out for special school visits, too.

Gold Viking ring uncovered at Sedbergh in 2008,
now on display at Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
And there's still time tomorrow to absorb some fascinating Dales stories, get hands on with interactive displays and explore some amazing exhibits - including a gold Viking ring found in Sedbergh - at our own Dales Countryside Museum.

The aim of Heritage Open Days is not only to raise public awareness of some beloved and important buildings, but also bring people together by opening these local landmarks up for people that might otherwise not have visited them. Whether you’re hoping to learn more about local history and tradition or you just want to try something different, this weekend is a great opportunity you shouldn’t miss out on.

If you're interested in the historic buildings of the Yorkshire Dales National Park take a look at our webpages and learn how we help care for them. While you're there don't forget to delve into the curious world of our Feature of the Season - highlighting some of the smaller, hidden gems of this special place!

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.