7 places with wheelchair-friendly trails in Devon
PUBLISHED: 10:04 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:42 08 October 2019
SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE investigates some wheelchair-friendly routes around the county
The Devon Life office had a call recently: one of our readers, who had spent much of his working life on Dartmoor, still wanted to get out and about. Now 87 and using a mobility scooter, he wondered if we had suggestions for accessible walks.
Given that I spend a good chunk of my working life out on footpaths, I know that if there comes a time when I'm less mobile I, too, will still want to be out there, immersed in the countryside. Fresh air is good for the soul and we all need that. So what is available for those who cannot get around quite as easily as they once did?
The answer is encouraging. Public awareness of the need for accessibility is now key, and my investigations came up with a good number of options for suggested routes.
A friend of mine uses a mobility scooter out in the countryside, so he seemed the best person with whom to start my enquiries. He reminded me of the Grand Western Canal, a route which I've known since childhood and frequently revisit. One thing to remember is that wheelchair-friendly paths are often shared by cyclists - so watch out for bikes!
The open spaces of Devon are there for all of us to enjoy. Hopefully these suggestions and organisations will help everyone get that little bit further.
1) The Grand Western Canal, Tiverton
This lovely country park offers almost 12 miles of well-surfaced towpath, good for wheelchairs and shared by walkers, cyclists and the magnificent heavy horses that pull the horse-drawn barge. It is a picturesque route, enhanced by the colourful artwork that adorns the barges.
The Canal Basin and nearby car park have good disabled facilities with ramps and handrails provided. The car park has five parking bays for disabled drivers and the public toilets include a toilet for disabled users. There is also a toilet for disabled users, opened with a RADAR key, in Sampford Peverell, beside the village car park and accessible from the canal towpath.
Entry to the Country Park, at all the main access points, (particularly beside road bridges) has been improved in recent years through the installation of two-way, self-closing gates.
My friend tells me that "passing beneath the bridges can be done with care as the path gets quite narrow and dips down and back up again. Most electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters can manage slopes and hills but care is needed. My best advice is to have someone with you, just in case!"
2) The South West Coast Path (SWCP)
One of our best 'breathing spaces', everyone needs to be able to access the coast and Devon is lucky to have two completely separate sections of coastline.
The scenery can be spectacular and another friend of mine completed the whole 600+ miles of the path a couple of years ago - with an artificial leg.
The route offers a challenging terrain but the SWCP website has a section dedicated to 'easy access walks'.
Each suggested route has information about its accessibility, including details of gradients, gates etc., so you can judge whether the location is right for you.
This excellent initiative of disability charity Living Options, has the slogan: "Enabling easy access to the South West's beauty spots" - and it does just that.
Providing safe access to some of our most scenic locations for anyone over 14 years of age who has difficulty walking, it runs an off-road mobility scooter, or 'Tramper', hire scheme.
The scheme operates in such locations as the Heddon Valley on Exmoor, The Granite Way on Dartmoor, Lundy Island and many National Trust properties, such as Castle Drogo and Killerton, where acres of superb parkland can be accessed on the Tramper.
Annual membership of the scheme costs £10; a two week 'taster' membership of £2.50 also gives access to all of their locations - and you can join at any of the sites where a Countryside Mobility Tramper is located (joining involves a short induction session).
I've also been given this further very useful recommendation - a privately-established website, set up as a resource to provide free information on locations, walks and recreational opportunities with disabled access.
The website lists not only walks but also beaches and pubs, plus a host of other useful recommendations, including taxis.
More to consider
Not every 'accessible' route will be suitable for all people with mobility scooters or wheelchairs, but other ideas to look at are:
This 21-mile route skirts Dartmoor, linking Plymouth with Tavistock. Not every bit is accessible for wheels, but much of it is.
Expect ascents and descents along the way. The surface is tarmac or stony and there are some short road sections. There are plans to improve the tricky sections to make it more accessible.
The two mile section between Exmouth and Lympstone is surfaced throughout and is easy, level going.
One of our lovely long-distance paths in the northern part of the county, much of it is surfaced for wheels - and it is entirely traffic-free, apart from bikes.
These three routes, and many more, are all shown on the section of Devon County Council's website that details accessible walks: exploredevon.info/category/activities/walk/accessible-walks