The story so far.....share your thoughts and photos about disabled rambling to help us create a community Top 50!

The first ever disabled rambler was Dr Bruton in 1990 whose British Airways colleagues built him a rickshaw for his Ridgeway fundraising challenge – he was pulled and pushed along whilst sitting in an economy class airplane seat! The Ridgeway has since become a special place for many disabled people and was voted by Disabled Ramblers as their favourite in ITV’s television programme Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100 in 2018. Read on below to find out more…..

Disabilities vary from person to person and, in Dr Bruton’s case, he was born with ‘Charcot-Marie-Tooth’ disease which leads to progressive loss of muscle tissue and touch sensation across various parts of the body. As a youngster, his explorations of the countryside included mountain climbing but, over time, his walking became very restricted and he used a walking stick. His love of exploring the countryside did not fade however, and in 1990 he chose The Ridgeway for a 50 mile weekend ramble to raise money for his medical charity. Two years later, Dr Bruton organised the first disabled ramble for scooter and wheelchair users, again using The Ridgeway and supported by the AA!

Using wheelchairs, hand-trikes, mobility scooters and off-road mobility scooters such as the Tramper which Dr Bruton helped develop, many disabled ramblers now enjoy organised rambles across the country. Group rambles are led by Disabled Ramblers – the charity founded by Dr Bruton – and they hold at least one ramble a year on The Ridgeway. As one lady said, “I’ve had such happy days, made new friends, been in awe of the courage and determination of other members and explored wonderful new areas which I just would not have known about or dared to travel to alone.”

It was this determined spirit that made Nick Wilson, aged 45, the first person to use a powered wheelchair over a long distance along The Ridgeway in 2022. As part of Men’s Health Week, Nick completed a 96km fundraising challenge to raise awareness of the statistic that 96 men commit suicide every week. His challenge required a long distance route without stiles and he chose The Ridgeway because he remembered the Trail from his time in the British Army doing weighted runs for miles and miles! Nick’s military career came to an end as a result of a spinal injury and he has said, “When you become newly disabled, all the stuff you used to be able to do you can’t and there is a massive journey to go on.” On his challenge route between the Wantage monument and Barbury Castle, he and his friends came across deep ruts which nearly toppled him out of his chair and met people on the Trail who were surprised to see what he was doing. Nick said, “By managing our mindsets and environment, we can reduce how disabling our conditions make us, instead focusing on what we can achieve.”

Specially adapted bicycles are also opening up opportunities for disabled people to enjoy cycling. Near The Ridgeway in Swindon, Wheels For All hosts inclusive cycling events where disabled people can test out different bikes as shown in this video. At the other end of the Trail – and fittingly where the Paralympics first originatedWheelPower manages the Stoke Mandeville stadium near Aylesbury to enable disabled people to discover a full range of wheelchair sports, including cycling. Hopefully we’ll see more disabled people cycling on The Ridgeway in future and perhaps some will compete in future Paralympics!

Stile-free routes such as The Ridgeway are essential for over 20% of England’s population who cannot access the countryside due to physical barriers such as stiles. To address their needs, a new National Land Access Centre has been created near The Ridgeway to help improve accessibility across the country. Different types of gates, stiles and barriers have been installed together in a field for people to test out and compare on foot, bicycle, horse and mobility vehicle. The examples include the most accessible kissing gate which has a RADAR padlock that can be unlocked so as to allow more space for a mobility vehicle to pass through. Work is underway along The Ridgeway to replace old kissing gates with these RADAR gates, as well as improve poor surfaces and provide visitor information helpful to disabled people. The latest information to help disabled people enjoy visiting all the National Trails is provided online here, including a guidance note about visiting The Ridgeway as a disabled person.

Notes: More information about cycling, sport and military history along The Ridgeway is available in other Top 50 entries (note that some entries are yet to be published – all entries will be published by December 31st 2023).

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