This weeks guest blog is from the hugely inspirational Sam Bowen and her family. Proving that the Great Outdoors is for everybody. They know first hand the benefits of nature on disability and its ability to connect almost everyone.
My husband and I aren’t experienced trail walkers, but we love the great outdoors and immersing ourselves in nature, filling our lungs with fresh air and leaving the fast pace of daily life behind us for a few hours. Living in Kent we are lucky enough to have the coast, woodland trails and rolling countryside on our doorstep to do this in.
Once a year however we step it up and crave something a bit more rugged. We seek out lonely, foreboding landscapes dominated with hills or mountains for our holiday base and stretch our physical endurance far beyond what our office fit bodies are used to.
That would probably be a tall enough order for most middle-aged couples of average fitness, but the fact that we take our severely disabled daughter, Lucy, with us adds to the challenge!
Being parents of a disabled child brings its own set of issues, not least in terms of physical access. Like many other similar families, we face the daily challenges of fighting to get the services she needs, attending weekly medical and therapy appointments, keeping on top of managing the never-ending equipment and supplies list and juggling school and social engagements.
That I suppose comes with the territory, it is as it were in the job description. What isn’t is the social stigma that we regularly face when taking our daughter places. I’d like to say that you grow a thick skin to the stares, rude comments, or outright discrimination we encounter but I’d be lying. It’s why there are some organisations that say that society causes disability not that someone is themselves disabled. I can see there is something in this point, but it doesn’t make it any less upsetting when someone trips over your child’s wheelchair (its bright pink you can’t miss it!) or allows their kid to point and laugh at your less fortunate one.
Perhaps this is another reason why as soon as we return from our annual escape to the hills, we start googling for the next years’ “remote holiday cottage” and “rural retreat” when what we really mean is “away from anyone else”.
Lucy is non-mobile so getting on a path let alone along one and up a hill takes some serious planning. We coped pretty well with a standard four-wheeled air tyre buggy, until the day we got a puncture miles from the car. You live and learn! Now we always take a pump and some green tyre slime with us.
A few walks and more serious terrain later and we decided that a three-wheeler would be more off road friendly. As we still needed to use it around shops etc when on holiday, we got one with a front wheel that could lock forward or swivel. This was a growing market, as three wheelers were being sold as “jogging” buggies to mummies aspiring to get fit. We settled on the ‘Out and About Nipper 360’ which pushed like a dream and had ample storage for all our stuff.
Our first ‘big’ off road test came when we went on holiday to Northumberland. We took the path to Hareshaw Linn waterfalls which involved carrying the buggy (without Lucy in it!) over numerous stiles and along rough uneven paths but the scenery was breath taking. We still got stares from strangers, but this time they were of astonishment and some encouraging comments that we were doing great. It’s funny we have since found that although usually surprised at our presence in the middle of nowhere, walkers are a very inclusive bunch of people and always friendly towards us.
After lunch in a café housed in a disused train, we pressed on to tackle a once in a lifetime walk. Still to this day we don’t know how we found the energy, but it was the birth of our annual challenge and two fingers to disability that saw us climb up to The Drake Stone (OS Grid Ref: NT 925 049). There is a local legend which says if you pass a sick child over the stone it will be cured (NB we didn’t!). The stone believed to have magical powers, was also druid ritual site. Perhaps some of it wafted down from the summit and addled our brains as we set off up the muddy path which looked unimposing enough. Our trusty Nipper 360 took us half way up the climb until the grass tussocks grew thicker and the stony boulders larger and we had to abandon it in favour of carrying Lucy on our hips taking it in turns in the accent.
Finally at the top, stood next to the impressive rock, we could see for miles and the sense of achievement was dizzying. Lucy was excited and wide eyed and the feeling of overcoming adversity was profound on all three of us.
Back at the car, we vowed to make hill walking something we would try and do for as long as possible until we couldn’t push or carry Lucy anymore. We went on that week to conquer Hadrian’s wall and the dunes of Alnmouth beach creating multisensory memories for our family.
The next year I fundraised for a Delichon Delta special needs all terrain buggy which has a fixed front wheel, hammock style seat and all important dual rear drum breaks for going downhill! This is the Rolls Royce of all terrain buggies and cost more than my first car!
We tackled the Lake district next and then North Yorkshire the following year.
Last year we went to Pembrokeshire and fell in love with it. We walked the Golden Road in pursuit of the legends of King Arthur and magical Bluestone, used in Stonehenge. The trail is an ancient trade route running along the spine of the Preseli Hills. Knowing that the landscape had not changed in the thousands of years since ancient folk trod their footsteps was humbling.
There’s something to be said for standing on top of a windswept hill and realising how small you are in comparison to a place’s history and nature. Everything else shrinks in significance too. Being at one with the natural environment, feeling part of the ground you are rooted too is enabling and settling. There is a purity and honesty to it and a form of healing that comes from centring oneself in what’s real rather than getting caught up in society’s worries. It’s why we feel passionately about getting our daughter out into these places, just to be. Here there is no judgement, no inequality, no ‘disability’ just a good walk and opportunity to add your memory to the landscape.
You can follow Sam on twitter @makedoandSEND