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Wheels to the woods for Highland Disabled Ramblers

By Peter Evans

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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Peter Evans joins the group for a ramble through the woods to mark its 20th anniversary

Group secretary Elspeth Kennedy leads the way through the woods.
Group secretary Elspeth Kennedy leads the way through the woods.

Those of us who love outdoor activities tend to take it for granted that we are able enough to pursue our passions without hindrance.

But health problems, accidents and advancing age can bring that to an abrupt halt, curtailing the ability to get out and about. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Fortunately all is not lost thanks to a voluntary group celebrating 20 years of existence in the Highlands this year.

Highland Disabled Ramblers uses mobility scooters to give people back that wonderful sense of enjoyment being outdoors in the countryside brings, and those who take advantage of the service are full of praise for it.

I joined the group on a ramble in the woods around Grantown on Spey and listened to what they had to say.

“It means I can get into these beautiful places, which I wouldn't be doing otherwise,” said Madelyn Cruikshank, from Inverness, who was there with her friend and group volunteer Linda Gordon. “There's the company as well. I live on my own, so it's a chance to come out and see other people.

“Until you lose the ability to walk, you suddenly realise what you're missing. It's great to have the facility to have a scooter to take you to all these places we go to.

Bridge that gap - a spot of manoeuvring is needed to cross this bridge on the way to our lunch stop by the Spey.
Bridge that gap - a spot of manoeuvring is needed to cross this bridge on the way to our lunch stop by the Spey.

"It's so well organised, and they look after you so well. We've never had a day when we regretted coming.”

Madelyn and Linda were relishing the views across the Spey, where we'd stopped for a lunch break on a perfect, sunny autumn day.

Group secretary Elspeth Kennedy told me how it all worked, from checking out the route to the logistics of getting the scooters to the start point – done on a completely voluntary basis.

The disability scooters, robust enough to cope with quite rough terrain, are transported by van, while the ramblers and volunteers make their own way to the venue – in our case a car park in Grantown, though the group ventures as far afield as Torridon, Drumnadrochit and the Cairngorms.

Covid put a stop to everything for 18 months, but things got under way again in June. Outdoor sessions will finish in November, then indoor meetings will keep things going through the winter to ensure everyone can still have contact.

“A lot of people have been outdoor folk in the past, but disabilities such as heart and joint problems have caught up with them,” said Elspeth, adding that the length of a ramble depended on the weather and time of year, generally lasting around four hours.

Care is needed to get down a rocky slope.
Care is needed to get down a rocky slope.

Chris Gilmore was looking for opportunities to volunteer when she cut back on her hours as a health visitor, joining the disabled ramblers a few years ago.

“I like walking and I quite fancied doing something outside,” she said. “I saw this and thought it would be great. This is just such a fantastic opportunity for people to get out who wouldn't be able to otherwise. I'd hate it if I couldn't get out.”

Group treasurer Rosemary Greenlaw, from Croy, herself a scooter user, described the ramblers as “something of a shoestring operation”, depending on assistance from organisations such as the Highland Cross, the Great Wilderness Challenge and Highland Council's Common Good Fund to keep going. Being part of the group meant a lot, she said.

“I wasn't a hiker or anything but I used to spend a lot of time walking with dogs and friends. Since my arthritis struck I haven't been able to. It's a way of getting back to what I used to do.”

After negotiating a tricky little slope on the way back to the start point, we paused at a reedy lochan and were soon mobbed by ducks, which seemed to come from nowhere in search of a snack, causing much hilarity among the party.

The words “disabled” and “rambler” are by no means contradictory for this cheerful bunch.

The Highland Disabled Ramblers' website includes details of how to contact the group, an explanation of what it does, how to book a place on an outing and details of forthcoming rambles: www.highland-disabled-ramblers.org

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