The South Downs Way is a 100 mile pathway between Eastbourne and Winchester. The route takes you on a journey from Beachy Head where you can look over the white cliffs and ends in the historic city of Winchester.
The national trail hosts many interesting and intriguing sites along the way. From the Jack and Jill windmills to the mysterious Chanctonbury Ring. But I just walked the first part of the trail along the coast near Beachy Head and finishing up at Birling Gap but it wasn't just any old ramble.
Radio 4 were recording their Saturday morning show Ramblings hosted by Clare Baldwin. To show us the way was South Downs Way National Trail Officer Andy Gattiker and we were joined by several members of the Disabled Ramblers.
Rosie Norris, Secretary of the Disabled Ramblers Association, joined nearly fifteen years ago and users a hardy mobility scooter called a Tramper to get out and about on countryside walks.
Rosie was accompanied by David Livermore, Dorothy and Bob Matthews all of which have disabilities meaning they can't go out hiking at the drop of a hat but have to plan, plan and plan to go out and enjoy the countryside. Whilst chatting to my fellow ramblers it became apparent how much of the countryside disabled ramblers can't access. I guess I don't really think when I go over a stile or through a kissing gate, it's just a transition that gets me to another part of my journey. But for disabled ramblers they are a boundaries, stop signs and no go areas. Rosie was telling me that to get out into the country someone usually has to go out and walk the route to check that there aren't any obstacles along the way and there is good access up and down the route. Something that I wouldn't have to consider if I wanted to go on a walk on the spur of the moment.
Our route along Beachy Head was wonderful. The sun was alert in the sky and the breeze was fresh as the sea air floated by. Looking out over the ocean, you couldn't have added anything to make it the perfect day. I enjoy the escapism and the peaceful calm that the countryside brings and now after spending the day with the disabled ramblers I appreciate it even more.
What was brilliant about Rosie, Bob, Dorothy and David is that they were keen for more to be done when it comes to disabled country access. They all are great campaigners for their rights to be able to enjoy the country they live in. Bob likes going out on his own to explore new areas and even got himself out of two snow drifts over Christmas. When he started going out with the disabled ramblers about 4 years ago he felt liberated by the new found freedom the group offered. David is taking a rambling group away to the Isle of White this year. Opening up another part of the country to those who once thought it was not possible. David even attends access forums to discuss countrywide access.
"Persuasion and education is the way to make landowners change their minds."
Even along the route we took there was still some unexpected terrain that caused problems.
The rambling experience not only opened up a part of the country I'd never visited but also showed me the struggle that many have enjoying our wonderful country.