Ex-teacher to complete West Highland Way in wheelchair

Debbie's TerrainHopper wheelchair has been specially-adapted for use on rough surfaces and cross-country hillwalks. Picture: Contributed

Debbie's TerrainHopper wheelchair has been specially-adapted for use on rough surfaces and cross-country hillwalks. Picture: Contributed

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A FORMER hillwalker - who lost the use of her legs due to chronic disease - is hoping to become the first person to complete the West Highland Way hike using a wheelchair.

Debbie North, 54, was devastated when a condition causing degeneration of her spine left her wheelchair bound in 2011.

But rather than give up her passion for the great outdoors she launched a campaign to encourage more wheelchair users to get out into the countryside.

In September she hopes to be the first to complete an adapted version of the West Highland Way in a 4x4 all-terrain wheelchair.

She became the first person is the UK to have completed the Coast 2 Coast walk from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in England and also completed the 81-mile trek between Semerwater in Wensleydale to Bassenthwaite Lake, Cumbria, in her specially-adapted TerrainHopper device.

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The 54-year old former head teacher said: “It’s a brand new route for us and the first time we’ve ever been to Scotland and taken the TerrainHopper.

“We’re hoping to complete the trek during the first two weeks in September. We’re currently planning our route, but we have no contacts in the area whatsoever and really don’t know anything about it.

“We need to find some hotels and guest houses with wheelchair-friendly facilities. It’s going to be a huge adventure for us, and it would be great to hear from anyone who can offer us any help or support.”

Debbie and her husband Andy have always loved walking, but feared they would have to give up their passion when Debbie was diagnosed with chronic degeneration of the spine.

After giving up her job in 2011, Debbie became depressed at the thought of losing her favourite pastime, but decided to fight back and launched her ‘Accessthedales’ campaign to inspire other wheelchair users to get out there and enjoy the countryside.

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She successfully raised the funds to purchase an all-terrain wheelchair, now available for hire at the National Trust’s Malham Tarn Estate in North Yorkshire. Since then, funding for several other all-terrain wheelchairs has been secured and the couple have written two books on their walking adventures.

Instead of following the traditional route from Glasgow to Fort William, the couple will follow their own path from Loch Lomond to Loch Ness.

“I love being out in the countryside – I love the wilderness and the solitude and I want to show others in a similar position to me that they can overcome their obstacles and achieve the same,” Debbie added.

You can learn more about Debbie’s campaign on her website, and anyone who may be able to assist with the planning of her walk can contact debbie via accessthedales@gmail.com.

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