Enjoy a stile-free trek on some of the most beautiful parts of the UK coast with this wheelchair-friendly guide from coast-loving Debbie North
Photographs HOLLY BREGA
Everybody loves a day on the coast. Research by the National Trust reveals that being next to the sea is good for the mind, the body and the spirit. Of the people surveyed, 46% said that a coastal walk makes them feel happier, while 37% feel healthier after a ramble along the shore.
As a wheelchair user, it is sometimes difficult to know which parts of the UK coastline are accessible. It is frustrating when your walk comes to an abrupt end because of a stile or the fact a kissing gate is too narrow to pass through, or that there’s a stepped path. With this in mind, here are a selection of my top wheel-friendly, stile-free UK coastal walks.
BEST WHEELCHAIR-FRIENDLY WALKS IN CORNWALL, DEVON AND DORSET
Durlston Country Park, Dorset
Situated in the south-east corner of the Isle of Purbeck is Durlston Country Park – 320 acres of heath, woodland and cliffs home to 33 species of breeding butterfly, more than 250 species of bird, 500 wildflowers, 500 moths, and thousands of other invertebrates. The availability of two all-terrain wheelchairs makes this spectacular Jurassic Coast cliff-top path possible for many who would not be able to walk the steep inclines and uneven paths. There are several different routes, from a walk by the Anvil Point Lighthouse or a stroll around the headland.
Valley of Rocks, Lynton, Devon
Located on the coastline of Exmoor National Park, the Valley of Rocks lies west of the seaside town of Lynton. The walk begins in Lynton and follows the tarmac path along the edge of the cliff. Though well maintained, the path is not very wide and passing places are scarce, so take heed if heading there in a large wheelchair as there is a steep drop on one side into the sea. If the cliff-top walk is a bit unnerving, it’s possible to miss out this part of the route and drive around to park nearer to the Valley of Rocks. But whatever your decision, a visit to this natural marvel is a must. As well as exploring the dramatic rock formations, there are feral goats to look out for along the route. They are quite at home climbing the rock face and the steep slopes. The goats have been around the area for hundreds of years and are mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth, Devon
This gentle ramble begins at the National Trust car park at Salcombe Hill in East Devon. The stile-free route (which runs along a short section of the South West Coast Path) will take you past the picnic tables and you can follow the footpath to the cliff, where there are fantastic views of the pretty Regency seaside town of Sidmouth, High Peak to the south, Ladram Bay and beyond. It’s an easy route on well-defined and level gravel paths, making it an ideal one for all buggies and wheelchairs. There are stunning views out across the English Channel, and the toposcope that’s located on the cliff top provides information about the landscapes you can see from this viewpoint. The views of the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site cliffs are not to be missed.
Botallack Mine Walk, Cornwall
On the wild tin coastline of West Cornwall, a history lesson awaits. And if you are a lover of hit BBC series Poldark then this walk along a section of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site has to be on your wish list. The National Trust’s restored steam winding engine at Levant Mine was used as the setting of Poldark’s Tressiders Rolling Mill, while West Wheal Owles mine was the setting for the fictional Wheal Leisure tin mine which Ross Poldark finds in ruins on his return to Cornwall. Our walk along the South West Coast Path to the remains of the lead mine has been made more accessible by the provision of an all-terrain wheelchair from the National Trust. On a clear day you can look out across the Atlantic Ocean and spot the Isles of Scilly lying 26 miles off Land’s End.
BEST WHEELCHAIR-FRIENDLY WALKS IN NORFOLK, YORKSHIRE AND SCOTLAND
Ravenscar, North Yorkshire
Ravenscar is a small cliff-top village situated to the north of Scarborough on the east coast of Yorkshire. It is often referred to as the seaside town that was never built: the Victorians had big plans to develop Ravenscar as a holiday resort to rival Blackpool but this did not come to pass, so this coastline remains a natural habitat for seabirds and wildlife. The route begins at the National Trust car park and visitor centre, and takes the road down to the cliffs. There are some benches along the top of the cliff for those who wish to sit awhile and take in the lovely views across the North Sea and over to Robin Hood’s Bay.
Staffin Bay, Skye, Scotland
Located in the north-east corner of the Isle of Skye, Staffin Bay is a haven of peace and tranquillity away from the honey-pot tourist sites. The sheltered bay, which sits at the foot of the iconic Quaraing, has a small harbour, volcanic beaches, rockpools and dinosaur footprints. Our two-mile route around the bay follows a footpath that runs alongside the minor road down to the harbour quay. It is possible to get onto the beach here – a great fishing spot – via the slipway. The route is generally level and ideal for most types of wheelchair. The slipway down to the beach, however, is steep and can be slippery.
BEST WHEELCHAIR FRIENDLY WALKS IN NORFOLK
RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk
Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Norfolk coast, the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh reserve is a fantastic location to roam among the saltmarshes and dunes – and is totally accessible by wheelchair. Once part of Norfolk’s sea defences, Titchwell Marsh is now home to an abundance of resident and migrant seabirds and a plethora of marine life. There are freshwater lagoons, salt marshes, woodlands and wide sandy beaches to explore here, with fabulous views out across the Wash. Our walk starts at the RSPB visitor centre and follows the Fen Trail through the woodland that leads to the first of the bird hides. From here, the West Bank path leads out towards the sea and to the large bird hides – the South Hide looking over the freshwater lagoon and the North Hide over to the salt marshes.
Thornham to Old Hunstanton, Norfolk
This four-mile, stile-free walk from the village of Thornham to the town of Old Hunstanton follows the well-trodden track that meanders along the tops of sand dunes on the edge of the North Sea and takes in part of the 84-mile Norfolk Coast Path. Situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Thornham was once a fishing harbour and a smuggler’s haunt and is now separated from the sea by a vast expanse of marshland which is home to an abundance of wildlife. This stretch of the UK coastline is often referred to as the birdwatching capital of Britain. For this walk I used my power-wheel attachment. Though barrier-free, in places the path can be covered in soft sand that has drifted off the dunes, making the terrain difficult to travel over in a manual wheelchair.
Debbie North is passionate about the outdoors and about encouraging others to experience the benefits of being in wide open spaces. Debbie works with The Outdoor Guide (TOG) with Julia Bradbury – a free online walking resource co-founded by the TV presenter and her sister Gina Bradbury Fox (theoutdoorguide.co.uk). Debbie runs AccessTOG – the wheelchair-friendly section of the website promoting countryside that’s accessible for everyone.