Small changes, big difference

Small changes can make a big difference to so many as shown in this video from Sustrans.

I am currently route setting for a new programme – very exciting and soon to be announced! As part of this I am investigating surfaces, facilities and outdoor furniture to assess the likely accessibility of walks. Through this a few things have occurred to me, not original thoughts, but worth reiterating.

Changing a narrow gate or a stile to a wide gate makes a huge difference to people in wheelchairs, people with pushchairs and people with mobility restrictions – yet for people not using wheels, and for those with a full range of mobility, this change will be barely noticeable.

The same is true for a flat path. My views on why some people object to improved paths is for another time! Personally I am privileged to be able to walk a bumpy path, but I also love a flat path. Do people walking in the Peaks enjoy stunning Wolfscote Dale less because it has a good flat path, rather than the ankle twisting boulders and rocks of its neighbour Biggin Dale? For me the good path adds to the experience. It was well maintained and clean, it suggested that the valley was loved and cared for. That I was welcome to walk there. I felt like someone really wanted to show me this amazing space.

Flat path through Wolfscote Dale
Flat path through Wolfscote Dale
Boulders in Biggin Dale 1
Rocks on the path through Biggin Dale

Once I started looking it became easier to identify spots where a small change would make a big difference. A flatter path, a wider gate, an easier to open gate catch, an alternative to a stile, improved signage, a slope instead of a step, or a dropped kerb. And that is just from my perspective as a person whose day out is not curtailed by restrictive infrastructure. We all have much to learn from disabled outdoors enthusiasts and from those sites who have worked hard to increase access for their visitors.

On a similar note – if a small thing can make a big difference to increase accessibility, then a neglecting a small thing can scupper a programme of accessible infrastructure. In an absolutely stunning and well cared for country park I found dedicated accessible parking, extra large kissing gates, beautifully laid boardwalks and pristine flat compacted stone paths. But, in the middle of the park is an obstruction. In a gap in a long hedge, at a meeting of paths, there are two posts less than a metre apart with rough and eroded ground beneath – making independent passage difficult for wheelchairs.

Wide kissing gate
Wide kissing gate on entrance
Boardwalk through a country park
Boardwalk through wetlands
Obstruction on an otherwise accessible route
Path obstruction

Another example of a route which is otherwise entirely accessible has an unmaintained section of path causing a muddy puddle, in which some walkers have placed logs to keep their feet dry. Just a few metres of difficult and unavoidable path, or a broken bridge, can downgrade an entire route’s accessibility.

Muddy puddle with logs
Muddy section of path with branches
Broken Bridge
Broken bridge

When creating walking routes for YHA Festival of Walking and Walking Pace’s projects I begin with accessibility in mind. I want the route to be as accessible as possible and if there are choices to be made I will opt for access. But all too often, even with routes that start off well, a narrow gap, gate or path, a stile or unnecessary step will signal the end for accessibility. This is often the case when trying to create circular routes from liner accessible paths, such as re-purposed railway lines.

If a small change can make a difference to a path, then a series of small changes can make a difference to a whole route. But a philosophy of first looking for an accessible solution when upgrading paths and infrastructure would make a difference to whole areas.

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