Scamblesby woman Debbie North has pioneered the way again - and is the first person to complete the Coast to Coast trek across the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District in an all-terrain wheelchair.
Debbie, 54, took on the 81-mile challenge as part of her campaign Accessthedales, which she set up to help make the inaccessible accessible and encourage more wheelchair users to enjoy the countryside.
She completed the trek last week with husband Andy, after they adapted the traditional route - from Semer Water in Wensleydale to Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria - to enable her Terrain Hopper electric wheelchair to navigate the paths and bridleways.
As well as highlighting the possibilities for wheelchair users, Debbie, who grew up in Yorkshire, was also raising money to buy more machines for other wheelchair users to hire.
“It was fabulous,” said Debbie. “The route was very challenging, I never thought I’d ever be able to climb up to those altitudes ever again but it was a brilliant experience and to get that feeling of being out in the wilderness was wonderful.”
Former headteacher Debbie has always been a keen hill walker but feared she would never enjoy her passion again after being diagnosed with chronic degeneration of the spine in 2011.
Her condition deteriorated quickly and she found herself confined to a wheelchair and unable to do her job.
“I’d always been very physically fit and active – one of our passions was hill walking and particularly doing long distance treks; most school holidays we would be out doing a Coast to Coast, or walking the Cumbria Way or Three Peaks. Then I lost my career and my absolute passion,” said Debbie.
“After finishing school I found myself in a bit of a slump, wondering what was going to happen but picked myself up and brushed myself down and decided to see how I could get back out into the hills.”
She started researching electric wheelchairs and it wasn’t long before she became the first person to complete the Coast to Coast trek using one. She also raised £7,000 to pay for a Tramper for the National Trust’s Malham Tarn, in the Yorkshire Dales, which can now be hired by other wheelchair users.
Debbie then teamed up with a small family run firm in Manby which makes Terrain Hopper machines. She fell in love with their buggy after test-driving it and now regularly uses one on her walks.
Since launching her access campaign in 2014, Debbie and Andy have written a book – In the Spirit of Wainwright – released by Sigma Press in July, which recounts their Coast to Coast adventure, while a second book following their latest walk will be out next year.
“This has given me back my passion and I want other people to know there are these things out there to enjoy,” said Debbie.
“It’s all about having the confidence to try and overcome the obstacles – if I can do it, anybody can.”
• To find out more about Debbie’s inspirational campaign or sponsor her at www.accessthedales.com