Countryside Mobility, is a charity passionate about enabling everyone to explore the countryside of the South West with freedom and ease. All-terrain mobility scooters, are now available to hire at over 35 countryside locations across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset. From rugged moorland territory, to peaceful country parks, it has never been easier, to get out and get roving!
By Julie Andrews (Photos by Nigel Andrews)
Looking for a place to go wild in the West recently, I decided to become a member of the Countryside Mobility Scheme. Having adventured with them once before, I knew they could offer me complete freedom to explore my stunning county.
Heading off to Haldon Forest Park in Exeter, I looked forward to the adventure ahead. Whether you are looking for a quiet gentle stroll, or a more exhilarating off-roading experience, at Haldon, there’s something for every trekker.
To join as a member, all I had to do, was pay the annual fee and complete a short induction course. After that, I was free to explore the park independently and could now enjoy the same freedom, at any other sites participating in the scheme across the South West.
On my way
Bidding farewell to the wonderfully enthusiastic park rangers, I headed immediately for the forest. On the way, I spied a multi-humped skills area and the daredevil within me headed straight for it. However, it had been a long time since I last took Tramper reins and unfortunately, rusty steering skills forced me to promise the child within, that ‘maybe’ we could do it on the way back.
Haldon is 3,500 hectares of predominantly coniferous forest and as I entered it, the majesty of the trees immediately enveloped me. I was mortified by my own somewhat cautious trundling, especially when cyclists all around were pressing to pass me. However, it didn’t take long for my confidence to grow and the next time I encountered a cycling group, I upped my speed. Deliriously happy, rocketing around among other fun-seekers; my speed may not have been a match for theirs, but I certainly knew the same degree of blissful freedom.
Mine was a diverse day. One minute, I was enjoying the rare luxury of being able to stroll hand-in-hand with my husband and throwing giant sticks for my dog, whilst later I enjoyed flying alongside mountain bikes and racing against Segways along the varying trails.
Haldon has over 40km’s of surfaced trails for cyclists, horse riders, walkers and tramper riders and even a trail suitable for wheelchair users. This is a well thought out accessible forest, where ‘everyone’s’ enjoyment has been considered. There is also a woodland adventure club for kids and a ‘Go Ape’ tree top adventure, for Tarzans of all ages.
My intention however, was not to swing to the heights or take part in an extreme activity but to luxuriate in being able to stroll, run and play alongside my family. To set aside hectic living for a while and to simply wander among the trees.
Every new tree lined avenue we encountered, brought something new to thrill the senses. Trees to me, are endlessly welcoming; towering above us, great pillars of life and strength. Surrounded by their splendour, it is as if they have the ability to soak up all your troubles, leaving you calm and happy. A hypnotic woody balm, for body and soul.
Even in the dark dense depths of the main forest, where the trees were tallest and stood closest, the atmosphere was one of power and wonder. Where shafts of sunlight pierced through the shadows, branches and leaves were spectacularly illuminated and exquisite; dappled light, danced all around. With the choir of trees swishing in the wind and the bird’s joyful chorus playing in our ears, our hearts felt lighter for time spent in their company.
For five luxurious hours we sauntered, picnicked and frolicked in the forest. We barely covered a quarter of it in that time, but were completely enchanted by every wondrously freeing second.
Tramper confidence grew steadily for me and by the day’s end, every opportunity to put it through its paces was taken. Clambering over rebellious terrain and powering through deep muddy ravines, I determinedly off-roaded to my heart’s content.
Every grand day out has to have a finale and mine, of course, took place on the skills course.
Sharp bends and high narrow furrows were steamed around with great fervour. Large berms and steep slopes were whizzed down with glee. It was an enormous thrill to have free rein on the snaking track. By the third run round, I was so smug, I rode with one arm raised. I was, however, forced to replace it pretty swiftly when I seriously misjudged the height of one of the drops. At that point, I ‘may’ have appeared more bucking bronco than smooth teamster, but in my mind, my skills surpassed the most proficient cross-country scrambler.
Eventually, leaving the skills zone, I let out one almighty celebratory squeal. Staff working nearby, had apparently downed tools, just to watch me. As I passed them by, all were laughing and tipping their hats, in salute of the wild woman on wheels, who had clearly just enjoyed the zaniest ride of her life.
Countryside mobility provides safe enjoyable and easy access to the South West’s countryside and visitor attractions for anyone who has difficulty walking. They also provide wheelchair accessible wheely boats at some of their inland lakes and waterways.
For more details, or to become a member, contact them today and give yourself the gift of unrestricted freedom.
Booking is essential for all training and hire sessions.
For Haldon Forest Park, call the Rangers’ Office on: 0300 067 5826.
To find other parks running the scheme:
Countryside Mobility South West
C/o Living Options Devon
Ground Floor Units 3-4 Cranmere Court
Matford Business Park
Tel: 01392 459222