We were scrolling through Google Earth, fantasizing about visiting the English Dales when travel is a “thing” again. We had enjoyed watching PBS’s All Creatures Great and Small, and have gotten a taste for the Yorkshire countryside. For now it’s a fantasy. Perhaps some day, but not yet.
As we scrolled across the landscape, we headed to Yorkshire Dales National Park—ohhh, looks like some stunning waterfalls, trails, stone walls and gorgeous scenery. But what are the trail surfaces like? I am all about trail surfaces when talking about walking, since lots of the muscles in my right foot and leg just do not work well.
Does this mean I am limited solely to handicapped accessible paths? Not really. Lots of trails are open to me when I pull out my hiking poles, and am selective about those trails that are not officially handicapped accessible.
As our family has traveled throughout New England, across the country, and overseas, we have found places I am able to enjoy outdoors, but it has been a challenge. One of the biggest challenges has been obtaining information about trail surfaces prior to setting out. While I am able to walk with assistance (I keep hiking poles in our vehicle, always at the ready for me to head out to explore new places we find along the way,) I need support on uneven trails, and tripping hazards become quickly taxing.
We have learned that being clear in our language about what we mean by Easy Walks can make a big difference in obtaining helpful information. What are the magic words that have allowed us to get the information we are looking for? “Not too many roots or rocks, mostly level, with something of interest along the way.” That’s it. When I describe what we’re looking for, the person’s eyes light up as we talk. They grasp immediately what I need and start scrolling through their experiences so they can offer us a helping hand. Most people are quite willing to be helpful, once they understand.
You would think these small details would be included in trail descriptions as a matter of course. Yet, time and again, I have searched in vain for this basic information. It appears that until a person has suffered an injury or illness, spent time with a loved one with limited mobility, or has somehow encountered and paid attention to the challenges and dreams of those with limited mobility, this tunnel vision persists. Unless a traveler keeps in mind those with differing abilities from their own, they seem determined to insist trails are easy simply because they are shorter than 4 miles in length.
It is the rare trail commentary that pays any heed to overall trail surfaces. If paved, with smooth transitions between different levels, and very limited incline, that’s a handicapped accessible trail. Finely crushed stone dust? Often handicapped accessible. Both these surfaces are common on fully developed rail trails and specially designed handicapped accessible pathways. Yet many well laid out dirt paths are manageable for many of us with limited mobility if they have few roots or rocks, and are not too steep. While most of these trails are not considered handicapped accessible, and not designed for safe accessibility for those using wheel chairs, other woodland paths are appropriate for those of us with some mobility who love the outdoors, and long to get off the beaten path. If trails have certain characteristics, many more of us—those with limited mobility, elders, and parents or grandparents with young children, can enjoy a multitude of outdoor trails that meet the definition of what I have learned to call Easy Walks.
Short of exploring for ourselves (and we certainly do this as well,) learning from others is a great way to get a head start on finding Easy Walks. It really helps if we understand what “Easy Walks” really mean. Now that you’ve read this, you do. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.