Standing on the shoulders of giants...
If you are new to handcycling or bike or trike riding there are some books that will help you quite a bit in finding good places to cycle or crank. We are identifying and describing some of the routes that we have enjoyed on this web site. However, it is not possible for us to provide any thing like a comprehensive coverage. You need to be able to identify and check out the routes that will suit you. This can be an enjoyable, satisfying and empowering experience – we have found it to be so. On the other hand, it has to be admitted that the books and guides that can help with this are more limited than we would wish. If you are an able-bodied cyclist or walker there is a huge resource of books and guides to help you plan your outings. This is not quite the case for those of us with disabilities. Those books that will help you on your way are therefore all the more important and highly valued.
1. Cycling Without Traffic
The book I want to start with is Traffic Free Trails by Nick Cotton, published by Cycle City Guides at £14.99. The cover description is ‘More than 400 traffic-free cycling routes around Britain’. Yes, there really are that many and quite a proportion of them are FANTASTIC rides! They comprise canal side paths, country parks, forestry routes, promenades, and most importantly, old railway trails. The book is excellent in that it gives information about all of these routes. The down side is that being so comprehensive it can only provide brief details on each route. We have sometimes found that finding the start of the route can be difficult! To be fair, though, full information is provided about further resources for each route (e.g web sites of local authority publications). You just have to be sufficiently organised to search this out in advance!
Nick Cotton has written other books about traffic free cycling. There was a series called CYCLING without TRAFFIC with individual books covering WALES, NORTH, THE MIDLANDS & PEAK DISTRICT, SOUTHEAST and SOUTHWEST, by Nick Cotton and other authors, and published Ian Allan Publishing of Dial House. There was a second series, 'MORE CYCLING...' for both the Midlands and Peak District, and the South West. These had the advantage of giving more detailed information about each ride, but, of course, you needed more of them to give the coverage of 'Traffic Free cycle Trail' and Scotland was not included in the series. These books were a useful resource, and it is a pity that they now appear out of print. But all is not lost – second hand copies are likely to be available from ABE Books via the internet.
There are some newer guides emerging – although not quite a replacement for the set identified above. The indefatigable Nick Cotton has produced three new guides. These are Cycling Traffic Free – Midlands and Peak District, and South East and Home Counties. These are published 2010 or later at £9.99 each and are available from the Sustrans shop. Sustrans also offer AA Regional Guides to Cycling in seven areas of the UK – Scotland, North of England, Wales, London, East of England, Midlands and South East of England. I think that they all report being revised in 2012, and are priced at £9.99. These guides are based around the Sustrans cycling network so not all routes included will be traffic free. I haven’t examined any copies so cannot report in detail.
Of course cyclists with disabilities are in no way restricted to traffic free routes. Almost all the cycling we do around our home base is on quiet back roads. However, many new riders with disabilities might initially feel more comfortable on routes away from traffic. There are other advantages in that they are usually easy riding without demanding hills!
2. Miles Without Stiles Guides
Anybody who has investigated this web site will appreciate that we like to get out and about. Riding cycle trails or quiet back roads on our tandem trike is one of the ways in which we do this. But we also like to get INTO the countryside on bridle paths or other paths that are accessible. When we do this I am using my handcycle and Pete is walking alongside.
For ordinary able bodied walkers there are many guides available that identify routes at various levels of difficulty, especially in the more scenic parts of the countryside. The major lack is that there are no independently published collections of routes specifically dedicated to providing guidance for the disabled rambler.
Of course, there are real, often inevitable difficulties, if you are trying to access the countryside with wheels. Paths can be impossibly rough or uneven, be too steep or too narrow for easy wheeled progress. There are also the artificial barriers such as stiles, many kissing gates and steps. Help and guidance is needed for finding suitable accessible routes. Undoubtedly published and internet information is improving, but it is not yet good enough!
The gold standard in terms of what is already available is 'Miles without Stiles' published by the Lake District National Park Authority. The immediate reaction might be that the Lake District is full of mountains, so how can it provide good routes for disabled access? But, of course, where there are mountains there are also valleys, and these can provide good routes with beautiful scenery all around.
This guide is exceptional in that it provides a large number of routes (currently over 40) of different lengths, and different levels of difficulty. The routes are very clearly described, and provided in a hard back loose leaf binder, with the facility to extract the route you are using to be placed in a plastic temporary cover.
Many of the other national parks now also provide useful accessible route information. Two that we know and have found useful are from the Yorkshire Dales (17 routes) and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (15 routes). They are certainly worth investigating, even if they do not reach the standard of that offered by the Lake District National Park.
Some local authorities also provide guidance on accessible routes, but these are even more variable. I think that the area where I live, Cheshire, provides two of the best 'Walks for All' booklets, providing guidance for Cheshire East and Cheshire West, the two areas into which the county is now divided.
3. All Terrain Push Chair Walks
Usefully, we discovered an alternative set of publications that we have found very helpful when visiting a new area. These are not guides for wheelchair users, but for push chair pushers. They comprise the quite extensive series of books about 'All Terrain Pushchair Walks', published by Sigma Leisure. The accessibility requirements for pushchair are not identical with those for wheelchairs or handcycles, but there is some common ground. The 'walk' routes are described in some detail and sufficient information is provided you to allow a reasonable selection of those that should provide disabled access. There are over fifteen books in the series so that a good range of areas are covered from Argyll and Lochaber in the Scottish north to Hampshire and Sussex in the English south, but not neglecting some Welsh walking areas along the way.
So, I think that those of us with access difficulties have to work harder to find routes that will suit, and there has to be a bit of trial and error. You definitely need to be prepared to turn back if things are not working out, but success provides considerable rewards.