On Saturday night, we wild camped beneath the stars. We scootered to a local field, overlooking our favourite hill, and spent the night in the open. My first time bivouacking. As the sun set, we watched deers and hares and bats scurrying around; and later, as true darkness took over, we spotted the satellites and constellations as they popped into view. Two years ago, I’d never set foot in these fields. Never seen that view or that hill or even those deers before. The countryside around my village was completely inaccessible to me. Getting an off-road scooter has made my little world so much bigger. It has truly changed my life.
It’s crazy to think that for seven years I couldn’t get into the local countryside. I’d always loved walking as a teenager and young adult; and when we first moved to our rural village, we assumed we’d soon get to know all the local footpaths and bridleways. But then, within months of making Charlton our home, I’d developed Pulmonary Hypertension, and the local scenery and surroundings slipped out of my reach. My lungs and legs could barely walk around my house, never mind traverse a field; and my lovely shopping-centre-designed mobility scooter was no match for the mud and grass and stones. The wheels were too small to maneuver over ruts or potholes, the motor not powerful enough to drive over long grass or squelchy terrain, and the battery would die within minutes, trying to do so. Despite pushing and pushing and pushing my lovely Luggie, for seven years, I had to accept that the countryside was largely out of reach for disabled folk, for wheels, for me.
But then, six years into my illness, a wonderful charity took me out on their off-road scooter. Game-changer. For the first time since I’d become ill, I was able to get to the back of beyond again. For the first time since I’d collapsed out-of-the-blue, I was in my happy place again. To my amazement and excitement, that wonderful BOMA scooter took the stony tracks and grassy hills and rutted mud-beds in its stride, and carried me all the way up a mountain top! I wanted to do it again and again and again. But with a cheaper version- the £17k price tag was way out of my budget! 😉 So a few months later, on the day before Phil and I started shielding from the coronavirus, I got the keys to my own off-roader -a Vita X. Thank goodness it arrived before the country closed down.
That scooter got us through lockdown. When shielders were eventually allowed to exercise, we took those wheels out every day. Miles and miles across the local countryside. The fields that I’d never set foot in, became my well-trodden turf. The favourite hangouts of Phil and Lottie, that I’d only ever seen photographs of, were now in front of my eyes. The contours and squiggles and dotted lines on the local maps, were now hills and footpaths that I knew well. For those months of shielding, I covered more miles on our daily dog walks, than all the dog walks of previous years. Every local footpath and bridleway were followed, as well as all the fields and grounds without public access! 😉 We learnt which spots got muddy after rain, which were sun traps on a windy day, which bridges I could fit through. And we gave all our favourite places names- the Clumps, the Wild Woods, Astro-Phil hill, Rainsborough Camp, the Hidden Pasture, the Swimming Pond, the Poppy Field, the Haunted House, the Secret Meadow, the Hidden Stream. We’d go down for picnics or to watch the sunset or just to read our books. Although lockdown closed off our usual world, it also opened up this new local world. And by forcing us to stay home, it gave us plenty of free time to get to know where we lived even better. A lockdown silver lining. For seven years, for me, the village of Charlton had just been five roads. But now, with access to the land around, it grew. It was like being somewhere new, on holiday. I discovered things I’d not seen before- the bell tower, the WW2 gun posts, the growing crops. I could get up close to the horses and pigs and sheep and ducks. And I got to see the village features I knew from new angles- the gardens and stables and the backs of the buildings. There is so much more to a place than its roads.
And those wonderful off-road wheels have continued to be my feet, and allowed me to keep exploring for these past 2.5 years. Thanks to my childhood trailer, when the country started opening up again, we brought my wheels along for the adventures. All the places that had been too much for my legs or my small scooter, were now attempted with my big wheels. For the first time in years, I could go along the beach and dip my feet in the sea. For the first time in years, I could stand atop a hillside and spot my car many metres below. For the first time in years I could fully explore woods and cliff tops and historic sites. And snow; I could drive around in snow! Instead of having to stick to the path, I could venture into all the hidden corners of parklands and gardens. Instead of finding quiet country roads to walk along, we could follow the guidebooks to viewpoints. No more watching from the car park, no more staying home, no more living life vicariously though them, now I could join Phil and the dogs, or my friends and family, on their adventures. It has granted me more freedom and equality. When you find a solution to the obstacles, there is no disability. Those chunky wheels have truly opened up my world. Complete life changer.
We’ve already had the maps out looking at the fields around our (hopefully very soon) new home. 🙂