Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen spearheads campaign to get more people into the Dales

The organisers of a new charity to improve access to the Yorkshire Dales have spoken of their hope that a watershed in awareness will ensure the National Park is opened up to new visitors.

The new campaign, which has the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen as its patron, was launched at the weekend to highlight a series of schemes to provide access to the Dales for people with mobility issues and also debilitating mental health conditions.

The organisation has been established by Debbie North, in memory of her husband of 18 years, Andy. Mrs North has been a wheelchair user for more than a decade due to a degenerative condition of her spine.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mr North, a former deputy headteacher of Ovenden School in Halifax, died in June last year at the age of 56, just eight weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of bowel cancer.

Amanda Owen, Debbie North, and Mrs North's son, Adam Medlock, at the launch of the Access the Dales charity at Ravenseat Farm in Swaledale. (Photo: Paul Jeeves)

Speaking at the charity’s launch at Mrs Owen’s family farm at Ravenseat on Saturday, Mrs North, 60, who lives in Nateby in Cumbria which falls within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, said: “It has been very emotional to see all the hard work come to fruition.

“But I hope that there will be a change in people’s perceptions, and that we don’t actually need a charity to highlight the need to improve access. It would be wonderful to think the message gets through that the countryside should be for everyone.”

Mrs Owen, who lives with her husband, Clive, and their nine children at Ravenseat Farm, became friends with Mrs North after presenting her with an award five years ago.

Mrs Owen, who is known as the Yorkshire Shepherdess from the television shows detailing her family’s life in Swaledale, said: “The fact that this means places like Swaledale can be opened up to families who may have a disabled child, which in itself can be so limiting for what they can experience, is a wonderful thought.”

The launch of the Access the Dales charity saw people trying out some of the all-terrain wheelchairs on a walk above Ravenseat Farm in Swaledale. (Photo: Paul Jeeves)

An eight-day festival began on Saturday, featuring events including walks at Gordale Scar and canoeing on Semerwater.

The charity will be used to create audio trails for people with visual impairment and will develop and promote walks avoiding stiles. It is also aiming to open up access to the Dales for people who have been diagnosed with conditions including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Donations made in the wake of Mr North’s death raised £16,000, and the money has been used to purchase an all-terrain wheelchair, named Batley Boy in honour of his hometown.

All-terrain vehicles and wheelchairs have been donated by TerrainHopper as well as TGA Mobility. A total of 12 vehicles are based at five locations in the Dales, including Ravenseat and Newbiggin, near West Burton, for people to borrow during the festival.