Yorkshire Shepherdess: Why the Dales are so special and should be shared with everyone

A charity is being launched to increase access to the Yorkshire Dales in a bold bid to open up the National Park to a far wider audience with the backing of one of the region’s most famous rural champions.

The initiative will be unveiled next month to coincide with an eight-day festival which is aimed at highlighting a host of schemes that are providing access to the Dales for people with mobility issues and also debilitating mental health conditions.

The Access the Dales charity has secured Amanda Owen as its patron, who is known to millions of television viewers as the Yorkshire Shepherdess in the shows detailing her life with her family deep in Swaledale.

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

Amanda Owen, known to millions of television viewers as the Yorkshire Shepherdess, pictured at Ravenseat Farm, near Keld in Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Mrs Owen has been announced at the patron of a new charity, Access the Dales. (Photo: Simon Hulme)

The 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.

Mrs North, 60, who lives in Nateby in Cumbria which falls within the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, said: “The Dales have always been such a special place for both Andy and I, and we both loved getting out into the countryside even after I had to start using a wheelchair.

“After he was diagnosed, Andy said to me that he wanted me to still be able to get out and have my adventures even when he was gone. I was astonished by people’s generosity after Andy passed away, and this charity is very much about his legacy.”

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.

Debbie North is pictured with her husband, Andy, who passed away in June last year just eight weeks after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Mrs North has set up a charity, Access the Dales, in her husband's memory. (Photo copyright: Debbie North)

Despite living eight miles away from each other, they are effectively neighbours as there are no properties between their homes due to the sparsely populated communities of the Dales.

Mrs Owen said: “The idea was born out of a tragedy, because Andy was such a wonderful person.

“But it has been so heartwarming to see people’s reaction and the support they have given Debbie since Andy died.

“I am so fortunate to live in such a wonderful place as Swaledale, it is under vast skies and it’s somewhere that people can get away to and enjoy the countryside.

“We want to ensure as many people as possible have the chance to experience the Dales, and this charity is aimed at doing just that.”

The eight-day Access the Dales Festival will begin on Saturday, April 2, when the charity will be launched at Mrs Owen’s farm.

The charity will be used to oversee the creation of audio trails for people with visual impairment as well as developing and promoting 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 which were made in the wake of Mr North’s death raised £16,000, and the money has been used to purchase an all-terrain wheelchair.

All-terrain vehicles and wheelchairs have also been donated by the Lincolnshire-based company, TerrainHopper, as well as TGA Mobility, a firm in Ipswich.

A handcycle has also been provided by the John Sinnon Trust, and the vehicles will be based at locations around the Dales, including Ravenseat and Newbiggin, near West Burton, for people to borrow during the festival.

H&H Insurance Brokers are also supporting the project by covering the cost of the vehicle insurance.

Meanwhile, businesses across the Yorkshire Dales are being given advice on how to improve access to visitors with mobility problems.

A conference will be staged on Tuesday, April 5, as part of the Access the Dales Festival to showcase how simple measures can ensure improved access for wheelchair users and patients with dementia and those with visual impairments. A dozen businesses have signed up to the event at The Engine Shed at Kirkby Stephen, and Mrs North urged more enterprises to book a place.

She said: “Businesses have often made a lot of effort to help improve access already, but they are not always promoting what they have done. The conference is about getting the message out there, and also giving advice on improving access.”

Tourism is worth in excess of £700m each year in the National Park, which attracts in the region of five million visitors annually, with about 80 per cent on day trips.