Access for All in the Lake District National Park

Not everyone has fair shared access to the outdoors. In England and Wales we all have access to less than 4% of the rivers, and the right to roam across a mere 8% of the land. 97% of rivers and 92% of the countryside are off limits to the public, these are critical spaces for everyone to be able to connect with nature for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Wooden fingerpost surrounded by green hedge, pointing left showing 'Limited Mobility Path Latrigg Viewpoint'

In addition, over 20% of England’s population cannot currently use public rights of way due to mobility issues according to Natural England. These mobility issues can be a barrier to accessing the countryside as it prevents people being able to use stiles or kissing gates.

Many of us take for granted heading out into the outdoors and being able to walk and ride freely where we please, but for many this is prevented by manmade barriers such as steps, stiles, narrow gates and narrow bridges.

Accessibility has a broad meaning as everyone has different abilities, one person’s outdoor experience might be seen as successful if they just make it to visit the café, whereas another person’s visit may be defined as successful if they make it to the top of a hill or engage in some outdoor activities other than walking. Access has a diverse definition in regard to experiences for different people, it can range from solitude to companionship. The way people experience the countryside is different for every individual but there is a similarity with how rewarding the experience is.

Black and white horse harnessed up pulling carriage driven by young woman smiling

Why are there so many manmade barriers in the outdoors?

On public rights of way any structures must be authorised by the Highways Authority. A gate, stile or other barrier can only be erected on a public right of way if either:

  • The Definitive Map and Statement has recorded the presence of a structure on the public right of way. The County Council can check this for you. OR The structure has been authorised by the County Council using the powers of the Highways Act 1980 section 147.
  • The provisions of section 147 include if it can be justified that the land crossed by the public footpath or bridleway is being used for agriculture, and that in order for this agriculture to be carried out efficiently, a structure is needed to control the ingress and egress of animals.

For example, land used to graze sheep or commercial forestry plantations needing to keep deer and rabbits out, would both meet the provisions of this section. If the land stops being used for agriculture and there is no longer any need to control livestock, then the structure should be removed. If a structure is not recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement or has not been authorised by the County Council, then it is an unlawful obstruction. If a land manager erects a structure without permission, then they are committing an offence and the County Council will take action to remove it.

There are national accessibility standards such as ‘British Standard 5709’ and best practice guidance documents for example ‘By all reasonable means – Least restrictive access to the outdoors’, that organisations should abide by to ensure they are not discriminating against anyone inline with the Equality Act 2010, but in most cases the minimum is done to meet these standards rather than exceeding them.

How is the Lake District National Park Authority making the Park accessible for all?

The Lake District National Park have created 50 routes across the National Park suitable for people with limited mobility, including wheelchair users, families with pushchairs, and the visually impaired. These routes are called ‘Miles without Stiles’.

As part of the celebrations for the Lake District National Park’s 70th birthday the Park selected seven routes to promote from their Miles without Stiles route. These 7 routes show off the variety of landscapes and environments that the Lake District has to offer for all visitors, whilst encouraging people to explore those lesser known, yet equally beautiful, areas of the park. From Roman ruins to historic railway lines, hidden tarns to coastal villages, and plenty of lake shores in between. These seven routes are a must for anyone wanting to absorb what the Lake District really is. The seven routes included: Monk Coniston, Broughton Railway, Walls Drive, Friar’s Crag, Staveley Riverside, Wray Castle to Loanthwaite and Dunmallard.

The Lake District National Park have an interactive map below to explore the routes available, you can view it here. The routes are graded: for ‘all’, for ‘many’, or for ‘some’. This is based on gradients and surface conditions. The grades are a guide only, so please weigh up your route choice carefully.

Map and legend showing accessible routes labelled with symbols on greyscale map of Cumbria

For all

Suitable for everyone, including pushchairs and people operating their own wheelchairs. Gradient: No more than 1:10. Surface: Tarmac or smooth, compacted stone with a diameter of 10 mm or less. Path width will be a minimum of 1 metre with passing places.

For many

Suitable for assisted wheelchair users and families with more robust, all-terrain type buggies. Gradient: Existing gradients no more than 1:10, although newly built gradients can be up to 1:8. Surface: The path surface will be a rougher stone of 4 cm diameter or less.

For some

Strong and confident wheelchair users and helpers may find routes labelled as ‘for some’ within their abilities. They may be suitable for off-road mobility scooters. Gradient: Gradients are not limited, but slopes greater than 1:8 will have improved surfacing, or handrails. Surface: There may be some low steps or breaks in the surface up to 10 cm in height. Stone surface material may be up to 10 cm in diameter.

The Lake District National Park also provide useful information about using public transport that is accessible for all and details of places to hire all-terrain mobility scooters such as Lake Mobility and TGA Mobility. The Park works with many organisations to create these accessible routes including: Cumbria County Council, National Trust, Forestry Commission, Tourism and Conservation Partnership, Bassenthwaite Reflections, Environment Agency, Friends of the Lake District, United Utilities, Parish Councils and private landowners.

Sign mounted on wooden fingerpost for 'Latrigg Footpath Miles without Stiles 'Access for All'' showing Bassenthwaite Reflections and Heritage Lottery Fund logos.

Campaign for National Parks New Perspectives

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