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Caithness group sees how off-road wheelchairs offer a chance to fully explore the outdoors Published on 25th July 2024

Check out this article in the John O’Groat Journal >>Click Here<<

A group outing to a loch and a forest in Caithness showed how wheelchair users needn’t miss out on opportunities to fully explore the countryside.

Eight women from Dunbeath & District Centre joined George Ewing, of Cycling UK, and Kay Nicolson, from Caithness Voluntary Group (CVG), in trying a type of off-road wheelchair which can reach places that would be out of bounds for those of a conventional design.

The group went to the St John’s Loch bird-watching site before continuing to nearby Dunnet Forest for lunch in its log cabin.

The trip on Tuesday of last week was arranged as part of Rural Connections, an initiative launched this year by the charity Cycling UK to promote a more active lifestyle. Caithness is one of seven areas covered by Rural Connections and George is the development officer for the county.

The project offers a range of bikes for short-term and long-term loans and has recently taken delivery of two non-motorised off-road wheelchairs made by a Scottish-based company, GM4X.

The wheelchair demonstrated on last week’s trip was the Paratreker All Terrain, a four-wheeled design. There is also a three-wheeled model, the Paratreker Trail.

The two Paratreker wheelchairs are available for free loan to individuals, community or voluntary groups and businesses in Caithness.

“The Paratreker Trail is perfect for everyday use for those short trips to see friends or go to the shops, and is more than capable tackling county paths, trails and tracks,” George explained.

“The Paratreker All Terrain allows the passenger a limited amount of steering. It is also perfect for those everyday journeys but, with the right help, is capable of going anywhere – even up mountains.

“It is really designed basically to go anywhere and do anything.

“Both chairs are extremely stable and lightweight.

“This is part of the Rural Connections project being run by Cycling UK at the moment and it’s all about inclusivity for people of all abilities or disabilities. Although these off-road wheelchairs can be used on all terrains, they can also be used for everyday journeys.”

George said the day out at St John’s Loch and Dunnet Forest had given the Dunbeath group an insight into the freedom the Paratreker designs can give to wheelchair users in getting off the beaten track, with several members of the group making use of the comfortable seat.

“It was nice getting out with the ladies from Dunbeath & District Centre,” he said. “It was a great hit with them.

“There was a lady there who suffers from a little bit of difficulty with her walking at times. Her words were, ‘It’s magnificent – can I take it home, please?’ So she was quite happy about that.”

The trip was one of a series funded by Think Health Think Nature, facilitated by the Highland Green Health Partnership.

CVG’s Kay Nicolson said: “The centre users at Dunbeath & District Centre are an outgoing, independent and energetic group who embrace opportunities for new experiences, regardless of age or medical background. The ladies are not actually wheelchair users themselves but do experience mobility difficulties.

“George offered his wonderful off-road wheelchair to help make our trip out to St John’s Pool and Dunnet Forest more accessible, and the ladies were delighted. George very kindly met us at the bird reserve created by Julian Smith and, with Julian’s blessing, offered turns in the chair to assist with accessing the hides. He then accompanied us for lunch in Dunnet Forest, where the ladies were given turns on the trip to and from the log cabin.

“The assistance from George was not only very practical and a relief on the legs, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the ladies who love their independence. Contrary to the traditional wheelchair, this new asset allows the user to control the steering and participate in the experience, which makes all the difference to groups like ours.

“It helps that George himself is a pleasure to work with.

“I’m sure both the chair and George will be a huge benefit to our community as we look to make the most of our time outdoors.”

George Ewing and the group from Dunbeath & District Centre with the Paratreker All Terrain wheelchair.
George Ewing and the group from Dunbeath & District Centre with the Paratreker All Terrain wheelchair.

Caithness is one of seven areas covered by Rural Connections. It is also operating in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Moray, Argyll and Bute and the Scottish Borders. George and his counterparts in these areas will support people of all ages and abilities to cycle, walk and wheel for everyday journeys, leisure and adventure.

As well as arranging loans, the development officers in each area are seeking to help local organisations to co-ordinate and add walking, wheeling and cycling opportunities to what they already do.

Being active is good for people’s wellbeing, George pointed out. He said: “If you’re well mentally, your chances of being well physically are significantly better.”

George, who began his role with Cycling UK in early June, added: “We’ve got traditional bikes at Pulteneytown People’s Project at the moment so that they can take their clients out and about for runs, which is good.

“I’ve got seven e-bikes all out just now – they’re very popular so they are constantly being turned around.”

Lanark-based GM4X was founded in 2015 by Gordon McGregor who says the Paratreker wheelchairs create a world of opportunities for people with disabilities.

Recently he delivered a Paratreker All Terrain to Nairn Academy, where it will allow pupils with mobility difficulties to get out and explore the countryside. It should also allow more young people to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.

Gordon explained: “I couldn’t buy what I was looking for in an outdoor adventure wheelchair and I have collaborated with universities to test and build the model we use now. With the Paratreker everyone gets an equal opportunity of the outdoors.”

  • Anyone interested in borrowing one of the wheelchairs, who or knows someone that might benefit from their use, can get in touch with Cycling UK development officer George Ewing on 07341 792374 or email george.ewing@cyclinguk.org (Facebook at CyclingUKScotland).

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Dunbeath & District Centre
7 Neil Gunn Road
Dunbeath
Caithness
KW6 6EP


Tel:01593 731335
Email:info@dunbeathanddistrictcentre.org