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Handcycling in Somerset

Handcycling in Somerset

We’re already halfway through 2018 and Access Adventures has hosted five adaptive sports camps so far this year. These included an alpine ski camp, a camp in the Wye Valley with downhill mountain biking and kayaking, a kids waterski camp, our first ever family day (for parents with a disability to enjoy activities alongside their children), plus one of my favourites – the Somerset Adventure camp.

The camp in Somerset features handcycling, kayaking/ canoeing and archery. It all takes place at the spectacular Wall Eden Farms, a cluster of well-designed log cabins, three of which are fully wheelchair accessible. The space worked really well for our group of fifteen, including nine people with physical disabilities. Andy, who owns the site has been incredibly accommodating over the three years we’ve hosted this event, making sure we can support our participants in the best way possible.

Our volunteers were put to work straight away with a bit of furniture reorganising! More space was created in one of the cabins so there was an indoor area big enough to allow the whole group to eat together, in the event of rain. Obviously, being in the UK, this is something you often have to accommodate!  We were actually incredibly lucky with the weather – it rained slightly on the first evening but then was glorious over the weekend, allowing us to use the beautiful outdoor spaces to socialise.

The majority of people attending had never really done any adaptive sport before, this is the perfect camp to provide an introduction.  Not all the participants were wheelchair users, but they all had some mobility issues meaning they required adaptive sports equipment.

The first evening when people arrived was very chilled. We like to get each person to introduce themselves and say a little about their goals for the weekend. It’s always fascinating to see how quickly people bond and enjoy sharing experiences with one another. Most people wanted to push themselves out of their comfort zone a little, and discover more about adaptive sport.

A bike ride was scheduled for the Saturday. The total length of the ride is 24 miles, a daunting prospect for many people. However, we had scoped out the perfect introductory ride a couple of years previously.  As it’s on the Somerset levels, the ride contains no uphill sections, meaning it’s much easier for beginners, yet you still get a huge sense of achievement because of the distance. We have a support vehicle with us the whole way, so if anyone is struggling then there’s a way out. The lunch stop at a café with accessible toilets is 12 miles in, people also have the option of stopping at this point. I was so impressed though that every single person completed the whole ride, despite it being hard work for many.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to borrow the handcycles we need from the Handcycling Association UK. These are great bits of kit, but are priced well out of reach for many people. An experienced handcycle coach came along to provide support. A lot of time was spent setting up the equipment to suit each individual before commencing the ride, this is a really important stage that should never be rushed in my opinion. Once everyone was as comfortable as you can get on a bike, we set off from Wall Eden Farm. It was all road riding, but quiet back roads, with our volunteers donning hi-vis jackets and ensuring safety throughout the ride.

That evening, everyone was exhausted, but had a real sense of achievement after finishing the ride, as well as experiencing the freedom and exhilaration that often accompanies adaptive sport. We had a lovely evening spent eating a delicious BBQ, then sitting chatting around the firepit.

The itinerary for Sunday started with a nice gentle paddle on the River Brue. Again, we spent a bit of time fitting people up with adaptive seating in the kayaks or canoes. People with balance issues find it much easier with a high firm back rest, and sometimes some additional lateral support. The launch area is on-site which makes things nice and easy from a logistics point of view. It’s a little tricky for wheelchair users, but with our incredible team of volunteers, people were assisted smoothly into the water.

After returning for lunch, we split the group into two. Half did some archery, the other half did adaptive yoga (again, both were on-site). The archery definitely triggered everyone’s competitive spirit! The yoga provided a good opportunity to stretch those aching muscles from the previous days bike ride.

On the Sunday evening we went to a local pub for dinner, which was the perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I ferried people there in my S-Max, which can fit a surprising number of wheelchairs in the spacious boot! One the way to Somerset, I had all the seats down, and filled it with tonnes of stuff we needed for the weekend. Since starting up this charity, I can’t imagine any other car that would suit my lifestyle as perfectly!