We lack trees in Thanet. So many have been lost to new developments or people who don’t like messy leaves and they’re not being replaced.
So when the leaves started to turn colour I was seized with nostalgia for somewhere where trees ruled.
In the 1970s I used to go camping in the New Forest – a tiny tent and a hitchhikers thumb and you were sleeping under trees in one of the most ancient bits of woodland in the UK.
Going back as a disabled old person was more complicated – accessible transport, hotel that welcomed wheel users and a sense of adventure! In the 70s that attitude was reserved for long distance hiking in wild places, but now has to be transformed into the ability to not be put off by flooded footpaths and busy main roads.
We stayed in Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest. It has a rail station, at least two accessible hotels, some nice pubs I could scoot into and trees, birds and ponies everywhere.
It had rained a lot – in Thanet you see flooded roads, in Brockenhurst we saw roads that had turned into rivers and fields into lakes!
We were glad not to be in to be in a flimsy tent but in a warm hotel, with a swimming pool and nice food a corridor away from our room.
But going among the trees was the point of being there so I tested my mobility scooter to its limits on forest tracks and managed to go further on sticks than I’ve ever been as the landscape lured me on.
But – as in most places – I’m left reflecting on what would improve life for disabled people in this lovely national park.
It comes down to public policy and technology.
I found good accessible toilets in lots of places – Thanet council please note! The New Forest is not far from Bournemouth, holiday mecca for oldies, so coaches full of pensioners on day trips keep the forest economy floating. Good lavs are vital!
Wheel users need better forest tracks with no potholes, more dropped kerbs in the quaint old towns. But more importantly, what’s needed is the right attitude among the people in charge of decision making to welcome the old and decrepit.
I mentioned on a local Facebook page installing benches on the sides of the more accessible tracks but any changes in Forest infrastructure has to go through an obscure system dating back to the Conquest .
But technology could play a part. Mobility scooters could be built to be safer in rough conditions. Manufacturers could build more adventurousness into the designs. My scooter is flummoxed by mud, sand, gravel, puddles that are more than two inches deep, and can’t survive in much rain as the electrical controls are not waterproof.
Fortunately my new aluminium scooter is very light so it’s easier to pull and rescue from the sudden sticking places.
So if you’re fed up of giant waves and you’re longing for trees and ponies get down to Hampshire, or better still protest against developers cutting down trees in Thanet.
Or what about creating our own forest? My friend, Camile Sutton, who died recently, campaigned for many years to preserve Mocketts Wood in Broadstairs. A big green space where we grew trees instead of pricey executive houses would , I think, be her best memorial.
Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet