A narrow, wet grassy path, soggy in places – maybe not everyone’s idea of paradise, but ambling along in my Formula One Chariot it is an alluring place. The almost silent motors of my magic Trekinetic wheelchair do not compete with the soothing sounds of the breeze rustling tall rushes all around me. I don’t think the birds hear the wheels: I am meandering in the large Avalon Marshes in Somerset, at the RSPB’s Ham Wall Reserve.
Last outing we visited the small Langford Lakes Nature Reserve of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust – a joy of bitumen, gravel and grass tracks around water where the new Chariot had taken me down an unusually wet incline of long grass to the hide on the edge of ‘Long Pond’ with a view at wheelchair level.
Here by a Ham Wall lake, I am seriously taking on steering narrow. The ducks I encounter are various – small chic Tufted Ducks with black heads, backs and feet, gleaming white body and bluish beak. Larger, looking staid and sturdy, are the Shovelers, with broad spoon-like bills and males with dramatic colour contrast of white, rich terracotta, black, and iridescent dark green. The tufty grass path runs tight up to the edge of the lake, one could almost reach out through the net of stems and scoop the water – a great feeling of being right in there amongst wild things.
Peter is behind me, and he’s now wonderfully independent, framing up a photo of the green hill topped by Glastonbury Tor visible beyond the far side of the lake… no worries now about wheels bogging in and twisting about like a skewed supermarket trolley, no heaving and straining for a struggling carer.
This is a very wheelchair friendly place, free to disabled visitors and a carer (including non-members), easy car parking … and plenty of availability. Friendly volunteers manning the entrance give helpful terrain accessibility advice under present weather conditions, and tips of what’s happening on the ‘good sightings and where’ front. Some paths are so smooth a traditional wheelchair would be mostly comfortable, just a bit bumpy in places and the slope on some ditch bridges would demand a pretty fit pusher.
My magic Chariot takes the steep slope bridge no problem, even though I do it too slow… my little control panel notifies me it was a bit of a strain taking the cautious slow-motion approach at speed 1 (so slow up this gradient, a stranger overtaking with an energetic dog pulling hard on his lead jokes as she is hauled by and offers me the dog!) So I’ll go for it at speed next time. Descending the other side, Peter tilts the seat back to keep my centre of gravity back and I feel less on the edge of a precipice. I am probably over nervous about such first-time downward prospects, but I have added to life’s complications with a titanium wrist, ‘a salvage job’ the surgeon called it, and I only have one more to go – hands and arms are vital as mobility aids at times!
My Chariot trundles along one of several curving wooden slatted walkways towards a hide on a promontory; a slight vibration through my seat, but it would have been a judder on the traditional slung wheelchair seat. While still on the move, three more firsts appear – a Reed Warbler, a Marsh Harrier, a large rare hawk safe in these protective dense reed beds. Out of the blue, a sturdy smaller version of a heron flies up then disappears – unbelievably it is a Bittern, an incredibly elusive bird that boom like foghorns).
Masses of people have suddenly arrived, and I am now manoeuvring my Chariot in a new setting – one of infinite unpredictability… that of crowds of humans.
More of that Chariot driving technique next time!…