As an electric scooter user, Robert Hunter has a unique set of challenges when travelling off road. He shared some of these with me when he took me walking around the Westerton farm paths near his house.
Robert lives with his wife Shirley and his dog Jasper in Lochgelly, Fife, where he has travelled along local paths all his life. He began using a mobility scooter around ten to fourteen years ago, as he has MS. He has a rich knowledge of local rights of way, and is active in making sure these remain passable and accessible to the public.
Fighting for access
On our walk, Robert told me about wildlife that can be seen on the farm, such as geese, deer, and wild orchids, as well as numerous nature walks and rights of way in the area. He has been paying particular attention to an old right of way leading to Auchtertool, which records show Lochgelly dwellers used around a century ago to walk to church. Nowadays it’s still lightly used, as the local farmer affirms. However, plans for a new wind farm are mooted, which would have blades descending over the right of way itself. Robert tells me that a “No Access” sign has been placed, in order to discourage walkers and disrupting the right of way (in Scotland, a legal right of way is a route where the public have been able to pass unhindered for at least 20 years). Robert has been in touch with Fife Councils Outdoor Access Officer Alison Irvine, and is keeping an eye on developments.
A path which he could potentially use to visit his daughter and grandchildren gives an example of the challenges he goes through with gaining access. At first, he was able to get along this path on his scooter, but between bad drainage and off road motorcyclists and quad bikers churning up the muddy ground, it became impassable. He lobbied for a problem area to be resurfaced, and was successful: but the resulting rocky gravel surface was still no use. Alison Irvine is also adding her efforts to this issue after Robert alerted her. Currently Sustrans funding is being sought to tarmac the path. This project is progressing slowly, but it seems that in time this right of way will be usable again.
As well as tearing up paths, bikers indirectly caused Robert another nuisance. When an access point to a particular route had humps of soil dumped at the bottom of the gates, to prevent bikers from accessing it; with the side effect of blocking other wheeled transport users. More general common obstacles include hard to open gates, and cattle grids. When bumpy tractor tracks freeze hard or dry out, this creates uncomfortable terrain. Some of his walks have two pedestrian access points, but only one will be usable for him, forcing him to double back.
He currently uses a ST5D scooter from Days Healthcare, which he judged to be the best value for money, and also with the most inclusive warranty (for example, another candidate ruled out use in wet weather and variable terrain). He would have preferred a three wheel scooter, which he generally finds more manoeuvrable and comfortable (he doesn’t find the common issue of stability in three wheelers to be a problem when one is aware of the vehicle’s capabilities) but he didn’t find any that met his needs at the right price. This scooter, as well as its predecessors has needed frequent maintenance, which engineering companies haven’t always repaired effectively. Often, he has had to dismantle scooters himself and diagnose the problem. However, with a few homemade mods, he is satisfied overall with this model.
These modifications were done with an eye to making the scooter easier and safer to use. The front light was “a waste of space”, so he made a reflector for it, using a cut down plant pot and tin foil. To improve night time visibility further, he added a head torch with an elasticated strap to the front column. The original mirror didn’t give him enough of a view to the rear, so he taped on a car courtesy mirror instead. He is thinking of improving the tread on the tires by carving the rubber. In case of punctures, he takes out a can of Tyre Weld sealant foam with him on his rambles. This gets him home, and in fact works so well that sometimes he doesn’t even need to repair the tube. In muddy autumn weather, he wears waterproofs and a hi-viz jacket.
Getting it on video
As well as his trusty Tyre Weld, Robert always makes sure his phone, fully charged and emergency numbers saved, is with him before he leaves: but not just in case of a break down. He has created an extensive library of videos of his rambles on the Disabilities Fife website, giving insight into the kind of terrain he is able to traverse, as well as sharing the beautiful countryside of Fife and beyond.
The Forth Rail Bridge, as photographed by Robert on an excursion
Unwilling to pay for an expensive helmet cam, at first he held his phone in his hand to make these videos, but wasn’t satisfied with the resulting slightly shaky footage. So, he applied his ingenuity yet again to create a helmet of his own.
Though Disabilities Fife has provided extensive support and resources over its twenty year tenure, they may be forced to disband after being disinvested by Fife Council. Though they have tried to attract donations through a Crowdfunder campaign and directly through the site, they are still desperately in need of funds.
Exploring the countryside on four legs
Jasper, a collie cross rescued from the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home at age 2, accompanies Robert on all of his excursions. As he can be a bit too keen to make friends with other dogs and horses, and doesn’t have great road sense (he tends to poo in the road and run away, leading to a couple of near misses with cars) he mostly stays on the lead, on the pavement side of the scooter. Otherwise walking him doesn’t present a problem. Robert tells me about a previous dog which had mobility problems of its own, so rode on the front of his scooter when they went out together.
Want to join in?
If you fancy going off the beaten track and getting some fresh air, the Fieldfare Trust’s Millennium Miles project has detailed information (some gathered by Robert himself) on wheelchair and scooter accessible paths.
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