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She Rides And Reviews: Disappointed by Abbot's Wood - Polegate

Hello there readers! Today’s She rides and Reviews will be all about Abbot’s Wood, as I set out to investigate some pretty bold claims stated on Forestry England and East Sussex websites.

Let me just start by saying I am rather familiar with Abbot’s Woods, having frequented it regularly in the before times when my mobility was not an issue. It was actually one of the first places that I decided to visit on my scooter, as I recalled that there were a few paths that I thought could be suitable.

It’s important to point out at this moment, that I now realise that whatever I thought was an accessible path as an able-bodied pedestrian was wildly off base to what an actual accessible path needs to be. I firmly believe that able bodied people should not be assessing the suitability of pathways for wheelchair or mobility scooter users without at least consulting us.

Our first outing to Abbott’s wood ended about 8mins in, when I blew out a tyre and nearly irreparably damaged the axle of my brand-new scooter. From this day forward, the place I had spent so many wonderful moments with my children as they were growing up, was forever lost to me. I’ll be honest, that really hit me hard. It took the wind out of my sails and I didn’t go back to anywhere remotely countryside-ish for a good few months. The last thing I wanted was to be reminded of the places I had lost, just as I was rediscovering my freedom. Now you know all of that, you can forgive me if I get a little ranty at any point during this review.

It was for the reasons stated above that I was so intrigued to have so many recommendations to visit Abbot’s Wood. I thought perhaps I had over egged the pudding and that it was somehow my fault that I had gotten into strife whilst I was there. I was surprised to see that, according to the Forestry England website:Most of the main trails are well surfaced and wheelchair friendly but can get muddy in the winter.” Ever the sceptic I searched for a second opinion on this statement and discovered the East Sussex Disabled Access to Woodlands page, which claimed:An 800m tarmac circuit near the edge of the wood guides the visitor through a variety of tree species.”. So! Let’s see if Abbott’s Woods lives up to all that shall we?

As you arrive in the car park there are 3 disabled bays to the left, just in front of the toilet facilities. The toilet block itself is fine, always a bit grubby though and rarely has soap or loo paper. There is a disabled toilet there too, it is slightly on the small side but it’s there!

So, I begin the hunt for this fabled “800m tarmac circuit near the forest”. Ideally, we disabled folk might have liked it IN the forest rather than NEAR the forest. I was baffled by what they meant by “near the forest”, all very mysterious and with no maps or signs anywhere it was up to my detective skills to find the path myself.

My partner and I deduced that the “accessible trail” must begin next to the disabled parking bays, as traversing the car park in my scooter was definitely not an option due to the massive potholes and sharps stone chip surfacing. Lo and behold we discovered the “accessible trail” …in all its glory, coming straight off of the disable parking bays.(see pic below)

The trail continued on around the edge of the forest for maybe 100m or so, but it was so worn away I honestly had no idea where it was anymore.

We decided to turn left when presented with a junction on what we thought might be the now invisible “800m tarmac circuit near the forest” and started toward what could possibly have been a tarmacked path. As we were entering the woodland, we presumed that this wasn’t the accessible trail, but my scooter was coping well with it and I was excited to be more than a few meters from the car park, so we ventured on.

(image below of trail to the right - inaccessible)

(image below of trail to the left - also inaccessible)

The path was a little wet as it had rained the day before, but as we’ve just had the driest April in 60 years, it wasn’t too muddy.

(image below trail straight ahead - YAY kind of accessible! onwards!)

I felt like I was on and adventure surrounded by trees and bluebells, even a couple of dens on the route, good to know if you have kids with you!

Here is a little video of that trail so you can see what the path looked like and judge for yourself if it would be too much for you. The path that I took was 650m long from the car to the last accessible point.

We followed the route as far as I could safely go, and my partner scouted up ahead to see if there might be a way through.

No joy unfortunately, even if I had managed to get across to the next path, which I’m assuming is one of the “main trails are well surfaced and wheelchair friendly but can get muddy in the winterlot, I wasn’t willing to risk getting stranded with a puncture after having been jiggled to within an inch of my life on a bumpy path.

(Image below of path with sharp loose stones - not accessible to me)

If you have an off-road scooter, I’m sure those routes would be acceptable. The problem is that most disabled people don’t have that kind of disposable income to invest in such an expensive bit of kit plus the vehicle to transport it in. So how is it fair for these paths to be called accessible when the majority of wheelchair/mobility scooter users cannot use them!? Rant number 1.

(image below picture of accessible picnic area)

Realising that we had been short-changed a few meters from the advertised “800m” trail, I deduced that I had not successfully found the elusive “800m tarmac circuit near the forest ”. We headed back towards the last definite sighting of the “800m tarmac circuit near the forest” and my able-bodied partner did a quick recon mission to see if he could find the path up ahead, as I was flagging somewhat in energy and optimism.

To my surprise, he did find the next piece of the path. Where we had turned left towards the interesting bits before, what we should have done is carried on straight for 20m meters or so and stayed well within site of the fabulous views of the car park, silly me for thinking it would have been in the actual Abbott’s Wood.

Although I was mesmerised by the wonderful views of the car park, I very quickly had to drag my attention back to the path as it was an absolute mess. There is no way that anyone in their right mind could call it accessible. I would like to know the genius behind the idea to basically tarmac a path around carpark and call it the accessible trail?! Honestly, is that what the Forestry England think we should be happy with? A quick lap around a carpark and a couple of benches that wheelchair users can’t even use!! And there is no way that that path was 800m long, not even the day it was laid. Oof…that was another rant, but also a worthy one.

(Here is the video of the 2nd part of the 800m tarmac circuit near the forest ”)

One of the saddest parts of this visit was my attempt to get to the busy picnic area. The bit where there is grass and benches and play equipment for children. I tried many different ways to see if there was a way for me to get to that part, without hurting myself or breaking my scooter and there wasn’t. So, what does that mean for all those mums, dads, family and friends that are not able to walk there? It means that they just simply must miss out, go and have a lap of the “800m tarmac circuit near the forest” whilst everyone else gets to play and eat in the lovely grassy meadow.

I will say that Abbott’s wood is a beautiful place, and if you have an off-road scooter then definitely make your way there. If you have a Standard wheelchair, powerchair or scooter I hope this blog gives you the tools to manage your expectations of your day out.

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Thank you!

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