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REBECCA BAIRD: Arbroath cliff trail showed me the importance of accessible adventure

When visiting Seaton Cliffs for the first time with her partner and his mother, Rebecca discovered how important accessibility is for Scotland's beauty spots.

Rebecca at Deil's Heid in Arbroath. Image: Supplied/DC Thomson.
Rebecca at Deil's Heid in Arbroath. Image: Supplied/DC Thomson.

A path is an easy thing to take for granted.

I consider myself very lucky that aside from a chronic propensity for clumsiness, I’ve never had a problem navigating the ground underneath me.

In fact, my gran used to tease me that I had a “good grip of Scotland” whenever I got new school shoes, my feet were so big.

But as a teen, my big long feet and inclination towards chunky boots meant I was always ready to stomp my way through any terrain, whether it was the wild jungles of the school corridors or the woods outside my house.

So when it comes to things like hikes, nature walks or general rambling across our beautiful area, I haven’t ever thought too much about the state of things underfoot.

I just haven’t had to.

But last weekend, I gained a new appreciation for the wonder offered by a well-made path.

My partner’s mother was visiting from down south, and naturally we wanted to show her all our favourite walks and beauty spots that Tayside has to offer.

Unfortunately, as a warrior locked in a lifelong battle with rheumatoid arthritis, she’s not always totally steady on her feet.

Planning our adventures, I began metaphorically walking in her shoes.

And suddenly everywhere I looked, staircases and slippery slopes abounded.

Uneven ground, steep climbs or scrambling leaps across burns are part and parcel of most of my usual weekend adventures, but that’s out of the question for someone with mobility issues.

Seaton Cliffs, at Arbroath, is one place that had been our list for a long time, but as we’d never been, we didn’t know if it was going to be accessible.

However, all three of us were keen to give it a go, so we jumped in the car with hopes at a cautious half mast and the promise of fish and chips if the plan didn’t pan out.

Needless to say, we never made it to the chippy.

Iconic walk was so easy to get to

Because not only is the Seaton Cliff trail an absolute feast of beautiful views, fascinating geology and rich nature – it is totally, completely paved.

Let’s start at the start: parking. We were delighted to find that not only is the (free!) car park directly at the foot of the cliff trail, there are toilet facilities and even a couple of food and drink trucks in the car park.

Plus there’s the option for non-drivers to get a bus to within a 15 minute walk of the car park. Access starts with transport and facilities, and that box was well and truly ticked.

Before the initial incline, a colourful, easy-to-read map lays out the different landmarks along the coastal path, including the unmistakable Needle’s Eye, the cavernous Mermaid’s Kirk, noisy Gull Island and of course, the iconic Deil’s Heid rock.

Rebecca’s group stopped at the Flairs to take in the view. Image: Supplied.

Next to the map, a guide outlining roughly how long it takes to walk to different landmarks along the trail allows inexperienced visitors to gauge how far the full walk actually is (around 90 minutes from one end to the other, at a moderate pace).

We found this really useful, as we were able to decide when would be most suitable to turn back before we set off, meaning we weren’t constantly clock watching and were able to settle into the gorgeous walk.

And then there’s the trail itself.

Room for every kind of adventure on Seaton Cliffs

Though there aren’t railings, the path is pretty smooth, with only one puddly ‘pothole’ encountered on our dry ramble.

It was narrow in parts, but wide enough for me or my partner to walk side by side with his mum to support her when needed.

And there were benches and passing places spaced at regular intervals, just off the main path, so that we could take turns catching our breath without holding up anyone behind us.

At one point, the three of us stood slack-jawed for ages as we watched a cliff-jumper backflipping off the treacherous rocks into a pool so far below, we couldn’t see it by peering over the edge – only hear the spine-tingling thump of him hitting the surface.

The path around the Arbroath cliffs.

I held my breath until his companion, still up on the cliff, broke into smiles and applause.

Because there’s certainly no sense of the place being tamed by man beyond the one tended path.

But we also passed several folk using walking aids or mobility scooters to traverse the cliff edge.

And as we three marvelled at the turquoise waves crashing up against the distinctive red rocks, it struck me how seldom I see people with mobility issues in such rugged, wild settings.

Disability shouldn’t write off exploration

It seems a shame that so much of Scotland’s beauty is cut off from people because there are no accessible paths to it.

Disabled nature lovers deserve better from a country which prides itself on its stunning natural scenery.

Rebecca Baird, her partner and her partner’s mum on the Arbroath Seaton Cliffs trail. Image: Supplied.

Of course, the nature of the land means that’s not always possible.

But sharing the beautiful Arbroath seascape with my loved ones is a memory I’ll cherish. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable, and that’s huge.

So I’m really grateful for the fact that the Seaton Cliffs trail was well-tended enough by the Scottish Wildlife Trust that we were all able to see it with our own eyes – and walk it with our own feet.