Taking a stroll in the countryside may be the normal thing to do if you live near or in rural areas. For me, although I live near the Seven Corn Fields on the edge of Wolverhampton, it is still a struggle because of disability.
Realistically to be able to enjoy the countryside you need to be fit and healthy. For many disabled people, this is very challenging, especially for those people who use a wheelchair. I know many disabled people who have never been into the countryside to have a relaxing wander. Only in parks and on specially adapted paths can access be given to people who have little or no walking ability.
From childhood I have had an interest in birds and nature. I was lucky to learn so much in my early years at Penn Hall Special School because the concentration was not academic. The gardens at the school were amazing, full of trees, bushes, lawns and flowerbeds. There was even a small wood and a pond, which fascinated me.
Being in the Young Ornithologist Club, I knew most of the birds’ names at age 10. The school staff would often take groups of children, all of whom had various disabilities, into the countryside to learn about the habitats of birds and animals. I loved this because I would never have had the opportunity living in a migrant family from India.
As I got older and joined mainstream school, all visits into the countryside sadly ended. My family didn’t understand my fascination with the natural world. However, this did not stop me from being aware of the birds and animals that surrounded me and lived in parks and my back garden.
Later on in life, when I got married and had my own children, my connection with nature was found again. We went on small holidays and days out with my husband and children into Shropshire, Wales, the Peak and Lake Districts. Although I needed extra support, my family was always there for me. All my knowledge of birds and nature came flooding back.
I know I would not be able to go alone into the countryside because of my walking and balancing difficulties. However, I still enjoy days out with my writer friends who support me and never let me fall down or get hurt. I love breathing in the fresh air, rain or shine, muddy or dry, and I feel I am connected.
I thoroughly enjoy going to Pant Writing Workshops, on the border of Shropshire and Wales, which are organised by Offa’s Press. It is a magical experience to be able to walk into the hills and winding paths filled with orchids, butterflies, birds and trees. I could never do this without the help of my friends.
And I wish everyone with or without a disability could experience these marvellous walks. I am very grateful to Offa’s Press, who have thought about getting all writers involved, no matter what their physical state may be.
My poem ‘Collecting Gems’ was first published in 2011 in ‘We’re All In This Together’, Offa’s Press.
A childhood full of memories close to nature.
I remember my first school; special and striking,
majestic gardens, woods crammed with creatures,
owls, lawns, hollies, great conifers, rhododendrons.
My attention lay among the green undergrowth;
nettles, reeds, marsh flowers and veined thorns,
in a ditch over a small stone moss-carpeted wall,
a little pond of tadpoles; speckled frogs on logs.
My favourite was the top lawn near the woods,
where the summer scents fed all my senses,
an earthy smell of wood, leaves, soil, vegetation,
dew drizzled roses and freshly mowed lawns.
Impatiently waiting for the bells to sing, “Play time!”
I would rush out blindly into the sparkling sunlight,
making my way up the stony stairs, on all fours,
to the row of horse chestnut and sycamore trees.
Up the bank, flat on my back on the shaded green,
gazing into the sky watching the chandelier flowers;
emerald stars waving at me through wispy breeze,
waiting for the ruddy diamond conkers to plunge.
The teacher told me it was too early, I did not believe.
I would wait every day for the conkers to drop down.
Then, finally, after the summer, the freshness decays;
rusty tints. I’d eagerly gather tarnished seeds like gems.