Travel: When it's even more of a challenge...

You don't have to be in training for the Paralympics to get active. Rupert Isaacson reviews outdoor centres for the disabled
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The Independent Travel
THE GREAT outdoors is not the exclusive domain of the able-bodied. Disabled people can participate in just about every outdoor sport on offer in the UK through a growing number of outdoor centres specialising in special needs.

The Bendriggs Trust, near Kendal, Cumbria, is a charity-run residential activity centre specialising in courses and holidays for special needs groups. All courses are tailored to suit the group and are supervised byqualified instructors. Groups get about six hours of tuition per day in rock climbing and abseiling, archery, orienteering, caving, canoeing and dinghy sailing. There are also some pure fun activities such as a tube-slide and an adventure course. Courses run from two to seven days but activities can also be booked by the day. The centre is based in a large old whitewashed Victorian farmhouse and has been running since 1978.

Also in the Lakes and with sister centres in Northumbria and Exmoor, the Calvert Trust offers the lot: rock climbing and abseiling, canoeing, riding and carriage driving, dinghy sailing, kayaking, mountain biking, orienteering, quad biking, paragliding and windsurfing. There is also plenty to do in the evenings, including table-tennis, a disco and swimming lessons. The centres can cope with most forms of disability - physical, motor, sensory and mental - and each has about 11 outdoor instructors as well as experienced caring and nursing staff. Based in old stone farmhouses, they accommodate up to 40 people each in en suite rooms and dorms. There are also separate bunkhouses. Courses can be tailored to individual needs.

The Whitworth Water Ski Centre near Rochdale specialises in teaching people with disabilities. This is a non-residential centre, though help can be given in booking local accommodation, and clients will need their own transport to get to and fro. Advanced booking is recommended. Phone on the day to check conditions.

Down in the West Country, Churchtown Outdoor Adventure Centre coaches beginners with either mental or physical disabilities and specialises in people with cerebral palsy. A range of activities are available including sailing, canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling, fishing, orienteering and hillwalking plus eco-field studies. There are six permanent instructors and the centre accepts groups of up to 55.

If you'd rather get out on the ocean, the Jubilee Sailing Trust offers tall ship sailing aboard the charity-owned Lord Nelson for the physically disabled and able-bodied - it aims for a 50:50 mix, not including the 10-man permanent crew. The ship is romantic - 55 metres long with three tall masts - and the two-berth cabins have been adapted for wheelchair users. Voyages last from three to 12 days and all clients are fully active as crew members. Navigation and chart work are also taught. Once on board everything is included and voyages, some of which visit Ireland and France, depart from several ports. Doctors and watch leaders get a 50 per cent discount on the cost of the voyage.

Also specialising in sailing is the Christian-oriented Medina Valley Centre on the Isle of Wight. It has been operating since 1963 and while its requirements for good behaviour might put off would-be buccaneers, it is well-regarded. Its sailing for the disabled courses use specially designed yachts that enable the physically handicapped to sail independently and on equal terms with the able-bodied crew members. Courses can be designed either by the day or on a residential basis of up to two weeks.

Back on land, the Stackpole Centre is situated on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast in Wales. It has sandy beaches, cliffs and castles within easy reach plus an indoor and outdoor sports complex. Activities include open Canadian canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing and abseiling, orienteering, coasteering and archery. There is an indoor pool, gym and whirlpool. Clients can visit by the day or for longer breaks, staying in the centre's cottages, houses or hotel, attached to the main complex. There is cheap camping nearby.

Also in Wales, Powys's Red Ridge Outdoor Centre offers rock climbing and abseiling, caving, open Canadian canoeing, kayaking, orienteering and archery for the disabled as well as all-terrain go-karts and mini tractors. With up to 15 instructors in the summer, this is a large centre that can cater for groups of up to 100, depending on the level of instruction required. The centre occupies a converted farm in Montgomeryshire. Day visitors are welcome, but the centre specialises in six-night, four-night and weekend breaks that give clients time to discover where their proficiencies lie.

The three Welsh, Scottish and Lakeland Outward Bound centres run courses under the umbrella heading of "John Hawkridge Challenge" which are tailored to meet the needs of disabled groups. These cover, where possible, the full range of activities offered by the Outward Bound - hillwalking, climbing and abseiling, canoeing and other activities where appropriate, tailored to group needs.

Finally there is the Share Holiday Village in Liskeard, Northern Ireland. Founded 15 years ago, the centre is set in the Fermanagh lake country and offers dinghy sailing, canoeing, archery and rowing in a Viking longship for all levels of competence. As well as about five hours per day of outdoor education, guests may use the centre's leisure pool complex, sauna and steam room and the indoor and outdoor play areas. Choose between full board and self-catering packages.

disabled activities fact file

Bendrigg Trust, Bendrigg Lodge, Old Hutton, Kendal, Cumbria LA8 0NR. Tel: 01539 723766; Fax: 01539 722446.

Whitworth Water Ski Centre, Tong Lane, Whitworth, Rochdale, Lancashire OL12 8BE. Tel: 01706 852534.

Calvert Trust, Little Crosthwaite, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 4QD. Tel: 017687 72254; Fax: 017687 73941; Kielder Water, Hexham, Northumberland NE48 1BS. Tel: 01434 250232; Fax: 01434 250015; Wistlandpound Farm, Kentisbury, Barnstable, Devon EX31 4SJ. Tel: 01598 763221.

Medina Valley Centre, Dodnor Lane, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 5TE. Tel: 01983 522195; Fax: 01983 825962.

Outward Bound Trust, Watermillock, Nr Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0JL. Tel: 0990 134227; Fax: 017684 86963.

The Red Ridge Centre, Cefn Coch, Welshpool, Powys SY21 OAZ. Tel 01938 810821; Fax 01938 810767

Churchtown Outdoor Adventure Centre, Lanlivery, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 5BT. Tel: 01208 872148; Fax: 01208 873 377.

Jubilee Sailing Trust, Test Road, Eastern Docks, Southamp-ton, Hampshire S014 3GG. Tel: 01703 449108; Fax: 01703 638625.

Share Holiday Village, Smith Strand, Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland BT92 OE2. Tel: 013657 22122/21892; Fax: 013657 21893.

Stackpole Centre, Home Farm, Stackpole, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, SA71 5DQ. Tel: 01646 661425; Fax: 01646 661456.