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A countryside view on the walk
Guide dog Kendal leads the way at Uffculme
By Jo Bishop
This walk from Uffculme in mid Devon is one of 25 recommended by BBC Radio Devon listeners to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It was suggested by Tilly Trotter who enjoys walking it with her guide dog Kendal.
As a registered blind person, Tilly Trotter has never let her limited vision stand in the way of her love of adventure and indeed walking.
I first met her in 2003, when with her then guide dog Dalby, and two young friends, she undertook the 180-mile Tarka Trail in north Devon, raising many thousands of pounds for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
It was a challenge she repeated in 2006 with new guide dog Kendal and her family.
Though I'd walked with Tilly for a short section of both trips, we were always surrounded by people and I never appreciated what it means for her to walk without a sighted companion.
She places her trust for route-finding and hazards to her sure-footed and road safety conscious four-legged friend.
She suggested this scenic route following lanes, fields and footpaths overlooking the village because, as she explained: "It's a walk that as a blind person I can do with my guide dog, just the two of us alone.
Kendal gives Tilly her independence
"We don't need anybody with us because we know exactly where every blade of grass is really."
We set off from Tilly's home in the main street of Uffculme. It's a short step from here to the village square, where most visitors would start this walk. A short step yes, but for Tilly and Kendal already many potential hazards to negotiate.
The walk started with a routine Tilly always follows: "Whenever I go out with my guide dog, before we leave the house I have to tell him where we are going," she said.
"All our walks have got names, so this one is called Clay Lane. He knows now that we are going to Clay Lane."
Then with a "forward, good boy," we were off with Kendal leading the way. Just minutes before he'd been playing with my dog Bella, but with the harness on he was immediately in working mode.
"He usually makes sure that the road is clear. He looks both ways and if it's clear he will take me across," said Tilly.
Two bicycles in the distance later proved this point, when Kendal protectively put his head in front of Tilly and refused to budge until they'd gone past.
"It's amazing. People say that dogs aren't intelligent, people who don't know, but they are, they are very intelligent."
Coming up to the square, Kendal again refused to move while parked vehicles had their engines running. And where there was an obstruction, he carefully led Tilly a different way, which they could both pass through safely.
Tilly said: "Sometimes people flash their lights and wave their arms for me to go and of course I can't see that. I rely on Kendal."
From the square, pass the Co-op on your left, and keep to this top road, effectively High Street, as it heads away from the village centre. Take the second turning left, marked Clay Lane.
Tilly was shown the walk by local youngsters
On this quieter road, I asked Tilly how she came to know the walk well enough to complete it on her own.
"Back in 2003 two boys from the village, then aged 14, said they'd take me for a walk. They brought me around here and showed me how to open gates and where it was safe for my guide dog to get under fences. They were brilliant.
"The amazing thing was they took me through the village past all their friends and they didn't take any notice of the comments all the other boys made. They were quite determined to achieve what they planned. Of course, all the youngsters talk to me now, which is nice."
Clay Lane is a steepish rise out of the village. A field gate to the right of the T-junction provides a good opportunity to stop and look back at the view.
The route continues uphill and to the left, passing a quarry on the right. Soon it levels out and shortly, at Hillhead Farm, a footpath sign directs you left, through a metal gate, down a field track.
You're now heading downhill with views over the Culm valley. It's not long before you encounter a stile. Here Tilly lets Kendal off, giving him a break from the harness, but again with a set routine each time.
"When I let him off I put his bells on and blow the whistle three times.
"In the morning when he has his food he has to sit and look at his bowl full of food until I blow the whistle three times because I have to know that if I am on my own, if I blow the whistle he will come back.
"That's very important. So we go through a little ritual here before we go over the stile."
Tilly feels her way over the stile and then counts 15 steps left to pick up the path through the centre of the field. She has a slight blurred peripheral vision which enables her to roughly make for an oak tree at the far side.
The path leads into a second field and ahead to a stile. Kendal must go back on the lead briefly to cross the busy road, but once over the stile opposite is allowed off again.
"I feel that where it's safe for him and safe for me, it's very good for a dog to run free," said Tilly. "Because then you get a rounded personality. If they are always on the harness then I think they get a bit depressed."
Kendal clearly enjoyed being off the leash, but never strayed far from Tilly’s side, and sat patiently while we chatted.
Kendal takes a well earned rest after the walk
"You can see what a guide dog does for somebody like me. It gives me complete independence," said Tilly. "I trust him and he is never far away.
"They are utterly amazing. I am just so lucky to be able to have my independence."
There are 5,000 working guide dog partnerships in the UK and it costs £37,000 to train each dog.
Like all guide dog owners, Tilly paid a nominal 'owners fee' for her guide dogs of 50p – the cost is set at a low rate to make it affordable for everyone.
She has worked tirelessly to raise money for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – an organisation she is passionate about.
The path continues between high fences – to the right a deer park, left Uffculme School - and then passes to the rear of a housing estate, dropping downhill, back to the main street through the village.
Turning left will lead you to the square. If you wish, a pleasant addition to the walk would be to turn right here and follow signs left to Coldharbour Mill, a 200-year-old working wool museum.
You can then pick up a path to the right of the River Culm and at the next bridge turn left for the square.
We made our way back to Tilly's home, where her first thought was to give Kendal a well earned drink of water.
"This really does give me a sense of achievement when I get home after that walk," she said. "Because I feel that he has looked after me so beautifully and really how very lucky I am that the boys showed me how to negotiate all the hazards.
"I have great respect for them. People say the young are irresponsible, but if they are given the opportunity they do shine."
last updated: 26/06/2008 at 13:41
Tilly's Uffculme walk
Start/finish grid reference: ST 067 127
How to get to the start: Uffculme is close to junction 27 of the M5. Access is via the A38 and B3440. There is public transport to the town.
Distance: 1.75 miles.
Duration: 1 hour. Allow extra time to explore Coldharbour Mill.
Terrain: Footpaths, fields and tarmac lanes.
Additional information: There are shops, pubs and facilities in the village.
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