Welcome to Accessibility Reviews!

Find reviews of places to visit, places to stay and places to eat including information about their accessibility. The front page displays my latest blog post while other pages have links to the places I’ve reviewed. Use the search function if you are after somethings specific or have a look at the map. The links page has some useful websites as well as  a link to an interview I gave to Euan’s Guide, explaining why I set up Accessibility Reviews. Please use the comment function to add more detail to any of my posts – it all helps make this a useful resource for everyone!

Haringey on the Danube!

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

The Budapest Café Orchestra play a wonderful mix of Eastern European dance tunes, gypsy music, Kletzmer, even variations on classical tunes. None of the band are actually from Budapest but how they explain this and their general banter is great fun.

As I have said before, the National Centre for Early Music needs a decent sized band, ideally above three, to really fill the place with sound and the four incredibly accomplished and versatile members of this group certainly managed to do that with their double bass, accordion, violin and guitar (or sometimes balalaika) plus percussion.

I read somewhere that the NCEM had been given some funding to increase accessibility, so I was interested to see if there had been any changes. The only one I could see was that the gaps between the paving slabs up to the entrance (from Percy’s Lane) had been filled in, making it much smoother. I was disappointed that the thresholds hadn’t been changed, they still give you rather a jolt but in general the place is very accessible.

We had joined their Access Scheme and had booked a Blue Badge parking space but unfortunately when we arrived both the accessible spaces had a car in them, with no Blue Badge on so we just pulled up and decanted me then Pete parked up in the one remaining ordinary space.

I went inside and explained the situation to the person on reception who was most apologetic and made a note so we shall just have to see what happens next time. At the end of the concert, one of the accessible spaces came free so Pete moved to that so I could get in the car. By the time we left, even though we were amongst the last people there the car park was still almost full so I think they probably weren’t concertgoers but people sneakily using a convenient parking place.

Not an ideal situation but at least they are trying to have a good system in place. It’s good to support somewhere accessible and we have never had a disappointing evening at the NCEM.

I thoroughly recommend The Budapest Cafe Orchestra if they have a gig in your area, you are sure to have a fun evening!

More music reviews at the NCEM.

Revisiting familiar places

St Nicholas Fields

Recently we visited somewhere we’ve only been to once before at a different time of year, a couple of places we are very familiar with at all times of the year, somewhere completely new and somewhere we haven’t been to for 19 years!

Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings
Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings

All of them were great in different ways. It’s lovely to go somewhere that you’ve never been to before, as Fairburn Ings was for us, especially if you come away feeling that you would like to go back, that there is still more to explore.

Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings
Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings

It was also fascinating to visit the place we hadn’t been to for nearly 20 years, in this case St Nicholas Fields in York. They run all sorts of eco-themed events for kids and anyone who wants to get involved but it’s also a very peaceful and wildlife friendly place for a stroll. We lived very near it when it was first established and, as you can imagine, it looks very different now: little saplings are now fully grown trees!

St Nicholas Fields
St Nicholas Fields

That’s what I love about going back to familiar places: seeing how they have changed. When we went to Burnby Hall Gardens recently, I found that my memory of it was very hazy and it was actually much better than I remembered! This is partly because they have been developing it, creating new pathways, revamping the museum and generally making it more accessible.

The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens

Visiting places you are very familiar with could be seen as routine or dull but when it’s a garden or park, it’s different every time you go. When we lived near Rowntree Park we probably averaged a visit every week and while we don’t now go there as frequently as that, we know it well enough to notice small changes and developments.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

It’s great to see that at least some of the roses planted next to the pergola have grown up the posts and over the top like they’re supposed to. I expect a lot of the children who visit would agree that the totem pole and ‘chess piece’ horse (if not perhaps the helmet which never seems to receive much attention) are fun additions to the park. The flowerbeds seemed to be doing very well on our last visit and there is always something of interest, whatever the time of year.

The pergola, Rowntree Park
The pergola, Rowntree Park

The University of York campus also changes all the time, although that is often because new buildings are being added but it is still very pleasant with plenty of wildlife and good paths.

Tree maintenance going on at York Uni
Tree maintenance going on at York Uni

More and more, I feel inclined to give my time and money, if we are talking about somewhere with an entry fee, to places that have made an effort to make themselves accessible to all, rather than ones that have made what seems to be more of a token gesture. There are also places which are reasonably accessible but it’s just not that convenient for me anymore such as ones where you really need to be use a proper overland type scooter because of the terrain, such as Golden Acre Park or Temple Newsam near Leeds or Thorp Perrow Arboretum near Bedale. If you can manage a large mobility scooter and cope with some jolts and bumps over the rough terrain, I still thoroughly recommend them.

Thorp Perrow
Thorp Perrow

It’s a bit cold now for visiting outdoor places – fine you are walking briskly but rather too chilly if you are sitting on a scooter! I’m already planning and looking forward to next year’s excursions though!

Here are some more accessible places to visit.

Fairburn Ings – huge wetlands, somewhat wetter than usual!

Distant views, Fairburn Ings

It had occurred to me that after all this rain, Fairburn Ings might be flooded but it was a lovely sunny day so we thought we’d go anyway.

Distant views, Fairburn Ings
Distant views, Fairburn Ings

Fairburn is quite near Ledsham where we have been to the Chequers Inn on many occasions and is easily accessible from the A1.

It was steeper than this looks!
It was steeper than this looks!

The Ings are managed by the RSPB and they have reclaimed former coal mine spoil tips to create different types of habitats for a variety of wildlife.

Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings
Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings

The paths are generally quite fine gravel and there are also boardwalks. Most of the boardwalk areas were inaccessible due to flooding but the small bit we were able to do, part of the duck and swan feeding platform, was a great surface. We could have explored much further around the site than we did but it would have involved a long and quite steep slope so we just admired the view and turned around. There are various hides, all of which have level entry. There is really good access information on their website.

Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings
Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings

The visitors’ centre has level access and a power-assisted door and sells lots of RSPB gifts as well as birdfeeders and food. It doesn’t have a cafe but it does have a coffee machine and snacks and a little seating area where you can eat or drink. There are loos including a unisex accessible one.

Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings
Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings

The staff member who welcomed us was really helpful, pointing out on the map which parts of the Ings were best for wheelchair users and which were not flooded!

Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings
Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings

Entry is free for members of the RSPB and for Blue Badge holders (non-members are charged £4 per car).

This is definitely a place to revisit once the floods have receded!

Fairburn Ings
Fairburn Ings

Here are some more accessible places to visit.

Accessible adventures in Northumberland!

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

A great cottage, Alnwick Garden and Barter Books!

Our summer holiday this year was a very modest affair but really relaxing and restorative just as a holiday should be.

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover
Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

We had decided ages ago that we would “staycation” this year in anticipation of Brexit-related chaos after the previous deadline of 31 March (is that right? It’s all such a mess!). I don’t know if it’s because we therefore weren’t geared up to a longer holiday or to going abroad or whether I/we would have felt like this anyway but the thought of a long journey, even one broken up into stages (or perhaps particularly one broken up into stages with several different places to stay) would have been an utterly exhausting prospect!

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

As it was, the journey up to Doxford Cottages only took three hours. We started out on the A1 but as there were signs flashing up that there was congestion ahead we switched to the A19 for a while. There was sunshine and showers on the way with one particularly monsoon-like downpour, fortunately not in heavy traffic, when even the wipers in superfast mode couldn’t cope. That meant it was particularly lovely to arrive at the cottage, Fox Cover, in sunshine!

Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

I’m sure any wheelchair user would agree that it’s also quite a relief to arrive at an unknown destination and find that it is, indeed, wheelchair accessible.

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

One of the first things we spotted on arriving was a really cute little rabbit and we saw plenty more during the week as well as various other wildlife spots, including a weasel, a mouse, woodpeckers, squirrels (they used to have red squirrels which would have been lovely but grey ones are appealing too!) nuthatches, chaffinches, lots of rooks and also bats.

Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!
Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!

Our delivery from Food Heaven arrived so we were all set for a relaxing time. I’d been having a somewhat stressful time at work so the complete switch off was very necessary. I barely looked at my personal emails and certainly didn’t access work ones or accessed any social media and we just caught the headlines on television now and again.

Peaceful surroundings at Doxford Cottages
Peaceful surroundings at Doxford Cottages

Reading, doing puzzles and jigsaws was the order of the day. Yes, it’s tame but it was also blissful.

There are a number of accessible things to do in the area. Knowing that the weather was not going to be terribly good, we had only really planned to go to the Alnwick Garden and to the coast.

The weather did exactly what was forecast: it rained solidly all Sunday but we had planned to just relax that day anyway. On Monday we went to Barter Books, a huge second-hand book shop in the old station in Alnwick. It has a slightly bumpy threshold but is accessible and has an accessible loo and a few designated parking bays right outside the door.

Accessible and entrance to Barter Books, Alnwick
Accessible and entrance to Barter Books, Alnwick

We have been here before but not for a few years; they have developed the café since our last visit but there is still the same relaxed atmosphere and, of course, thousands of books!

The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden
The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden

The next day, as the forecast was good we headed to Alnwick Garden (see my separate, more detailed review). I had read reviews of this on Euan’sGuide and knew it was accessible, which indeed it was as long as you don’t mind a bumpy ride. Many of the surfaces were very uneven but it was a pleasant visit overall and the walled garden is really attractive. I contacted the gardens once we were home and they said that improving the path surfaces is part of their development plans and they are going to include millions of fibre-optic lights in them so that the gardens can open at night.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens
The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

Another day we explored the coast which is lovely and unspoiled with huge sandy beaches and big skies. We went as far as Bamburgh, an immensely impressive castle which we had visited before when I was perfectly mobile so this time we just admired the outside. I’m afraid I’ve been a very bad blogger and not taken anything like enough photographs.

The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden
The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden

Because these days doing lots of visits is quite tiring, it’s really important to us to have a cottage with pleasant surroundings and preferably a good view. This cottage has that in spades and we have even booked to go back next year. It’s important for us to get cottages booked up in plenty of time as there are not that many cottages which are exactly suitable and with the sort of surroundings we want. We had rather hoped we would be able to book it for a short break but it was only available to book for a whole week during the times when we want to go so we decided to go back next summer. I promise I will take more photos next year!

Here are some more of our Accessible Adventures!

A garden especially for this time of year!

There are a few gates to negotiate

Breezy Knees Gardens has a September Garden which is a sight to behold. I really recommend these gardens for everybody but they are especially good if you are on wheels.

Even the approach to Breezy Knees Gardens is colourful!
Even the approach to Breezy Knees Gardens is colourful!

We visited Breezy Knees before, in August 3 years ago so it was interesting to see how it has developed. As you might imagine, this time the September Garden was at its peak and looking really fabulous and colourful.

September Garden, Breezy Knees
September Garden, Breezy Knees

In other parts of the gardens, there were still plenty of roses and myriad other plants: I suspect there will be something of interest at any time of year.

There are a few gates to negotiate
There are a few gates to negotiate

This time, instead of using my scooter, I used my Powerchair which did mean that we had to avoid some of the paths as they would have been too rough. Dilemma! I am less keen on using the scooter these days, preferring the chair but the scooter makes accessing the loo rather difficult. Using the chair mean some of the paths would be very bumpy but you can more easily access the loo if you need it!

Rather narrow loo doorway!
Rather narrow loo doorway!
Accessible loo, Breezy Knees
Accessible loo, Breezy Knees
The car park, Breezy Knees
The car park, Breezy Knees

The car park is still very rough with loose pebbles although someone if else was driving they could pull up next to where the tarmac path starts to drop you off then move the car.

You could use this as a drop-off point if the gravel car park is a problem
You could use this as a drop-off point if the gravel car park is a problem

There was less of a bump entering the reception/shop than I remembered. Exiting it there is rather a bump which, because of the way the threshold is designed would have been worse coming back through but the staff member serving us said she would be happy to open the gate for us when we left.

Plenty of autumn colour at Breezy Knees
Plenty of autumn colour at Breezy Knees

This is where the difference between a manual wheelchair and a Powerchair is crucial: a manual wheelchair can be tipped to get over the threshold, whereas a Powerchair can’t and many places which say they are wheelchair accessible are not actually accessible with a Powerchair.

What can I say?
What can I say?

Staff attitudes are hugely important. This place is clearly trying to make itself accessible (there are also plenty of benches for anyone on foot who needs a rest) and the staff are welcoming, friendly and helpful. Their website says that any new areas will have tarmac paths. I’m quite happy with gravel as long as it’s the really fine type called self-binding gravel and even grass is fine as long as it’s firm, although of course this depends on the weather.

Gravel path, Breezy Knees
Gravel path, Breezy Knees

This visit was a lovely experience all round: seeing so many beautiful flowers and shrubs was very restorative in these chaotic times!

September Garden, Breezy Knees
September Garden, Breezy Knees

Here are some more accessible places to visit.

Possibly the best cottage yet?

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

We might have found our favourite cottage of all, plus some thoughts on what adjustments should owners of accessible cottages make?

Do you come over all ‘hotel inspector’ when you stay somewhere? We tend to, whether it’s a hotel, B&B or cottage, but with Fox Cover at Doxford Cottages, there’s not much you could improve on!

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover
Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

A cottage for two, it has a spacious sitting room / dining room / kitchen, large bedroom, bathroom with both a bath and a roll-in shower and there is also a conservatory to sit in which overlooks the private garden and the woods beyond.

Looking out from the courtyard garden at Fox Cover
Looking out from the courtyard garden at Fox Cover

It is one of nine cottages created from the old coach house and stables on the Doxford estate in Northumberland, all of which have beautiful décor. It was clean, comfortable and very well equipped, including up-to-date local information.

Fox Cover is fully accessible, being step-free and with wide doorways. There were grab rails in the bathroom by the shower and the loo. Inevitably, everybody needs rails in different places but it did strike me as slightly odd that the ones in the bathroom were placed as if you were left-handed. In the shower area, the rails were on the left if you were to use them to stand up from the shower seat (provided on request) as were the shower controls and there was no drop-down rail to the right of the loo to lean on when standing up but there was one on the left. There is a recommended setup for loos and washbasins that many holiday cottages don’t adhere to it. In some cases I think this is so that the loo can be used by people who prefer either a right-hand or left-hand transfer but I suspect it ends up being not ideal for anybody. Perhaps cottage owners should simply state whether it is a right-hand or left-hand transfer or even create an accessible cottage for each configuration. Anyway, we coped but for many disabled people, the bathroom arrangements are a deal breaker. It staggers me that some places advertising themselves as disabled-friendly don’t provide photos of the bathroom. Having said that, I have been very remiss in not photographing the cottage interior myself – there are pictures on their website though.

Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!
Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!

The owners have some equipment they can lend and are happy to answer questions – I asked about the height of the bed, for example. A bit high for me so we used a portable step. As a general principal, I think providing normal height furniture should be the rule, with the possibility of ‘raisers’ if people need different heights. Having said that, a lowered hob in the kitchen would have been useful. This sort of adjustment makes things accessible for everybody: lowered kitchen surfaces are not inconvenient for non-wheelchair users.

I really appreciated that I could sit at the dining table in my power chair with no problem. In the past two places we stayed, Normandy last summer and Norfolk at Easter, we had to prop the table up on books which was far from ideal. The dressing table was also a good height for a wheelchair user. At Valley View in Herefordshire the height of the dressing table was adjustable!

Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

You can park right outside the cottage on the tarmac driveway to unpack or for drop-off and pickup but you need to move car to a gravelled area for more longer term parking. This was fine for us as Pete does the driving but if a wheelchair-user was the driver and couldn’t negotiate the gravel this could be problematic.

The lake, Doxford Cottages
The lake, Doxford Cottages

For the more mobile, there is a track down to a lake in the grounds. There was quite a lot of flooding when we were there but even without that you would need a sturdy all-terrain scooter to explore the estate.

The path to the lake, Doxford Cottages
The path to the lake, Doxford Cottages

The Doxford Cottages website has loads of useful information (although not an accessibility statement) such as what you will find in your cottage including a welcome pack of a bottle of wine, local honey, some tea and coffee and a pint of milk. They also mentioned a local company, Food Heaven that provides meals and other food items delivered to your cottage. We ordered three different ready meals and quite a few other items such as ham, eggs, bread, fruit and vegetables. A very friendly delivery driver turned up with it just after we’d arrived and helped to unpack: if you aren’t there they unpack it and put things in the fridge, bread bin etc. I’m not sure I would recommend them particularly though – the meals were tasty but the other things weren’t particularly special. Although it’s good to use local shops and services, it’s no good if the items aren’t things you would choose anyway and shops aren’t always accessible. There are supermarkets in Alnwick to stock up – we went to the local Sainsbury’s during the week which is very modern and accessible.

Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!
Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!

Although it rained quite a lot, we had lovely sunshine for our trips out and just chilled out on other days with books, magazines, puzzles and, yes, a jigsaw and did plenty of sitting outside in the peace and quiet. Even before we had entered the cottage we had spotted a rabbit and saw many more during the week plus a weasel, mouse, at least one woodpecker everyday – sometimes two or three at once! – nuthatches and half a dozen or more chaffinches plus, on the last evening, bats flying around! There are seed feeders opposite the sitting room window which are refilled every day.

Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!
Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!

I did feel a little bit inclined to keep this place to myself as it is so nice but as we have booked it for a week next summer already, I may as well share!

The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden
The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden

There are a number of accessible things to do nearby – we visited Barter Books in Alnwick and the Alnwick Garden, reviewed separately. The coast is lovely too and we will try out some more places next year.

The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden
The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden

Click here for more accessible places to stay.

Accessible, yes, but I wouldn’t go back.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

The Alnwick Garden prides itself on its accessibility but what a bumpy ride!

We enjoyed our visit to The Alnwick Garden: the weather was sunny. the walled garden is lovely and it was good to see somewhere with accessibility designed into it from the start but some of the path surfaces were so bumpy that it was rather annoying. There are lots of very positive reviews on Euan’sGuide so I feel a bit ”bah, humbug” being negative but I found the constant jolting very tiring.

The Grand Cascade, Alnwick Garden
The Grand Cascade, Alnwick Garden

A couple of years ago, I think I would just have been grateful that somewhere was accessible. Now, I tend to question why places aren’t more accessible and what could be done about it? I’ve emailed the gardens on the subject.

Entrance to the Ornamental Garden
Entrance to the Ornamental Garden

The walled Ornamental Garden at the top of the slope is very attractive as is the Rose Garden and there were lovely wild flowers by the side of the path as you came down through the Cherry Orchard, but that’s not enough to draw me back. It’s designed to be very child-friendly and there were plenty of children really enjoying the little streams in the Ornamental Garden, the various fountains in the Serpent Garden and the swings in the Cherry Orchard, in fact some families were literally camped out on the lawn area below the Grand Cascade but I didn’t see much interest in the giant-themed features such as a huge pair of boots or a giant-sized pie, perhaps because of the notices warning you not to climb on them.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens
The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

It is clearly a very commercial setup: there is a large shop and cafe, all very accessible and the plant centre, in fact many of the plants around the gardens had signs saying that they were available to buy in the shop. On the other hand, they also do lots of community outreach such as activities for over 55s and for young people. They also lend out wheelchairs and mobility scooters which you should book in advance.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens
The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

We arrived by car and followed signs for Accessible Parking. There are many members of staff in attendance to help and I’m pretty sure we were directed to a general parking area but as the staff were aware of our Blue Badge we had plenty of space as the next car parked leaving us ample room. Apparently there is designated Blue Badge parking but this was the summer holidays so perhaps it was full. It was up hill from there to the ticket office (we hadn’t booked in advance) then through the main gates onto the terrace with plenty of café tables and a view of the Grand Cascade. We had been given a map of the gardens with the accessible routes marked but still managed to get a bit lost as we made our way to look at the Serpent Garden and Rose Garden. I think maybe I slightly missed the point of the fountains in the Serpent Garden, they just seemed a bit dull to me! We wound our way through woodland to the top of the slope on fairly good paths: other reviewers comment on this being rather hard going for those pushing somebody in a wheelchair but at least there are benches all round the gardens for a rest.

The slope down through the Cherry Orchard
The slope down through the Cherry Orchard

The Ornamental Garden at the top is absolutely lovely with little streams, good paths everywhere and some beautiful flowers and shrubs.

From there along to the Cherry Orchard the path was rather rough and then the snaking path through the orchard was very rough indeed as the tarmac surface had been worn away in many places plus the bends are quite sharp so you had to concentrate on your steering. Towards the bottom, there were some beautiful wildflowers growing amongst the grass.

Wild flowers, Alnwick Garden
Wild flowers, Alnwick Garden

Once we were on the flat we then encountered the worst bit of path of the lot near the Poison Garden. This had a queue so we gave it a miss.

We had a look in the shop which was light, airy and spacious with lots of souvenirs, gardening books, some tools (very decorative and expensive!) the usual jams and chutneys and also a small exhibition by a local artist. We didn’t partake of anything in the café which was ‘food-court’ style: different outlets but with central tables which I think were wheelchair-friendly. There were also some very civilised accessible loos, accessed via a spacious lift to the basement level. There are other accessible loos around the site. Apparently the Treehouse tearooms are also accessible via a ramp.

The Ornamental Garden
The Ornamental Garden

It was a pleasant visit and I would happily visit the Ornamental Garden again but wouldn’t be inclined to pay the entrance fee just for that! It’s great that access has been built in to the place, it is far more than just a token effort but I feel less and less inclined these days to accept poor access and to me, being constantly jolted constitutes poor access. I’ll be interested to see their reply to my email about the path surfaces. I’ll keep you posted!

Click here for more accessible places to visit.