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!
It was rather chilly for outdoor exploring during our stay in Norfolk but the views from the car were magnificent! The North Norfolk coast is completely different to that of North Yorkshire, west of Sheringham it flattens out and there are no cliffs or rocky coves but lots of shingle beaches, sand dunes, marshes, wetlands and that huge, huge sky.
This was our second stay at Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages (now called Church Farm Barns), this time in The Little Workshop, a fully accessible cottage for four. Last time, we booked Stable Cottage but because of a problem with the heating, we were upgraded to The Big Workshop which had a lovely view so this time we booked the smaller next-door cottage in order to benefit from the same view which Stable Cottage doesn’t have.
All the cottages are accessible and of different sizes and there is plenty of equipment such as hoists or a profiling bed which the owners will hire out to you if required. The owners are really helpful and Lavinia makes a point of coming to welcome you and check that everything is all right.
Despite the name, The Little Workshop is really spacious with plenty of room to move around. Not quite perfect, however, as it’s not possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair but, as in Normandy last summer, we raised the legs on top of books which makes the table rather high but at least you can sit at it. Another small gripe would be that all the pillows were really thick ones: I ended up using a thin cushion instead as I couldn’t possibly have slept with my head on such a high pillow! Also, the mattress could do with replacing when they update the cottage: it was a little bit like hammock-like! I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or a disability thing, probably a bit of both, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with different domestic arrangements. Our house isn’t perfectly arranged, but at least I’m used to it and feel more confident there. Different furniture arrangements, positions of grab rails etc take a bit of getting used to. Sad, but true!
There was also an issue with getting out onto the patio as the threshold was rather high and there was a bit of a dip where a drainage grid had been put in which had maybe sunk a bit. We had found something similar with the Big Workshop, but with that cottage, you can exit through the front door and come around the side but this isn’t the case with the Little Workshop. We mentioned this to Lavinia and somebody brought a bit of board which we could put down to form a bridge between the rather high threshold, over the drainage grid and onto the patio itself. We tried it the next day and despite some overnight rain which had warped the board a bit, it worked a treat!
Another brilliant thing is that the cottages are really cosy, so unlike many of the quaint, old cottages we’ve stayed in, although I don’t see why they couldn’t be made to be as cosy as this as well!
We arrived on Friday and as I said, the weather was rather cold so on the Saturday we set out for a drive along the coast, heading first for Cromer then driving westwards past Sheringham then we came across the Cley Marshes Visitor Centre which looked like an accessible place so we decided to check it out. It strongly reminded us of The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre that we visited this time last year in Cumbria as it was built in a similar style with plenty of wood and glass and a ‘living roof’ and designed to be sustainable and accessible.
We managed to resist the cakes in the café, but they did look rather good! It’s run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and has a shop and café in the main building, accessed by a lift (one of those rather basic ones where you have to hold down the button as you go up or down) then there was a separate building with information about the work of the Trust and another building that was a hide with telescopes/binoculars that you could use although they were either too high or in front of the bench so accessing them from a wheelchair would have needed a bit of manoeuvring. There was also an exhibition in there by a local artist.
We continued on to Blakeney where we stopped for a pot of fresh seafood. I don’t think I’ve done that for years so it felt rather nostalgic! We continued on past Wells, past Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster then slightly past the turnoff back to the cottage in order to check out Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve which we thought we might visit the next day.
The weather continued to be rather iffy but we fancied more fresh air so the next day we did go to Titchwell. The staff were very helpful and explained that most of the path was slightly better than the path between the car park and the visitor centre which was indeed the case, not too bumpy and some of the way round there were boardwalks but most of the way was a rather rough path (failed to get a photo of the path, unfortunately). However, as it was starting to rain we decided to call it a day which was just as well as it started to chuck it down on our way home. Apparently, there are accessible hides at Titchwell but we didn’t make it that far!
It is, of course, really frustrating not to be able to go for a brisk walk and explore places like we used to but I can’t live my entire life being irritated by that situation or it would be miserable, so I just have to accept that we have to curtail what we do. Many of the visitors to Titchwell were all geared up for bad weather but I think even if I was completely able-bodied we wouldn’t have wanted to walk around in the rain anyway!
Nowadays, we usually choose accommodation with good views and this cottage has them in spades: the windows are huge to take advantage of them and it was fun spotting (and hearing!) the oystercatchers which live round about. We also wanted to feel like we had had a relaxing time, especially as my work is slightly stressful at the moment, so it was lovely to not check even ‘home’ emails but to read, do puzzles, listen to music, chat and just generally chill out.
The Monday when we left, the temperature was due to reach about 20°!
As ever, different accessibility adaptations suit different people, but if the facilities at Church Farm Barns suit you, then I thoroughly recommend them as they are generally high-quality accommodation, even the ones which haven’t been updated yet, and the staff are really welcoming. They have improved their website as well which has information about accessible things to do locally.
For more information about accessible places to stay, see my other reviews.
These are all the things I’ve thought of but I expect there are more.
- Plenty of Blue Badge parking bays with hatching on both sides
- Forget dropped kerbs, have smooth transitions between surfaces with as few bumps as possible
- Automatically opening doors where appropriate
- If possible, a covered drop-off area outside main doors
- Low reception desk or at least a lowered portion (and not tucked around the side where it can’t be seen)
- Seating (normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs)
- Clear signage
- Accessible toilet
- Wide doorway (if there is a spy hole, there needs to be one at a lower level too)
- Wide access to both sides of bed
- Any chairs should be normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs
- If there are alarm buttons or cords, they should be on both sides of the bed (it should not be assumed which side of the bed the disabled person will be on or it may be that the room is occupied by two disabled people)
- Facilities such as kettles, hairdryers etc should all be within easy reach for a wheelchair user
- Bathrooms should follow industry guidelines and rooms with both right-hand and left-hand transfer toilets available
- Toilets should not be the highest possible, but seat raisers should be available to borrow if necessary
- Roll-in shower area
- Fold-down shower seats and grab rails in shower area
- Lower-level mirrors
- Consider having lowered or lowerable basins
- Tables should be designed so that a wheelchair user can pull right up to them without having to transfer to a dining chair
- Plenty of space between tables
- Chairs with arms available if required
- Staff should have disabled awareness training
- Wherever possible, doorways should not have a lip to get over
Other accessibility issues
- Menus should be available in large print
- If there is piped music, consider having a quiet area in the restaurant or sitting area
- Contrasting colours on walls and doors and edges of steps
- Equipment such as chair or bed raisers, vibrating alarms etc should be available
This time last year we were booked into the Dress Circle at York Theatre Royal but the lift had broken down so they accommodated us in the stalls. Assuming that the same thing couldn’t happen to us again, we booked the Dress Circle this year and… it was great! The Theatre Royal had a revamp a couple of years ago and it is now much more accessible with automatically opening doors, much more space generally in the foyer and of course, the lift! It was one of those cunning ones with doors on different sides so you didn’t have to back out: brilliant! You get a good view with plenty of space and a good solid rail in front of you. There is an accessible loo on the ground floor and the Dress Circle level and a bar at each level too. All the staff are really welcoming and helpful.
This was our annual trip to see the pantomime and it was Berwick Kaler’s final pantomime after being the Dame at York Theatre Royal for 40 years. It was our 27th consecutive visit to see the usual mayhem. I won’t give away the plot (!) but safe to say there were plenty of laughs and audience participation, all the usual main players and a very professional supporting cast. I don’t know what the theatre will do in future years, as the panto is such a moneyspinner for them but it’ll be interesting to see how they go on.
The Dodo Street Band perform it in spades! Skilful and versatile, they gave us toe-tapping jolly tunes and daft banter to warm us up on the day we had been threatened with freezing rain and blizzards. Fortunately those didn’t materialise, just heavy rain.
The NCEM has been granted £144,200 some of which will be used to improve access and seating. I remember from when I used to use their seats that they are not the most comfortable so that’s welcome news and as the place is really accessible already, I can only imagine how fabulous it will be with even better access – less bumpy thresholds and more Blue Badge spaces, perhaps?
When we arrived, the only remaining Blue Badge space in the carpark was reserved – we didn’t realise you could reserve them but now we know! We parked in the street which wasn’t really a greater distance – just as well as it was chucking it down! It did mean setting up my chair in the road which was only busy because of the concertgoers and really not a problem. I will remember to book a space next time though as it means not having to go up and down the dropped kerb.
We used a space for wheelchair users on the front row so had a great view of the band and their amazing range of instruments: violin, accordion, double base, clarinet and bodhran mainly but also recorder, mandolin and plenty of others.
There was mulled wine and mince pies on offer as well as a couple of CDs by the band. We bought both the CDs – maybe we should have gone entirely digital by now but I like buying a CD!
I’m looking forward to future trips the NCEM to see how they develop it further.
Looking back, we had a wonderful holiday this summer but I must admit that at one point during our first evening I found myself muttering “Do we have to keep going on holiday?” I had got to the point where travelling and going to different places in a wheelchair had just become really exhausting. What actually caused my disgruntlement was having to transfer onto a dining chair because the tables in the dining room at the Ashford International Hotel were not wide enough to accommodate my powerchair. Transferring like this somewhere I’m familiar with is not a problem, I had just got really tired after travelling down from York with a stop at Grantham service station which wasn’t particularly user-friendly as the supposedly dropped kerb was rather high and the accessible loo had a broken lock. All right for me with Pete to stand guard but a potential disaster for someone travelling on their own. Things like this make travelling a bit tiring and stressful.
Also, the Ashford International Hotel had very bizarre accessibility to the building (see my review on Euan’sGuide for details and photos) and the room, while spacious enough didn’t allow much room between the loo and the wash basin. In the room, there were two mini bottles of prosecco and a note addressed to someone called Hayley explaining that they were the Guest of the Day. Somewhat nonplussed, we ignored them but when we got to the restaurant that evening it turned out that I was Guest of the Day despite not being called Hayley! This meant we had a plate added to our already quite crowded table with my new title written on it in chocolate! The meal and wine were nice and the staff very efficient. Breakfast next day was pretty good although somewhat off-putting was a member of staff with serious body odour issues. This place could do so much better!
The hotel is really convenient for the Channel Tunnel of course which is where we were headed the next day. The shuttle terminal building had marked Blue Badge bays and was easily accessible, including accessible loos. The previous time we had travelled on the shuttle, we had approached in a lane specifically for Blue Badge holders. This time that lane was shut and we ended up on the top layer of the shuttle (the carriages are double-deckers). It occurred to us that this really shouldn’t happen: wheelchair users should surely be on the lower level. After our return, I contacted the company and they said that that should indeed be the case and that were there a problem in future I should talk to a member of staff. So now we know!
The journey was really smooth and easy and we were soon in France and on our way to our next hotel, Les Saules, in the Baie de Somme area. This was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay with a spacious room, adapted bathroom and decking outside the French windows so you could sit outside. As we were staying two nights, we had a free day to explore the area so we went over to the coast at Le Crotoy and along to Fort Mahon: very breezy and bracing with great views.
The next day we were off to our gîte at Ceaucé via a stop at a supermarket for supplies. What a lovely gîte! Designed to be accessible, La Fresnaie has wide doors, an adapted bathroom, low level hob and eye level oven and a covered area to park your car. We loved sitting on the spacious terrace surrounding the house watching the red squirrels running about and listening to the buzzards overhead. During our week here, we explored lots of local villages in the car such as Lassay-les-Châteaux, Domfront, St Frimbault and Bagnoles de L’Orme. I didn’t have the energy to do much intrepid exploring of possible lakeside paths etc although we did visit the rather lovely La Roseraie at Lassay-les-Châteaux.
Self-catering in France is made a lot easier by supermarkets having a traiteur counter where you can buy home-made style meals such as boeuf bourguignon or poulet basquaise – absolutely delicious. Also, it may seem like a stereotype but people really do go to the village boulangerie for their daily baguette. I can see why people fall in love with the lifestyle and want to move here.
The roads in France were good and not too crowded, although one of the days we travelled was apparently a day when everyone is heading off to Brittany and other places for their holidays which meant when we stopped at an aire or service station, it was very busy. Aires are more individual than our chains of service stations and not all are accessible, but the signs for them on the motorway indicate which services they have.
We just stopped one night on our way back through France but at a rather special place: La Cour de Rémi at Bermicourt in Pas de Calais. After an international career, Sebastien, the proprietor, returned to his family château to convert the stables into a hotel and restaurant with fabulous but unpretentious cooking using lots of home-grown and locally sourced ingredients. They need to work on their accessibility: the tarmac was very rough and they had to put a board in place as a ramp into the restaurant as they haven’t built a permanent ramp yet. This was done with such alacrity that you really couldn’t fault them. I’m sure if we were to visit again (and I would love to!) these things will have been sorted out and they are also planning to create a little museum as the château was the headquarters of the British Tank Command during the First World War. Breakfast was equally fabulous, including their speciality of an entire brioche loaf between the two of us with home-made jam.
A smooth journey on the shuttle again brought us to Folkestone and as we had some time to kill before going to our next stop, we drove along the coast and saw the Royal Military Canal at Romney Marsh. It was quite sunny and it was in a very attractive, tree-surrounded setting, but there was too much of a howling gale for exploring it to have been feasible but if we are ever down this way again it would make a lovely accessible little visit. I since contacted the local tourist office who said that the stretch of the canal nearest to Folkestone was deliberately created to be cycle and wheelchair friendly.
Our final stop was The Black Horse Inn at Thurnham near Maidstone, a historic but accessible pub which has rooms in single-storey chalets. They have created a pathway which takes you to the back of the pub and the lower level of the pub is accessible. This is where we ate in the evening and had breakfast the next day. The evening meal wasn’t great although the breakfast was good. I found the bathroom a little tricky to use so I wouldn’t choose to stay here again but it was interesting to see how a historic building can be made accessible and the rooms were generally very good and spacious.
Using the shuttle was much preferable to last summer’s experience of using a plane and I would definitely do it again. The only trouble is that to reach somewhere like Spain you would have to do a lot of driving and planning of places to stopover so you would then have the issue that I started this piece with, of it being tiring to stay in lots of different places. It would be brilliant if travelling in a wheelchair on a plane was an easier and pleasanter experience. Next summer, in order to avoid potential Brexit-induced queues, we are holidaying in Britain but will no doubt head for Europe again soon via the shuttle!
The Ashford International Hotel is theoretically accessible but I don’t think they are really committed to getting it right.
We stayed here one night before getting the shuttle the next day and, as you can imagine, chose it for its convenient location rather than its character!
When we first arrived, we parked in a marked Blue Badge bay but then realised that to leave the car park meant negotiating a rather bumpy ramp so we decided to use the drop off space by the main door instead. There was a really rather bizarre wheelchair route from the car park to the door which involved a short pathway and then the choice of either rejoining the road or going over some very rough grass to reach the automatic doors. There was no way to get to the automatic doors without going over the grass. We were glad we decided to use the drop-off area but then realised we were going to have to use the revolving doors. Eventually we noticed a blue button with a wheelchair symbol which we pressed and I think it slowed down the speed of the revolving. It was fine but I wouldn’t really choose to use revolving doors in a wheelchair!
The reception desk didn’t have a lowered portion which again doesn’t really show commitment to making things accessible. We checked in and went off to find our room which was down a lot of corridors and meant negotiating heavy fire doors. The route the receptionist indicated was actually not the shortest route!
The room was good and spacious but the bathroom was rather strange. It had a very good shower seat and the basin could be raised or lowered as required but the basin was so close to the loo that you had to sort of sidle in to access the loo. Not brilliant for anyone let alone people for whom sidling is not that easy! The accessible loo in the lobby was an awful lot easier to use.
This is starting to sound like a list of moans. When we went to the restaurant we discovered that the tables were not the sort you can sit at in a wheelchair so I had to transfer into one of their dining chairs. Generally, I like sitting in a dining chair but when you’re tired it can be easier to just stay put in your own chair.
On entering the restaurant we were greeted with the information that I was the “Guest of the Day!” What treats did this entail? A plate was put on our table with Guest of the Day piped on it in chocolate and sprinkled with stars. Our excitement and gratitude knew no bounds. Actually, it explained the two mini bottles of prosecco in our room with a note addressed to Hayley explaining that she was Guest of the Day. I was evidently Hayley.
I can’t actually remember much about the meal, other than that we didn’t fancy any of the starters so had mains and desert. The staff were very pleasant and efficient.
We then decamped to the sitting area in the lobby which was rather chilly as the outside doors were open at the far end.
Breakfast next day was in the same restaurant so there was the same issue with seating but the breakfast was fine with plenty of choices. Could have done without a member of staff having absolutely violent BO, though.
To summarise, a conveniently placed hotel with some accessible features but we would not stay there again, it was just too much like hard work! They emailed a link to a feedback form and I ticked the box asking to be contacted but have not heard anything back, showing yet again that they are not really committed to great customer service and accessibility. Their loss!
For more details and photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.
Click here for more accessible places to stay.
The Black Horse Inn at Thurnham near Maidstone in Kent is an 18th-century inn that manages to be accessible too!
We stayed here one night on our way back to York from Folkestone and although I’m not sure I would stay here again as there are probably other, better places in the area, it was fine and convenient and better than the Ashford International we stayed at on the way down. (that’s another story!)
The old part of the pub has been extended sympathetically so that when you’re inside, you can’t really tell where the old parts ends and the new parts begin. According to the website, the pub is mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, so presumably there was an earlier pub on the same site. The accommodation is in barns across the car park from the inn, the four rooms at the top of the slope being accessible, family rooms.
The rooms are pleasant and spacious, ours had a double bed and a single plus a couple of tub chairs, coffee table, tea and coffee making facilities (the UHT milk said it tasted like fresh milk and it did!) and a spacious wet-room style bathroom with a fold down shower seat, a couple of grab rails and two sinks, one lower than the other so more convenient for wheelchair users.
To get into the pub, they have ingenuously created a brick-paved pathway that takes you up to the back of the pub, although you could go via the car park if you preferred. When we arrived, it was Sunday lunchtime and extremely busy but once we were checked in, (there is a separate reception, but it was closed) we were able to park opposite our room or you can park directly outside and there was a slope to get in to the room.
We ate in the pub in the evening. The tables were not ideal with a wheelchair but you could get pretty close up to them. The food all sounded great and although it didn’t quite live up to expectations, it was fine. I did the terribly English thing of, when asked if the meal was all right, I said it was fine when in fact the pork belly I had chosen was rather dry. We had a very nice Greek sharing platter for a starter and my glass of rosé was very good so all in all, a good meal.
Breakfast was good with plenty of choices: I had smoked salmon and scrambled egg, Pete had a full English and there was toast with jam and fresh fruit and yoghurt.
The staff are pleasant and efficient, it was easy to find, in fact it was surprising to find such a quiet little village so near to the motorway, so a very convenient place to stay.