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!
I realised recently that many museums and art galleries around the world can be viewed on Google Street View. This is useful not only as it increases access for those with disabilities or limited mobility but also creates access for everyone during times of lockdown or other Covid restrictions. It is also brilliant fun!
Perhaps this feature of Street View has been available for a long time but I was delighted to discover it recently and promptly had a look around museums I am familiar with such as the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Musée D’Orsay but also the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Lahore Museum which I have never visited and am not likely to.
Some are easier to navigate around than others: I failed to access the upper floors of some museums, whereas in others it was easy to go up or down the staircases. The Dulwich Picture Gallery was particularly simple to navigate and you could get a good view of the paintings. Many art galleries, when viewed digitally, have a circle in front of the paintings which you can click and a side panel opens on your screen giving you more detail about the picture in question.
If you find a museum on Google Maps then click the little man to bring up the blue Street View areas, you can tell whether the museum can be visited because of all the blue lines showing where the Street View camera has been.
Some just have blue dots which means you can go inside but only in a certain position, you can’t navigate around the place. That said, one of the museums I tried this with was Hull Maritime Museum which didn’t have blue lines inside it so I assumed you couldn’t visit it virtually but when I tried anyway, found myself inside and I not only navigated around but also up and down the staircase!
It’s definitely worth having a play with this function of Google Maps and Street View. Obviously, seeing paintings ‘in the flesh’ as it were is best but when that’s not possible this is a great substitute!
A quick trip to York University campus for some fresh air and wildlife spots made a change the other day and led me to wonder what will become of students’ university experience in the future and other changes we might see in our towns and cities.
Obviously, the campus was quiet because it is August although the grounds people are making the most of this to do a bit of work: I thought our way was going to be blocked but as we got closer, discovered that some trenches that had been dug had been filled in but not yet tarmac-ed so were passable, just a little bit bumpy. The stream looked a bit neglected and overgrown but the ducks and coots didn’t seem to mind and there were absolutely loads of geese. Perhaps being undisturbed all this time has meant they have bred more?
Campus felt like a bit of a wildlife haven as we also saw a dragonfly and a couple of squirrels as well as a variety of ducks – you can identify them on various information boards. Some of the trees were starting to look distinctly autumnal, mainly the horse chestnuts which were laden with conkers.
I found myself wondering if the campus will ever again be as busy as it used to be. I gather that universities are expecting a lot fewer international students but that courses are filled with homes students. Perhaps some people are thinking they may as well become a student as there are fewer jobs around.
I wonder though if some students will elect to go to their local universities so that they can continue to live at home as student accommodation may be less inviting in the current climate. I’m sure the student experience will be different for at least a year or two and I can imagine a situation where large lectures are given online only and face-to-face contact is limited. It’s a shame as a large part of being a student is going away from home, becoming independent, meeting loads of new people, doing things as a group and so on, all of which will become more difficult when social distancing is involved.
Of course, it’s not just being a student that will change. Do you think in the future that more people will work from home and therefore there will be more demand for houses with enough space for a workstation, more houses with some outside space? I have often wondered what the best solution is to the fact that more people get things delivered to their homes with the increase in online shopping, but there’s nobody in to receive parcels. That issue might be solved with more home-working just as people do even more on-line shopping.
Perhaps a long time in to the future, we will have cities that have a smaller shopping area in the centre, larger out-of-town shopping areas with easy parking and access and lots more people living in suburbs where the houses have gardens. Perhaps there will be more shops and services in the suburbs so people don’t need to drive so much. But where does that leave city centres? There has been much debate about this; I even contributed a tiny bit to it myself with a letter in the Guardian suggesting that all city centres ought to have a lifelong-learning centre which would bring people in who might go for a drink or meal and buy, for example, art or craft supplies or cooking ingredients depending on the class they are going to. People might also come into a city centre for the library, cinema, theatre, live music, skating or bowling and other things that you can’t do online such as trying on clothes. Perhaps some of these office blocks which aren’t needed any more could become city centre accommodation or some kind of community space. If communal activities are to continue, they will need more space if physical distancing is still an issue.
I don’t suppose there will be any sudden changes but wouldn’t it be wonderful if gradually we became less dependent on cars and townscapes became more accessible to all?
It can be depressing thinking about a future continually affected by Covid restrictions but it is nevertheless interesting to speculate about how things might be done differently.
Our trip back to Northumberland meant some slightly different arrangements but also new places to visit: an accessible promenade and some rather bumpy gardens!
Because of the virus, holidaymakers had been asked not to turn up before 5pm in order that the cottages could be thoroughly cleaned and we managed to time it so that we turned up on the Saturday at 5.05! Instructions had been added to the cottage information file about Covid and the visitors’ book had been put away and nobody had written it since before the lockdown but otherwise the cottage was just as we remembered, comfortable, clean, spacious, well-equipped and with good decor. Sue, the manager, appeared on the Monday to check everything was all right, but wouldn’t step inside. Later in the week we saw some of the cleaners in PPE: the new rules were being taken very seriously.
The surroundings are wonderfully peaceful: no traffic, just the susurration of the trees and the cawing of the rooks.
We had stayed at Fox Cover at Doxford Cottages last year but whereas then I thought it was almost ideal and we rebooked it straightaway (and thank goodness we did! I don’t think we would have found anything at short notice) this time it seemed a bit more of a struggle to deal with the practical arrangements.
In the preceding weeks, I had made a real effort to work on my balance so that I would feel more confident in a new setting and that did help but it is difficult when grab rails are in different places and chairs are a different shape! Really deep armchairs can be a bit problematic for anyone who is not particularly tall as you need to get the right combination of cushions to feel comfortable but there was a really good selection of different sized cushions!
With grab rails, shower seats etc, it’s a case of needing to feel sure that things won’t budge when you grab them or lean on them. This place does not claim to have the top level of accessibility but, given that it is wheelchair accessible and they have made an effort with some grab rails, they could just do with having a bit of a rethink and making it even better. As ever, different people need different help but that’s why there are industry recommendations for layouts that suit the most people.
We weren’t planning to do anything much, we knew the weather was going to be dodgy on some days and we wanted to get the balance right so as not to come back from holiday needing a holiday! The weather was glorious on the Sunday so we spent most of the day in the garden, then on Monday when the weather turned and was wet most of the day, we were able to sit in the conservatory, looking out at the trees. We were thoroughly chilled by now so on the Tuesday we ventured out to the somewhat unfortunately named Spittal to see the sea. Spittal promenade is a low key affair but very easily accessible and with good parking in well-marked bays for Blue Badge holders. We hadn’t seen the sea since visiting Northumberland last summer and very refreshing it was too and with distant views of Holy Island and Bambrugh Castle. There were plenty of other people about and we exchanged hellos while remaining suitably distanced.
On the Wednesday we went to Howick Hall Gardens. I had seen them recommended in the cottage visitors’ book and on Euan’sGuide and they would be a great place to visit for the able-bodied as they are very extensive. In a good-sized scooter they would probably be a bit bumpy but for a power chair it really was a bit too uneven in places as the paths are mainly all grass.
Some of it was no more uneven than our lawn at home but there were some tree roots and other obstacles which made it a bit tiring to deal with while the threshold into the Sensory Garden was just impossible to even attempt.
I was glad to have gone because I wanted to see what it was like and it was a great change of scene with some lovely plants. The visitor centre was closed except for a ticket counter where a member of staff gave us a map of the grounds with the access of all groups marked. It wasn’t a very detailed map and as we left, we asked for the usual map which described the path surfaces so I would recommend asking for both maps if you are a wheelchair user or accompanying one.
The Thursday was mainly drizzly again then the Friday was an absolute corker, really hot and sunny. We thought we would have a brief trip to Bamburgh to get another glimpse of the sea, but as I suspected, even though it was about 10am when we got there, it was heaving so our vague plan of perhaps parking somewhere with a view of the sea was impossible. On the way there was a lovely, clear view of the Farne Islands and we got a glorious view of the silvery waves, the beach, and the castle behind.
Back at the cottage, a chap had turned up to trim the hedges. He wasn’t going to be long so we wandered back down the lane under the shady trees and discovered there were lots of little mice in the bank under the hedge. Doxford Cottages are something of a haven for wildlife: every day we saw a woodpecker or two, seven or eight chaffinches all at once, a nuthatch, pheasants, rabbits and a squirrel as well as the mice and lots of crows, jackdaws, house-martins and many other birds.
I really recommend this cottage if the access is right for you. It’s a great cottage in lovely surroundings and there is plenty to do in the area. I know the bathroom arrangements can be make or break for many disabled people and, guess what? We forgot to take photos of the bathroom! You can see the shower area on the cottage website and they provide a good adjustable height shower seat and also a toilet seat raiser if you wish (and were happy to provide measurements). The toilet has a vertical grab rail to the left of it but as it is not a back-to-the-wall lavatory, the rail is too far back to be useful and the drop-down rail to the right of the loo is a bit too far away to lean on but of course that won’t be a problem for everyone. It’s also great that it is possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair! The dressing table is also at an accessible height.
This may have been a little tiring physically at times but it was great to have a change of scene (I’d not been away from the house since the lockdown) and be in such peaceful surroundings. It was also very mentally refreshing to have a break from the news: we just checked the local weather and national headlines once a day and didn’t look at social media at all. We didn’t even have the radio on, just lots of our favourite CDs and only got a newspaper on the days when we were out and about.
I’m glad that we went on some ‘exotic’ holidays when we did as we have them to look back on. I certainly have no intention of flying until the airlines have sorted out accommodating wheelchair users properly. Besides, even if I was able-bodied, the thought of having to wear a mask for hours on end in the airport and on the flight is not very appealing. At the moment, simple staycations are right for us. I think a shorter break would suit me better as far as not getting too tired goes and as we are no longer bound by school holiday dates, I can see us doing a short break in the autumn or spring (or both!) in future. Maybe not at this cottage but we shall enjoy exploring other options!
Do you find routine comforting? Do you use certain mental tricks to help you cope with things?
I read an article recently in which somebody commented that isolation was something that disabled people were quite used to. My initial reaction was to think “not all disabled people are isolated!” But then I considered my position even while I was still going into work, until last May. While I was just as much a member of staff as anybody else, for various reasons and largely because I use voice-activated software, I was in an office by myself which did inevitably have the effect of isolating me from my colleagues. Many other disabled people will be in similar situations and isolated in different ways, for example, my deaf colleagues were sometimes isolated because a BSL interpreter had not been booked and it was difficult for them to follow what was happening in a meeting.
During my PGCE, my teaching practice placement was away from York where I was sharing a house with my friends and therefore for one term I lived on my own in a bedsit. This is where I learned that lesson that many sleep experts talk about. They often recommend that you don’t do anything work-related in the bedroom. While this was impossible in the bedsit, I did make it a rule that I would never do anything work-related while sitting on the bed so that whenever I looked at the room from that angle I wasn’t in a work frame of mind. It took some mental gymnastics to achieve it, but I think it must have worked as I don’t remember sleepless nights thinking about work.
We usually watch the news a lot but like many people now, we are rationing it and making sure we don’t watch it last thing before going to bed but play some music instead. It sometimes requires some of those mental gymnastics to switch off and leave thinking or worrying for the morning but, like meditation or mindfulness, I think it comes with practice.
Something experts are recommending as a good way to cope with the current lockdown is to maintain some sort of routine. I find people’s need for routine a really interesting phenomenon. I’ve often had a conversation with people in January where everyone admits that we quite liked getting back into a routine after Christmas. Similarly, I remember having conversations as an undergraduate where people agreed that they had started by revelling in not having to get up if you didn’t have an early lecture, eating whenever you felt like it, having breakfast cereal for dinner, that sort of thing and then finding after a while that it was a little bit unsettling, depressing even, and feeling better once they had got into some sort of routine.
On the news the other day, there was an item about a young homeless woman who had been given a flat to live in. It was like a palace, she said and she was really enjoying getting into a routine, preparing meals and so on and had not taken any heroin for a week. I wish they did follow-ups on news items like that, I’d love to know how she’s doing now. Routine is somehow comforting and while ditching it for a while during the holidays is refreshing, for many people it is reassuring to have some sort of structure to your day or week.
Another thing we keep being recommended to do is be grateful for what we have and to notice the small things. I think I am doing both of those in spades: we are hugely grateful we have a garden and noticing the small changes in it is one of the great joys of gardening. Every time I go outside I look to see how much further the thyme, the fuchsia or the jasmine have come out into leaf, how much further out is the saxifrage or the blossom on the cherry tree, how much higher the clematis has climbed up the trellis, how much the tadpoles have grown. Also, how the privet cuttings are doing that we planted to plug a hole in the hedge and if the wildflower seeds we scattered have germinated yet. We have a few indoor projects too like spring-cleaning and a mini one is a maidenhair fern we turned around as it was growing lopsided. It looks unsightly just now but I love seeing the new tendrils reaching out for the light. Plenty to look at and lots of mini-projects, all life-affirming and a stake in the future.
I’ve never been a fan of New Year resolutions. Partly, I think because it’s a bit depressing when you break them, partly too because I’m so in the habit of thinking of September as the New Year, not January.
If New Year resolutions are plans to do something new or better in January, doesn’t that rather encourage you not to make resolutions at other times? I tend to make plans at any time of the year to try new ideas or improve something I do already – perhaps inspired by something I have read or heard – and this could happen on any day throughout the entire year.
It might be something specific or something a bit more general. At the moment my general idea is to keep an eye out for things or ideas which will make life easier or less tiring for me. This usually leads to small tweaks rather than anything major, for example, as my arms get so tired these days, I’ve started using plastic picnic ‘glasses’ to drink from as they are lighter than a real glass.
Another recent innovation is wall-mounted dispensers for shower gel and shampoo from Simplehuman. They are easy to use and save me from faffing around getting shower gel or shampoo out of bottles. I used to use shower gel in containers that you hang by a hook but there aren’t that many of those around any more and the one I particularly liked, Pears, changed to an ordinary bottle. (I contacted them to ask why and they said it was to use less plastic and sent me two huge bottles of liquid soap!) In the past I have used a button-fastener which worked really well when I was a little more dexterous and I sometimes use a ‘grabber.’
At some point last year, we decided to make an effort to visit more local places that are accessible such as Burnby Hall Gardens or Fairburn Ings. This is a resolution we will definitely be continuing!
Another area of frequent resolutions is around what to eat. Several years ago, I went to see a nutritionist, Sally Duffin, as I felt perhaps my insides weren’t working as well as they might. She made all sorts of suggestions to try for three weeks and I definitely felt better for it. Inevitably, I didn’t adopt all her ideas or some that I tried fell by the wayside after a while but our diet definitely had a major overhaul and we now eat much less red meat, more fish and some meat-free meals. This feels quite zeitgeist-y as vegetarianism/veganism is having a bit of a moment right now for both health and environmental reasons so our diet-related resolution has an extra spin off.
At first, I wasn’t at all sure about what to cook as a vegetarian meal and tried Quorn mince instead of beef mince in chilli, for example, but decided that actually it didn’t taste that great and just including a larger amount of vegetables and pulses was nicer. We now make chilli with chicken or vegetables, bolognese with tuna instead of beef, vegetable ‘shepherd’s pie’ and moussaka and various vegetable curries and are trying to perfect home-made vegetarian sausages.
We often have cauliflower or carrot ‘rice’ and spiralised butternut squash or celeriac instead of pasta. I tried going completely carb-free for a few weeks, which sounds a bit bonkers given that I don’t have to for allergy reasons like some people, but I thought it might be a kick-start to perhaps losing some weight or at the very least make me think about portion sizes. It had no effect on my weight at all so I continued for a while longer and found that it did seem to have reduced the stiffness I often felt first thing in the morning. However, it did leave me somewhat lacking in energy so I reintroduced some carbs here and there and am now introducing a few more as I still seem to be very tired. I really hope it doesn’t increase my stiffness, but of course I don’t actually know if it was the carbs that caused that. Hopefully I’ll have the energy to do more exercise!
Clearly it is a case of experimenting and working out what works best. I wonder what other wheelchair users or people with MS have found? If anyone has a recommended gadget, diet-tweak or anything else to share then please do! Obviously, what works for one person may not work for another but it can be really useful when people share their own practical experiences.
Plenty of resolutions, then, but at all times of the year!
Do explore my website accessibilityreviews.org for more ideas. A lot of the places to visit that I have reviewed are near York, but if you look on the map and zoom in, there may be places near you or inspiration for somewhere to go on holiday!
Looking back over my posts for the last couple of years, there was not as much of a change in our activities as I was expecting. Does that mean we’re still doing things or does it mean we’ve never done that much?
I think we probably do more in the way of gardens and outdoor spaces now and fewer restaurants as it’s tricky not to put on weight even when eating healthily if you can’t really exercise. Also, there are not that many local restaurants which are really easily accessible especially with the parking situation in central York.
Our last holiday was a lot less ambitious than previous ones where we would stay in three or four hotels on the way to and from a holiday cottage in France or Spain for example. I currently find staying in lots of different places on the same holiday too tiring.
I was pleased, though, to see that we are still managing to see live music fairly regularly. I think, also, that even if I was perfectly hale and hearty, we would be doing different things than, say, ten or fifteen years ago. More gardens than, for example, stately homes or museums as I really like looking at gardens these days, much more so than I used to. We’ve always liked visiting castles and we used to like city breaks in Europe but we have done plenty of that in the past and while of course I would like to do more it’s not breaking my heart. Except the thought of never again being able to just wander around Paris looking at things like the flower market on Ile de la Cité – that just gets to me every time.
When we did a few exotic holidays, such as going to India, I don’t remember at the time thinking that we had better do these now or we might not be able to later but that’s how it turned out and I am very glad that we did as it is lovely to look back on those holidays.
Our tastes have changed, partly, I suppose, to do with ageing, but also to do with accepting the inevitable. The important thing is to try not to make comparisons with what you used to do, which would change anyway, but to do what you can and what is enjoyable.
Well, not so sure. This is the first time in 30 years that Berwick Kaler has not starred in the York Theatre Royal pantomime although he did write and co-direct it. He also appeared in the filmed section which has become an annual fixture.
I don’t think the issue was the lack of Berwick so much as that the pantomime can be a bit hit and miss. Some years you come away having laughed solidly all the way through, other years not so much although it is always very good with plenty of audience participation, great sets and costumes, no smut and Wagon Wheels aplenty!
Whether you like it or not is, of course, subjective. It was always going to be tricky continuing the pantomime after Berwick’s retirement but I think they have succeeded very well, particularly as the usual cast were all in there.
Like last year, we had places in the Dress Circle, only this time on the side nearest to where you enter. The accessibility is just great, the lift is spacious and you don’t need to back out of it as it has doors on more than one side. They could maybe have created a wider corridor outside the lift but were probably restricted by the space available and have done the best they can. It would be good to know what their policy is on evacuation of wheelchair users in case of fire. Obviously, it’s not something you want to think about but I suppose one should.
The staff are all incredibly helpful and pleasant and the honeycomb ice-cream is delectable. The pantomime runs until 25th January.
As usual, we parked in Duncombe Place, braving its horribly rough tarmac.
Will we go next year? There’s plenty of time to decide.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Fairburn is quite near Ledsham where we have been to the Chequers Inn on many occasions and is easily accessible from the A1.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!