The Balloon Tree – accessible farm shop and café

Café at The Balloon Tree

This is a popular place! Even early on a Tuesday lunchtime, the café was pretty packed but we nabbed a table by the window and had a very tasty lunch, served by pleasant staff, before, inevitably, buying some take-home treats from the deli!

The Balloon Tree , Gate Helmsley
The Balloon Tree , Gate Helmsley

It was a bit early in the season for much home-grown veg, but that part of the shop was still well-stocked: not sure if some of it was imported, but they do generally sell locally-grown produce. The deli part sells cold meats, cheese, salads, bread, cakes, ready meals both fresh and frozen and loads more. Their website has details about their ethos of “fewer food miles – more farm yards.”

Entrance to The Balloon Tree
Entrance to The Balloon Tree

Access was easy: the car park had quite a few Blue Badge spaces although they were all full when we arrived but we managed to park on the end of a row so there was room to get out. Entry was easy: low thresholds that my powerchair could manage easily and although the produce part of the shop was a little tight, you could get round although it would be impossible to pass anybody else who was in there. The deli had more space and most of the shelves were easily reachable. The staff would have been happy to help if not.

Easy, level access at The Balloon Tree
Easy, level access at The Balloon Tree

The café tables were the sort where you can easily sit at them in a wheelchair. There was plenty of room as we headed to the table, although on the way back I needed a chair to be moved so I could get through but people were happy to help. They do hot meals as well as sandwiches, paninis, baked potatoes and homemade cakes. Many of the cakes are also sold in the shop so you can enjoy them at home too.

Café at The Balloon Tree
Café at The Balloon Tree

There is seating outside as well as a children’s play area and some animals to see and feed.

The Balloon Tree was easy to find, on the A166 just past Gate Helmsley. We’ll definitely be going back!

Other accessible places to eat.

Advertisements

Sutlers, York (or, that bar in what used to be the Army and Navy Stores)

Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com

On the whole, it was rather fun and I’d go again. We went on a Monday night, arriving about 6.30 and it was pretty busy. Service was a bit slow and rather amateurish – they lost our drinks order so we reordered but didn’t get them until after the food started arriving! We had ordered from the ‘Ration Packs’ (small plates, rather like tapas) part of the menu and five dishes between three of us was fine as we weren’t up for a big meal – two or three of them came with delicious bread and the bill was incredibly reasonable. They also do burgers, steaks, salads, sandwiches and sharing platters as well as a range of other dishes.

Lower bar, Sutlers York (different seats to when we went!)
Lower bar, Sutlers York (different seats to when we went!) tripadvisor.ca

Pete had checked the place out in advance for access – we sat in the lower part which has level access and an accessible loo. I think the main bar has level access too, but you’d have to leave the building and re-enter if you wanted the loo! The tables in this section were not the sort you can sit at in a wheelchair – I sat on one of their chairs. Some of the tables had bench seats but staff were very accommodating about swapping the seats around.

Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com
Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com

The food was tasty without being fabulous and some parts better than others, but on the whole I prefer it to the food at Bill’s which was our last foray into central York. You can park on Fossgate after 6.00pm (free for residents) and there are dropped kerbs or you could use Pavement as a drop-off as we did (the pavement is flush with the road).

To sum up: tasty enough food, pleasant staff if a little haphazard and a good, buzzy atmosphere – we’ll go again!

More reviews of accessible restaurants.

Always something of interest at The Homestead!

Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead

I thought I was going to be blogging about Rowntree Park but when we got there (as we half expected) it was closed because the river is in flood. (The rest of the city is fine, just a couple of riverside paths are under water!)

Instead, we tracked across town to The Homestead and discovered that, whatever the time of year, there is always something interesting to see there.

Spring flowers at The Homestead
Spring flowers at The Homestead

They are replacing the old flowering cherry trees in the Cherry Walk (and in fact seem to have planted lots of new trees all round the park) so that particular part was fenced off, but you could get round to see all the rest of the park by just taking a different route. There are plenty of daffodils out as well as camellias, hyacinths, primulas, scillas, hellebores and lots of ornamental bushes with interesting foliage.

Gearing up for Spring at The Homestead
Gearing up for Spring at The Homestead

When we last visited they were creating a space with some seating next to the mediaeval garden. This is now finished and has an attractive water feature.

Medieval Garden at The Homestead
Medieval Garden at The Homestead

The park also has a children’s play area and pop-up café, although these was shut on the day we visited probably because the heavy rain had made everywhere so muddy. There is also a rock garden, pond and plenty of benches and also toilets including an accessible one which no longer seems to need a RADAR key.

Hellebores at The Homestead
Hellebores at The Homestead

The car park has several marked Blue Badge bays and although there is some rather bumpy concrete to get over to reach the path, and some of the paved paths are a little rough, most of them are tarmac.

Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead
Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead

It’s good to know that The Homestead can be enjoyed at any time of year and as the weather improves and the tree-planting is finished, it can only get even more beautiful!

See my review from last year.

Formal beds, The Homestead
Last year’s formal beds, The Homestead

Cosy Cumbria cottage with great views

Entrance to Ash Cottage

Ash Cottage is different to most cottages – it was really cosy even on the first evening! In fact, it was almost too warm as we couldn’t resist lighting the wood-burner.

Entrance to Ash Cottage
Entrance to Ash Cottage

It is one of ten cottages at Tottergill Farm, Castle Carrock, Cumbria run by Tracey and Barnaby Bowan – all are luxurious, some even have hot-tubs.

Compact, with a living-dining-kitchen, bedroom and wetroom bathroom, Ash Cottage also has some outdoor space with fabulous views towards the Solway Firth and Scotland.

The farmyard, Tottergill Farm, Cumbria
The farmyard, Tottergill Farm, Cumbria

The cottage is part of a huge barn, converted into several cottages while other buildings contain the rest of the cottages plus there are other outbuildings to house the pigs and chickens you share the site with. There is also a wood-store with logs for the wood burner. So often we have found that the first evening in a cottage is rather chilly, even if it’s warm after that, but Ash Cottage , which under-floor heating as well as the wood burner, was cosy from the off!

Sitting out space with great view
Sitting out space with great view

As with all cottages and the accessibility issue, everywhere is different and everyone has different needs; the important thing is to gather as much information as you can in advance. The owners’ website has an accessibility statement with details about all the cottages and the site generally and they were happy to answer questions via email. They also have some equipment they can lend you, such as a shower stool, toilet seat raiser or dining chair with arms.

Parking space and entrance to Ash Cottage
Parking space and entrance to Ash Cottage

I actually found the cottage through Premier Cottages, as you can include in the search filter the level of accessibility you need. Ash Cottage is NAS level 2, which is for people who can manage a few steps and that is pretty accurate but it would be tricky for someone who couldn’t cope with slopes or who required more in the way of grab-rails for example. Also, some of the track to get to the farm is very pot-holed and bumpy which might be problematic for some.

Doorway at Ash Cottage
Doorway at Ash Cottage

We actually had a slight problem on arrival – my powerchair wouldn’t go over the threshold! Some cunning arrangement of the rugs from in the house helped, but it wasn’t ideal. Also, the furniture needed moving so I could get to the dining table. The whole site slopes and the slope to access the sitting-out area of Ask Cottage was a little precipitous. Had the weather been warm enough for sitting out, I suppose I would have attempted it but in the end, the issue didn’t arise – even in the sunshine, the wind as still keen!

Entrance to The Sill
Entrance to The Sill

The first full day we were there, the rain did not let up at all so we were forced to just chill out with the newspaper, books and a jigsaw, listening to our favourite CDs! On the second day, the weather was a little iffy but quite bright so we ventured off to The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre at Once Brewed, near Hadrian’s Wall. Opened last year, The Sill has a permanent exhibition about the landscape and our relationship with it as well as temporary exhibitions – the current one is about Dark Skies and preventing light pollution. It is very interactive but I think they could have incorporated a little bit more detail into the landscape exhibition without spoiling the child-friendliness. The whole place has been designed with accessibility in mind: automatic doors, a lift, accessible loos, even a changing-places area with shower. Outside there are plenty of Blue Badge spaces as well as bike racks and next door is a Youth Hostel.

At The Sill
At The Sill

The café, which specialises in local produce, is on the first floor, accessible by lift and is light and airy with great views over the countryside. We just had a sandwich, which was great and very generous, but I can’t comment comprehensively on the menu, however it did all look good! There is a path from ground level right up to the garden roof and you can also access it from the café. There is a hard surface, but it was rather juddery so I didn’t fancy venturing too far on it but the views even from this level were good. From the roof they must be fabulous!

Talkin Tarn
Talkin Tarn

On the following day, we went to Talkin Tarn, a very attractive local lake surrounded by woods. The track was absolutely fine for my scooter so we enjoyed the views, the woods, the waterfowl and the fresh air. Very fresh it was too – it even hailed briefly but fortunately we were under the trees so barely noticed!

The woods at Talkin Tarn
The woods at Talkin Tarn

There is ample parking which is free for Blue Badge holders for up to 3 hours if you display the time that you arrived. From the car park to the lake is quite a slope but you can park behind the café/ gift shop where there are some marked bays and access from there is much less steep. There are toilets, including an accessible one requiring a RADAR-key. The website doesn’t seem to mention parking or access so I shall have to do a review for Euan’s Guide!

The path at Talkin Tarn
The path at Talkin Tarn

A couple of coincidences: when I started researching my family history, it turned out that some relatives lived in a cottage at a place called Tottergill. When I first googled it, up came some holiday cottages in Cumbria! Turns out there is also a Tottergill in Arkengarthdale and that’s where my granny’s granny was born! Second coincidence: Tracey Bowan is from a part of Leeds very near where I grew up. Third coincidence: down the road from Castle Carrock is a car-mending place called Allison Peter!

Waterwheel at Tottergill Farm
Waterwheel at Tottergill Farm

To sum up: if Ash Cottage would suit you in terms of access, then I thoroughly recommend it. The situation is great and there are plenty of accessible things to do nearby (the Carlisle Tourist Information Centre supplied me with some suggestions and links). As a guest at Tottergill, you also get free use of a local swimming pool. The cottage owners are really friendly and helpful, keen on reducing the carbon footprint of the place and on making your holiday as enjoyable as possible.

Click here for reviews of other accessible places to stay.

Can beanstalks be accessible? Oh, yes, they can!

Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

Sorry, couldn’t resist! This was our 26th consecutive Theatre Royal pantomime and it’s as good as ever. It happened to be Jack and the Beanstalk, but the title (and plot, such as it is!) are irrelevant – it’s always mayhem!

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

This was the first time I had visited the theatre using my powerchair – last year I used my scooter and sat in a theatre seat. This year I stayed in my powerchair. We had booked seats in the Dress Circle but during the afternoon of the day of our visit, we got a phone call to say that their lift was broken so we would have to be either accommodated in the stalls, choose to go on a different night or be refunded. This was disappointing but as we were all geared up to going to the theatre that evening, we didn’t want to cancel and there is no way we would have got suitable seats for another performance before Christmas so we went anyway.

They told us to make ourselves known to a steward once we got there and they would sort us out. The first steward we spoke to didn’t seem to understand what the issue was but then we spoke to Rita (who’s been there over 40 years!) who was really helpful. She had been told to give us a programme free but as we’d already bought one, she went off and got us a refund! I sat next to the end of a row with Pete in a chair next to me. The visibility wasn’t perfect: you couldn’t quite see the very left hand side of the stage but it wasn’t a major problem as most of the action is of course centre stage. When it came to the interval, Rita let us off paying for our ice creams. Brilliant PR from the Theatre Royal! We might even go again…

Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

If you’re familiar with the theatre, but haven’t visited since they refurbished it, I would recommend taking a look as it is so much more accessible than it was. There is now a bar at ground floor level and a lift that takes you up just a few steps to the bar that was there before and, of course when it’s working, a lift that takes you up to the Dress Circle. For more details and lots of photos, see my review from last year.

Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

You don’t have to be a local to enjoy the panto at the Theatre Royal and there was plenty of audience participation, particularly booing and hissing the baddie and lots of applause for Berwick Kaler, back from major heart surgery and Martin Barrass, recovered from a very serious motorbike accident. They have booster seats for people who need them and there are British Sign Language interpreted performances, audio described and subtitled performances.

Performances continue until 3rd February. I don’t know about the availability of wheelchair spaces – it’s worth phoning up to discuss what you want. Hopefully they’ll get that lift fixed soon!

Goday, My Lord Sire Christemas

York Waits

Definitely feeling Christmassy now, thanks to The York Waits! There is somehow something very festive about crumhorns, shawms, sackbuts and rebecs!

York Waits
York Waits

Yes, we’ve been to the National Centre for Early Music and actually seen some early music for once – usually we see what I suppose you’d call World Music and occasionally the two coincide, but this was very definitely English Early Music, from the 15th to 17th century. The programme included some familiar pieces, such as Past 3 o’clock, God rest you, merry gentlemen, The Coventry Carol and an encore that was a storming rendition of Gaudete – who knew mediaeval music could be so funky? – and some lovely songs and tunes that were new to me, all with a Christmas or Wintery theme.

The five versatile musicians each play a number of instruments that also included harp, recorder, tabor pipe and bagpipes – nothing like Scottish pipes, but more like the Spanish gaita or Breton pipes. They were accompanied by the splendid Deborah Catterall on vocals and sometimes recorder.

The NCEM was packed and extra-atmospheric as they had lots of candles going, plus there were mince pies on offer along with the other refreshments. (I heroically resisted!)

The York Waits have been going since the 1970s, playing around the UK and abroad on period instruments, including at the Sheriff’s Riding, when the company the Sheriff of York around the city while he reads a proclamation at various locations allowing “whores, thieves, dice players and other unthrifty folk” into the city for the 12 days of Christmas.

As ever, the NCEM is wonderfully accessible, in fact there were two other wheelchair users there apart from myself. Word has obviously got around!

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

Around this time last year, we went to see Joglaresa at the NCEM. They were there again this year but on a day when we couldn’t go and, having seen them before, we thought we’d give this a go instead and I’m so glad we did!

 

Luxurious and accessible!

The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks

The Roost is a lovely, one-story cottage  which sleeps four in two bedrooms with two bathrooms. It is one of six cottages at Field House Farm near Bempton in East Yorkshire.

The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks
The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks

The house is wheelchair accessible, although my power chair needed an extra shove to get it over the threshold of the front door, and although the internal doors are not wide, I was able to get around without any problem.

The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks
The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks

There is a double bedroom with an ensuite bathroom which has a shower over the bath and the other room can be configured as a twin or a king-size double and the ensuite bathroom is a wet room with space to manoeuvre a wheelchair.

The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks
The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks

The furnishings are all really good quality and it was very comfortable, although a little chilly as the weather was very cold and the cottage had not been booked for a while but we were able to turn the heating up and get the wood burning stove going so it was lovely and cosy the next day. This is virtually always the case with cottages so we did expect it but of course if you’re only staying a weekend it means it’s not so warm for more of your stay! There was plenty of wood and they told us we could help ourselves if we needed more.File_001

It’s a really well-equipped cottage and there was a welcome tray with tea, coffee, biscuits and a bottle of wine. The decor is lovely with original features from its former life as a farm building and there was an interesting history of farm in the cottage information folder.

The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks
The Roost, Field House Farm Cottages, Bempton, East Yorks

The cottages also have impeccable green credentials, using a wind turbine and rainwater capture, encouraging recycling and using local products.

The friendly, helpful owners (who live on-site) have other cottages at nearby High Barn, where we had stayed last year and on both occasions we were really lucky with the weather, so as last time we had a very sunny visit to the promenade at Bridlington which is nice and smooth for wheel users with plenty of parking. The Blue Badge bays were all full but with this being off-season, there were loads of free spaces nearby.

The prom at Bridlington
The prom at Bridlington

All the cottages at Field House and High Barn are different, but if there is one that suits you, I thoroughly recommend them!

The Spinney, High Barn cottages
The Spinney, High Barn cottages

For further details of accessibility features, see my review on Euan’sGuide.