Routine, mental gymnastics and a stake in the future

Spring 2020

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.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

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.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

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.

Non-New Year resolutions

Distant views, Fairburn Ings

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.

Wall-mounted dispensers from simplehuman.com
Wall-mounted dispensers from simplehuman.com

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.’

Button fastener from Essential Aids
Button fastener from Essential Aids

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!

Distant views, Fairburn Ings
Distant views, Fairburn Ings

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.

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

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!

Changing priorities

York Uni Christmas Day 2019

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?

York Uni Christmas Day 2019
York Uni Christmas Day 2019

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.

Ambiente, Fossgate, York
Ambiente, Fossgate, 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.

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

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.

The Alnwick Garden
The Alnwick Garden

Reviews of accessible places to visit

Reviews of accessible places to stay

Reviews of accessible places to eat

Is this year’s panto as good as ever?

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Check out more reviews of accessible places to visit.

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, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

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.

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.