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!