Powerchairs are liberating

The ramp!

I recently read an online article in which someone with MS said that they dreaded “ending up in a wheelchair.” It made me feel rather sad and I left a comment to the effect that using a wheelchair can actually be really liberating.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

It’s not that I don’t empathise with that feeling: even though I had been using a scooter for a few years, I was really upset at the thought of having to get a wheelchair. I should have remembered how wonderful it felt the first time I went round our local park when I got my Luggie scooter – after being a regular visitor to the park, as my mobility got worse we had stopped visiting it, so going there again after some years was really exciting.

Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York

Realising that I was going to have to start using a wheelchair felt like yet another stage in the process of having no mobility at all. At that point, I was using my scooter to get to my office from the car, to get around at work and to visit places such as the park or the out-of-town shops. You can’t conveniently use Luggie scooters to sit at a desk or table and they are not comfortable to sit on for any great length of time, so I would transfer onto my office chair or the ‘teacher’s’ chair in the classrooms at work, but this was becoming increasingly tiring and quite tricky as the chairs were used by other people and might have been left at a raised height – it’s really difficult to lower an office chair if you aren’t sitting on it! I would sometimes ask a student to lower it for me but even so, I’d be nervous that it would shoot out from behind me and deposit me on the floor! Luggie do actually do a Powerchair now, but as it is even heavier than the scooter, I’m not sure how practical it would be.

The ramp!

We organised a home demonstration of an Eden Mobility ‘Comet’ Powerchair and once it became clear that I would be able to use it to sit at a desk, I realised that this was the way to go: no more worrying about transferring onto an office chair or struggling to get round the house leaning on the furniture and Pete’s arm. Fortunately, it’s narrow enough that you can get through ordinary doorways that haven’t been widened so we didn’t have to adapt the whole house, although we did get a slope put in up to the front door by Passmore who also did some of our bathroom alterations but many of our doors do have scrape marks on them now!

The ramp!

The front door threshold would have been problematic, but Pete cunningly built up layers of vinyl floor underneath the carpet to create a gentle slope so I can move in and out of the house with barely a jolt.

We may have to make more adaptations in the future but for now, I love that I can get round the whole house and now, thanks to Pete putting in a slope instead of some steps in the garden, the whole of the garden, even on the lawn when it’s dry.

Terrace and gardens, Parador de Argómaniz

I would prefer to be able to walk but given that I can’t, a Powerchair is a whole lot better than struggling around or not being able to go places.

Valley View, Thatch Close Cottages, Llangrove, Herefordshire
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York’s most beautiful park: now less bumpy!

Homestead Park, York

Decided to give Homestead Park a go with my power chair rather than my scooter. I had my email to the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust half written in my head, asking if they could make the crazy paving a bit smoother and found that they have done exactly that: the pathway near the pond that was a bit rough going is now tarmac like most of the rest of the paths – hooray!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

I still emailed them, though, to enquire if the surface of the car park could be improved as it is really bumpy and they promptly replied to say that they are looking to improve it, so good news all round for those of us who like a smooth ride when possible.

Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city

It was a lovely, sunny day so the park was being very well used: the children’s play area seems really popular and there were plenty of people admiring the gorgeous flower beds.

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

There always seem to be improvements on the go. During our last visit, they were replacing the trees on the Cherry Walk and these were in bloom and looking lovely. There was a guy in waders clearing the pond and plenty of other staff generally tending the place, which is always immaculately kept.

Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York
Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York

Great to know that they are committed to improvements in accessibility as well as in horticulture!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

Here are some other accessible places to visit.

Big skies and accessible hides

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

It was rather chilly for outdoor exploring during our stay in Norfolk but the views from the car were magnificent! The North Norfolk coast is completely different to that of North Yorkshire, west of Sheringham it flattens out and there are no cliffs or rocky coves but lots of shingle beaches, sand dunes, marshes, wetlands and that huge, huge sky.

Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk
Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk

This was our second stay at Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages (now called Church Farm Barns), this time in The Little Workshop, a fully accessible cottage for four. Last time, we booked Stable Cottage but because of a problem with the heating, we were upgraded to The Big Workshop which had a lovely view so this time we booked the smaller next-door cottage in order to benefit from the same view which Stable Cottage doesn’t have.

Great view from The Little Workshop
Great view from The Little Workshop

All the cottages are accessible and of different sizes and there is plenty of equipment such as hoists or a profiling bed which the owners will hire out to you if required. The owners are really helpful and Lavinia makes a point of coming to welcome you and check that everything is all right.

French windows
French windows

Despite the name, The Little Workshop is really spacious with plenty of room to move around. Not quite perfect, however, as it’s not possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair but, as in Normandy last summer, we raised the legs on top of books which makes the table rather high but at least you can sit at it. Another small gripe would be that all the pillows were really thick ones: I ended up using a thin cushion instead as I couldn’t possibly have slept with my head on such a high pillow! Also, the mattress could do with replacing when they update the cottage: it was a little bit like hammock-like! I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or a disability thing, probably a bit of both, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with different domestic arrangements. Our house isn’t perfectly arranged, but at least I’m used to it and feel more confident there. Different furniture arrangements, positions of grab rails etc take a bit of getting used to. Sad, but true!

Easy access to The Little Workshop
Easy access to The Little Workshop

There was also an issue with getting out onto the patio as the threshold was rather high and there was a bit of a dip where a drainage grid had been put in which had maybe sunk a bit. We had found something similar with the Big Workshop, but with that cottage, you can exit through the front door and come around the side but this isn’t the case with the Little Workshop. We mentioned this to Lavinia and somebody brought a bit of board which we could put down to form a bridge between the rather high threshold, over the drainage grid and onto the patio itself. We tried it the next day and despite some overnight rain which had warped the board a bit, it worked a treat!

Access to the patio sorted!
Access to the patio sorted!

Another brilliant thing is that the cottages are really cosy, so unlike many of the quaint, old cottages we’ve stayed in, although I don’t see why they couldn’t be made to be as cosy as this as well!

We arrived on Friday and as I said, the weather was rather cold so on the Saturday we set out for a drive along the coast, heading first for Cromer then driving westwards past Sheringham then we came across the Cley Marshes Visitor Centre which looked like an accessible place so we decided to check it out. It strongly reminded us of The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre that we visited this time last year in Cumbria as it was built in a similar style with plenty of wood and glass and a ‘living roof’ and designed to be sustainable and accessible.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We managed to resist the cakes in the café, but they did look rather good! It’s run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and has a shop and café in the main building, accessed by a lift (one of those rather basic ones where you have to hold down the button as you go up or down) then there was a separate building with information about the work of the Trust and another building that was a hide with telescopes/binoculars that you could use although they were either too high or in front of the bench so accessing them from a wheelchair would have needed a bit of manoeuvring. There was also an exhibition in there by a local artist.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We continued on to Blakeney where we stopped for a pot of fresh seafood. I don’t think I’ve done that for years so it felt rather nostalgic! We continued on past Wells, past Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster then slightly past the turnoff back to the cottage in order to check out Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve which we thought we might visit the next day.

The weather continued to be rather iffy but we fancied more fresh air so the next day we did go to Titchwell. The staff were very helpful and explained that most of the path was slightly better than the path between the car park and the visitor centre which was indeed the case, not too bumpy and some of the way round there were boardwalks but most of the way was a rather rough path (failed to get a photo of the path, unfortunately). However, as it was starting to rain we decided to call it a day which was just as well as it started to chuck it down on our way home. Apparently, there are accessible hides at Titchwell but we didn’t make it that far!

Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve
Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

It is, of course, really frustrating not to be able to go for a brisk walk and explore places like we used to but I can’t live my entire life being irritated by that situation or it would be miserable, so I just have to accept that we have to curtail what we do. Many of the visitors to Titchwell were all geared up for bad weather but I think even if I was completely able-bodied we wouldn’t have wanted to walk around in the rain anyway!

Nowadays, we usually choose accommodation with good views and this cottage has them in spades: the windows are huge to take advantage of them and it was fun spotting (and hearing!) the oystercatchers which live round about. We also wanted to feel like we had had a relaxing time, especially as my work is slightly stressful at the moment, so it was lovely to not check even ‘home’ emails but to read, do puzzles, listen to music, chat and just generally chill out.

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!
Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

The Monday when we left, the temperature was due to reach about 20°!

As ever, different accessibility adaptations suit different people, but if the facilities at Church Farm Barns suit you, then I thoroughly recommend them as they are generally high-quality accommodation, even the ones which haven’t been updated yet, and the staff are really welcoming. They have improved their website as well which has information about accessible things to do locally.

For more information about accessible places to stay, see my other reviews.

Wish list for wheelchair accessible hotels

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

These are all the things I’ve thought of but I expect there are more.

Outside

  • Plenty of Blue Badge parking bays with hatching on both sides
  • Forget dropped kerbs, have smooth transitions between surfaces with as few bumps as possible
  • Automatically opening doors where appropriate
  • If possible, a covered drop-off area outside main doors

Reception area

  • Low reception desk or at least a lowered portion (and not tucked around the side where it can’t be seen)
  • Seating (normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs)
  • Clear signage
  • Accessible toilet

Rooms

  • Wide doorway (if there is a spy hole, there needs to be one at a lower level too)
  • Wide access to both sides of bed
  • Any chairs should be normal height and with arms, such as tub chairs
  • If there are alarm buttons or cords, they should be on both sides of the bed (it should not be assumed which side of the bed the disabled person will be on or it may be that the room is occupied by two disabled people)
  • Facilities such as kettles, hairdryers etc should all be within easy reach for a wheelchair user
  • Bathrooms should follow industry guidelines and rooms with both right-hand and left-hand transfer toilets available
  • Toilets should not be the highest possible, but seat raisers should be available to borrow if necessary
  • Roll-in shower area
  • Fold-down shower seats and grab rails in shower area
  • Lower-level mirrors
  • Consider having lowered or lowerable basins

Restaurants

  • Tables should be designed so that a wheelchair user can pull right up to them without having to transfer to a dining chair
  • Plenty of space between tables
  • Chairs with arms available if required

General

  • Staff should have disabled awareness training
  • Wherever possible, doorways should not have a lip to get over

Other accessibility issues

  • Menus should be available in large print
  • If there is piped music, consider having a quiet area in the restaurant or sitting area
  • Contrasting colours on walls and doors and edges of steps
  • Equipment such as chair or bed raisers, vibrating alarms etc should be available

 

Parking space, La Cour de Rémi
Parking space, La Cour de Rémi

The Dress Circle is accessible. Oh yes it is!

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

This time last year we were booked into the Dress Circle at York Theatre Royal but the lift had broken down so they accommodated us in the stalls. Assuming that the same thing couldn’t happen to us again, we booked the Dress Circle this year and… it was great! The Theatre Royal had a revamp a couple of years ago and it is now much more accessible with automatically opening doors, much more space generally in the foyer and of course, the lift! It was one of those cunning ones with doors on different sides so you didn’t have to back out: brilliant! You get a good view with plenty of space and a good solid rail in front of you. There is an accessible loo on the ground floor and the Dress Circle level and a bar at each level too. All the staff are really welcoming and helpful.

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

This was our annual trip to see the pantomime and it was Berwick Kaler’s final pantomime after being the Dame at York Theatre Royal for 40 years. It was our 27th consecutive visit to see the usual mayhem. I won’t give away the plot (!) but safe to say there were plenty of laughs and audience participation, all the usual main players and a very professional supporting cast. I don’t know what the theatre will do in future years, as the panto is such a moneyspinner for them but it’ll be interesting to see how they go on.

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

See my previous reviews of the renovated Theatre Royal.

Did you know Celtic Gypsy Klezmer is a thing?

NCEM entrance

The Dodo Street Band perform it in spades! Skilful and versatile, they gave us toe-tapping jolly tunes and daft banter to warm us up on the day we had been threatened with freezing rain and blizzards. Fortunately those didn’t materialise, just heavy rain.

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

The NCEM has been granted £144,200 some of which will be used to improve access and seating. I remember from when I used to use their seats that they are not the most comfortable so that’s welcome news and as the place is really accessible already, I can only imagine how fabulous it will be with even better access – less bumpy thresholds and more Blue Badge spaces, perhaps?

When we arrived, the only remaining Blue Badge space in the carpark was reserved – we didn’t realise you could reserve them but now we know! We parked in the street which wasn’t really a greater distance – just as well as it was chucking it down! It did mean setting up my chair in the road which was only busy because of the concertgoers and really not a problem. I will remember to book a space next time though as it means not having to go up and down the dropped kerb.

We used a space for wheelchair users on the front row so had a great view of the band and their amazing range of instruments: violin, accordion, double base, clarinet and bodhran mainly but also recorder, mandolin and plenty of others.

There was mulled wine and mince pies on offer as well as a couple of CDs by the band. We bought both the CDs – maybe we should have gone entirely digital by now but I like buying a CD!

I’m looking forward to future trips the NCEM to see how they develop it further.

See my other reviews of trips to the NCEM.

Accessible adventures in Normandy!

Looking back, we had a wonderful holiday this summer but I must admit that at one point during our first evening I found myself muttering “Do we have to keep going on holiday?” I had got to the point where travelling and going to different places in a wheelchair had just become really exhausting. What actually caused my disgruntlement was having to transfer onto a dining chair because the tables in the dining room at the Ashford International Hotel were not wide enough to accommodate my powerchair. Transferring like this somewhere I’m familiar with is not a problem, I had just got really tired after travelling down from York with a stop at Grantham service station which wasn’t particularly user-friendly as the supposedly dropped kerb was rather high and the accessible loo had a broken lock. All right for me with Pete to stand guard but a potential disaster for someone travelling on their own. Things like this make travelling a bit tiring and stressful.IMG_1545

Also, the Ashford International Hotel had very bizarre accessibility to the building (see my review on Euan’sGuide for details and photos) and the room, while spacious enough didn’t allow much room between the loo and the wash basin. In the room, there were two mini bottles of prosecco and a note addressed to someone called Hayley explaining that they were the Guest of the Day. Somewhat nonplussed, we ignored them but when we got to the restaurant that evening it turned out that I was Guest of the Day despite not being called Hayley! This meant we had a plate added to our already quite crowded table with my new title written on it in chocolate! The meal and wine were nice and the staff very efficient. Breakfast next day was pretty good although somewhat off-putting was a member of staff with serious body odour issues. This place could do so much better!

The hotel is really convenient for the Channel Tunnel of course which is where we were headed the next day. The shuttle terminal building had marked Blue Badge bays and was easily accessible, including accessible loos. The previous time we had travelled on the shuttle, we had approached in a lane specifically for Blue Badge holders. This time that lane was shut and we ended up on the top layer of the shuttle (the carriages are double-deckers). It occurred to us that this really shouldn’t happen: wheelchair users should surely be on the lower level. After our return, I contacted the company and they said that that should indeed be the case and that were there a problem in future I should talk to a member of staff. So now we know!

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The journey was really smooth and easy and we were soon in France and on our way to our next hotel, Les Saules, in the Baie de Somme area. This was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay with a spacious room, adapted bathroom and decking outside the French windows so you could sit outside. As we were staying two nights, we had a free day to explore the area so we went over to the coast at Le Crotoy and along to Fort Mahon: very breezy and bracing with great views.

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

The next day we were off to our gîte at Ceaucé via a stop at a supermarket for supplies. What a lovely gîte! Designed to be accessible, La Fresnaie has wide doors, an adapted bathroom, low level hob and eye level oven and a covered area to park your car. We loved sitting on the spacious terrace surrounding the house watching the red squirrels running about and listening to the buzzards overhead. During our week here, we explored lots of local villages in the car such as Lassay-les-Châteaux, Domfront, St Frimbault and Bagnoles de L’Orme. I didn’t have the energy to do much intrepid exploring of possible lakeside paths etc although we did visit the rather lovely La Roseraie at Lassay-les-Châteaux.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

Self-catering in France is made a lot easier by supermarkets having a traiteur counter where you can buy home-made style meals such as boeuf bourguignon or poulet basquaise – absolutely delicious. Also, it may seem like a stereotype but people really do go to the village boulangerie for their daily baguette. I can see why people fall in love with the lifestyle and want to move here.IMG_1590

The roads in France were good and not too crowded, although one of the days we travelled was apparently a day when everyone is heading off to Brittany and other places for their holidays which meant when we stopped at an aire or service station, it was very busy. Aires are more individual than our chains of service stations and not all are accessible, but the signs for them on the motorway indicate which services they have.

Lassay-les-Châteaux

We just stopped one night on our way back through France but at a rather special place: La Cour de Rémi at Bermicourt in Pas de Calais. After an international career, Sebastien, the proprietor, returned to his family château to convert the stables into a hotel and restaurant with fabulous but unpretentious cooking using lots of home-grown and locally sourced ingredients. They need to work on their accessibility: the tarmac was very rough and they had to put a board in place as a ramp into the restaurant as they haven’t built a permanent ramp yet. This was done with such alacrity that you really couldn’t fault them. I’m sure if we were to visit again (and I would love to!) these things will have been sorted out and they are also planning to create a little museum as the château was the headquarters of the British Tank Command during the First World War. Breakfast was equally fabulous, including their speciality of an entire brioche loaf between the two of us with home-made jam.

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

A smooth journey on the shuttle again brought us to Folkestone and as we had some time to kill before going to our next stop, we drove along the coast and saw the Royal Military Canal at Romney Marsh. It was quite sunny and it was in a very attractive, tree-surrounded setting, but there was too much of a howling gale for exploring it to have been feasible but if we are ever down this way again it would make a lovely accessible little visit. I since contacted the local tourist office who said that the stretch of the canal nearest to Folkestone was deliberately created to be cycle and wheelchair friendly.

The Black Horse Inn, Thurnham, Kent

 

Our final stop was The Black Horse Inn at Thurnham near Maidstone, a historic but accessible pub which has rooms in single-storey chalets. They have created a pathway which takes you to the back of the pub and the lower level of the pub is accessible. This is where we ate in the evening and had breakfast the next day. The evening meal wasn’t great although the breakfast was good. I found the bathroom a little tricky to use so I wouldn’t choose to stay here again but it was interesting to see how a historic building can be made accessible and the rooms were generally very good and spacious.

Accessible, family rooms at The Black Horse, Thurnham, Kent

Using the shuttle was much preferable to last summer’s experience of using a plane and I would definitely do it again. The only trouble is that to reach somewhere like Spain you would have to do a lot of driving and planning of places to stopover so you would then have the issue that I started this piece with, of it being tiring to stay in lots of different places. It would be brilliant if travelling in a wheelchair on a plane was an easier and pleasanter experience. Next summer, in order to avoid potential Brexit-induced queues, we are holidaying in Britain but will no doubt head for Europe again soon via the shuttle!

Read about more accessible adventures!