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

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.

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.

More than just waterlilies

The Upper Lake, Burnby Hall Gardens

Burnby Hall Gardens, Pocklington are renowned for their fabulous collection of waterlilies but there is a lot more to the gardens and they are brilliantly accessible – I just can’t quite decide which type of path I like best.

The Upper Lake, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Upper Lake, Burnby Hall Gardens

They have been doing some restoration and improvements so there aren’t so many waterlilies as normal just now (they hold the national collection) but plenty were out and looking lovely and there is much more to see. It’s years since we have visited and they have created new paths since then and new areas to explore, such as the Victorian Garden, Aviary Garden and a shady walk with hydrangeas each side as well as the revamped rockery.

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

In the reception area/shop they gave us a map which is also on their website although the hydrangea path must be very new as it’s not marked. It was made of what I believe is called self-binding gravel: very fine gravel, claylike in texture and great for wheels.  Other paths were resin, such as  the ones in the Rock Garden which is lovely and smooth or tarmac with just a couple of loose gravel or bark chip ones which are easy to avoid if your wheels can’t cope with it. I also gave the path to the stumpery a miss as it was too bumpy.

Accessible viewing platform at Burnby Hall Gardens
Accessible viewing platform at Burnby Hall Gardens

It was easy to get right to the water’s edge too as there were viewing platforms especially for wheelchair users. Actually, I only remember one of them and you reached it by going over the grass but this was very smooth – more so than our lawn at home! I guess the gravel paths are the greenest option as they are permeable but might get muddy in wet weather.

Smooth paths at Burnby Hall Gardens
Smooth paths at Burnby Hall Gardens

It was very busy when we were there but it was never a problem and there was a lovely atmosphere – everyone was enjoying themselves! There is a café selling cakes and light snacks with indoor and outdoor seating, accessible loos (didn’t use them but got a photo and they look very civilised!) and baby-changing. There were also plenty of benches as you go round.

The café, Burnby Hall Gardens
The café, Burnby Hall Gardens
Accessible loo at Burnby Hall Gardens
Accessible loo at Burnby Hall Gardens

The museum is accessible too. It houses artefacts gathered by Major Percy Stewart, who lived at Burnby Hall, which is now council offices, during his travels around the globe during the early 1900s. Stuffed animal heads might not be to everyone’s taste but there are plenty of other interesting objects and some interactive parts.

The Stewart Museum, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Stewart Museum, Burnby Hall Gardens

The shop sells gifts and postcards and the staff were helpful and friendly. There is plenty of parking although not enough Blue Badge bays – there were a number of people using scooters and chairs and no wonder when it is so accessible – they hold an Age UK award for accessibility. Pete dropped me off then found a space elsewhere. There are details about parking on their website.

The Victorian Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Victorian Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens

We will definitely be going back – perhaps at different time of the year to see the garden in different moods. It’ll be interesting to see it develop as the lilies and rockery plants return to their former glory. I also like supporting somewhere so committed to making themselves genuinely  accessible – they deserve our business.

Click here for lots more accessible places to visit.

Immersed in Van Gogh – and fairly detached about being in town

360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

The Van Gogh Immersive Experience was lovely, visiting that part of town for the first time in years was not as great as expected.

The Van Gogh Immersive Experience has come to York having previously been in Brussels and elsewhere – it’s at St Mary’s Church, Castlegate, next to the Jorvik Viking Centre.

The main event is the 35 minute Immersive Experience where you are, indeed, immersed in 360° projections of Van Gogh paintings accompanied by music and some voice-over. They are not just static paintings though: windmill sails rotate, trees and flowers blow in the breeze, rain falls, a train passes through a sunny landscape and yes, you become enveloped in a starry, starry night. They make imaginative use of the space, sometimes projecting different pictures between the pillars, at other times one picture fills the room and you are part of the landscape.

360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)
360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

I think their website said that it was wheelchair accessible but didn’t have information about who could get a concession and whether an accompanying carer could go free. I e-mailed them to enquire and they asked me to forward my booking confirmation so they could make a note that I would be accompanied; this all seemed a little complicated so I suggested they update their website information to make all this clear and they have! Result! The staff on duty at the venue were very helpful.

Entrance to the Immersive Experience
Entrance to the Immersive Experience

There is ample Blue Badge parking fairly nearby in the Castle Carpark by Clifford’s Tower. The route between the two is a bit bumpy but not too drastic – we came via the road as it’s a quiet one and the dropped kerb at the top of the slope near the church is quite a good one. If your wheelchair is too big to manoeuvre around to the entrance, you could go in the exit. The seating was mainly deckchairs which was a jolly idea but many people were struggling to get in and out of them, plus there were a couple of wooden benches.

360° projections at the Immersive Experience
360° projections at the Immersive Experience

Unfortunately, the second part of the experience was in a room up a small, steep little slope that my chair couldn’t cope with (I think the stabiliser wheels back got caught in the angle as it was so steep). What we missed was mainly some activities for kids, so that didn’t matter to us but there was also some virtual reality headsets (at an extra cost) which I was really looking forward to as I’ve never tried virtual reality so I was very disappointed but I guess it can’t be helped: it’s an old building. It might be that they could have tried a bit harder, though, it was a really steep slope for anyone on wheels.

Reproduction of Van Gogh's room at Arles
Reproduction of Van Gogh’s room at Arles

Afterwards, as the rain held off, we had a look round Coppergate Walk as I have not been there for years. It was very busy and I don’t want to do York down, but it was a bit scruffy, very commercial, with pop-up food outlets and somewhat rubbish strewn. The sloping pavement meant that the entrance to the Body Shop has a small step so wasn’t accessible. I wasn’t worried about The Whisky Shop, the jewellers or the umpteen cafés but we were able to pop into Boots and Fenwick’s which has changed mightily since I was last there. The fabulous selection of greetings cards that they used to have on the ground floor has now been moved to the lower ground floor and wasn’t quite so fabulous anymore but there is a very spacious lift to get you there.

Van Gogh at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)
Van Gogh at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

I have mixed feelings about being in town: it was good to see some once-familiar places, but on the other hand a lot of the things you can get in town, you can also get out of town where, as well as being more accessible, is a lot less crowded. We used to be a bit snotty about out-of-town shopping but now realise how incredibly convenient it is for anyone other than the very mobile. On the whole, I can live without looking round shops anyway!

Do visit the Van Gogh if you can – it’s beautiful, it’s different and it’s fun.

Other accessible places to visit.