Watch a bald eagle feed its chicks in Florida. See owlets flex their wings in Israel or storks raise their young in Germany. Zebras and elephants in South Africa, raccoons in Ohio, a falcon in Australia and ospreys in Wales. These are all things which can be done while sitting in the comfort in your own home thanks to Skyline Webcams!
We have also watched ice skaters and Christmas markets in Germany and Easter processions in Spain. There are dozens of cameras in a huge variety of locations. Plenty are less exciting views, of a beach in Florida for example but even some of these were worth a look when they were being pummelled by a violent storm a few months back. Even watching the redevelopment of Puerta del Sol in central Madrid is curiously compelling!
If, like me, you don’t get out and about that much or go on exotic holidays but love watching wildlife in its natural habitat, these Webcams are hugely entertaining. I would say the best ones are in the United States and South Africa but as mentioned above, there are gems to be found in all sorts of places.
They are not all online all the time. In fact, one of our favourites, the Deer Pantry in Maine is about to go off-line until next winter so catch it soon to see beautiful white-tailed deer!
Once chicks have fledged and the adults have gone away, the cameras tend to be turned off but that means it’s great fun when they reappear and you see that the adult birds are rebuilding their nest for another brood.
If you go to the website and hover over Live Cams you get a menu of all the different countries where there are WebCams then you can explore and find your own favourites. Many of the cameras can be rewound so you can catch what went on earlier in the day or overnight such as visits from lions at ol Donyo in Kenya where the camera is placed very near to the waterhole so you get great close-ups. Most have sound which you usually have to unmute. Beware putting the sound up too high if watching the ospreys in Florida, they are loud!
New cameras appear all the time so there is always something fun to watch and of course, because they are in different parts of the world with different time zones and seasons you will find different creatures raising young at different times.
News and current affairs can be rather depressing and frustrating at times. Watching wildlife in South Africa, Spain or wherever is a great antidote!
When I realised I could not get in and out of our car any more, I didn’t realise it would be nearly two years before we finally got a WAV delivered!
It was in February 2021 when I happened to need to go to our GP surgery for a blood test that I realised, in the parking bay outside, that I could not get out of the car. It had become increasingly difficult with our previous model of Ford Focus but I could still manage, however we had had to replace it. With the Motability scheme you have your car for a maximum of five years and unfortunately, the new model was harder to negotiate, partly because the height of the passenger seat cannot be adjusted as there is a battery below it. We looked at some other types of car, but none of them appeared to be any easier.
Fortunately, after checking their insurance details, the GP practice was happy for me to have blood taken while I was seated in the car. Back home, I of course still had to get out of the car but, as part of the problem was the effect of stress, (mild, I know!) on my muscles plus the added factor of knowing I had to exit the car or live in it for ever more, I managed to stand up, swivel and sit in my power chair.
This meant we needed to look into getting a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV). We contacted Motability and they were happy for us to change vehicle, even though we hadn’t had the new one for very long but as my needs were now different, it was no use to us.
This led to us having The WAV Experience! This is administered by Proximo on behalf of Motability. They lend you a WAV for a week so that you can see if it is the right option for you. The car we were lent was a CitroënBerlingo, where the wheelchair-user sits in their chair in the back.
Before this, we had to buy a Powerchair that is “crash-tested,” in other words, one that can be fixed to the floor of the WAV. We decided on a Roma Reno Elite which had to come with the Captain Seat (a slightly higher seat back) in order to comply with the regulations. It is very similar to the chair I use the rest of the time but it is a bit ‘clunkier,’ not quite so nippy, but as I will mainly use it for parks or gardens this isn’t a big problem. It is no wider so it goes through our doors without a problem.
Travelling in the back of a WAV is rather strange in two ways: physically, because it doesn’t feel as stable as sitting in a car seat. Even though I knew wasn’t going to be tipped over, it was unsettling nevertheless until I got used to it. The other issue is that it does not feel great to me to sit in the back like a taxi passenger or a parcel! Plus, the visibility is really poor from there. It was good to get out and about having not done so since February but the weather was still too cold for an outdoor visit.
It was a useful experience, though, as it decided us that what we really wanted was an Upfront i.e. a car adapted so that the wheelchair-using passenger can sit next to the driver in the place where the passenger seat would be.
We did consider looking into vehicles where you enter the car from the side but decided that in our driveway, it would be much easier to enter from the rear of the vehicle. Also, not all Blue Badge parking bays are that wide and would probably have caused problems with accessing the side ramp when we were out and about.
In July we test drove a Volkswagen Caddy Upfront from Sirus, who are specialists in Upfront WAVs. I felt much more secure being seated upfront (although this might be because I was more used to travelling in my chair in a car anyway) and the visibility was much better. It was a second-hand car and we could have bought it but this would have meant leaving the Motability scheme. We decided we would prefer to stay with the scheme and get a new car. Unfortunately, the Caddy was temporarily unavailable because they were relaunching it as the VW Caddy 5.
We waited several months for the new model to appear but then they announced that they had raised the upfront price that you pay to Motability by several thousand pounds. This needed a rethink!
In February 2022, we test drove a Peugeot Traveller Upfront. We decided that this was what we wanted so we ordered it from GM Coachwork, a company that does adaptations to make cars accessible. It is larger than the VW Caddy but cheaper. What we actually got was a Citroën Spacetourer which is what was available from Motability at the time and as far as I can tell, it is exactly the same thing as the Peugeot Traveller.
We were told that there might be a bit of a wait for delivery as the whole car industry was having problems with sourcing parts such as microchips but that it should be ready by July or August. In August we were told the car had arrived in the country and was being adapted. In September they said they were waiting for parts then we finally had it delivered on 1 November.
The chap from GM Coachwork was very helpful in showing Pete how to secure my chair to the floor of the vehicle fold and lock the ramp and other technicalities and went with us for a brief test drive.
Since then we have had a drive around York while the trees still had some of their autumn colours. It was great to see places we hadn’t seen for a long time but nothing much had actually changed! We were also able to get to the garden centre so that I could spend some garden vouchers which would have expired at the end of the year!
It is now far too cold for outside visits unless you can walk briskly but it is good to have the car to use if we need to and I am really looking forward to getting out and about when the weather is warmer.
I realised recently that many museums and art galleries around the world can be viewed on Google Street View. This is useful not only as it increases access for those with disabilities or limited mobility but also creates access for everyone during times of lockdown or other Covid restrictions. It is also brilliant fun!
Perhaps this feature of Street View has been available for a long time but I was delighted to discover it recently and promptly had a look around museums I am familiar with such as the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Musée D’Orsay but also the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Lahore Museum which I have never visited and am not likely to.
Some are easier to navigate around than others: I failed to access the upper floors of some museums, whereas in others it was easy to go up or down the staircases. The Dulwich Picture Gallery was particularly simple to navigate and you could get a good view of the paintings. Many art galleries, when viewed digitally, have a circle in front of the paintings which you can click and a side panel opens on your screen giving you more detail about the picture in question.
If you find a museum on Google Maps then click the little man to bring up the blue Street View areas, you can tell whether the museum can be visited because of all the blue lines showing where the Street View camera has been.
Some just have blue dots which means you can go inside but only in a certain position, you can’t navigate around the place. That said, one of the museums I tried this with was Hull Maritime Museum which didn’t have blue lines inside it so I assumed you couldn’t visit it virtually but when I tried anyway, found myself inside and I not only navigated around but also up and down the staircase!
It’s definitely worth having a play with this function of Google Maps and Street View. Obviously, seeing paintings ‘in the flesh’ as it were is best but when that’s not possible this is a great substitute!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
This visit was a lovely experience all round: seeing so many
beautiful flowers and shrubs was very restorative in these chaotic times!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.