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.

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

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.