Same but different!

Private garden, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

Our trip back to Northumberland meant some slightly different arrangements but also new places to visit: an accessible promenade and some rather bumpy gardens!

Private garden, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Private garden, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

Because of the virus, holidaymakers had been asked not to turn up before 5pm in order that the cottages could be thoroughly cleaned and we managed to time it so that we turned up on the Saturday at 5.05! Instructions had been added to the cottage information file about Covid and the visitors’ book had been put away and nobody had written it since before the lockdown but otherwise the cottage was just as we remembered, comfortable, clean, spacious, well-equipped and with good decor. Sue, the manager, appeared on the Monday to check everything was all right, but wouldn’t step inside. Later in the week we saw some of the cleaners in PPE: the new rules were being taken very seriously.

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

The surroundings are wonderfully peaceful: no traffic, just the susurration of the trees and the cawing of the rooks.

The peaceful surroundings of Doxford Cottages
The peaceful surroundings of Doxford Cottages

We had stayed at Fox Cover at Doxford Cottages last year but whereas then I thought it was almost ideal and we rebooked it straightaway (and thank goodness we did! I don’t think we would have found anything at short notice) this time it seemed a bit more of a struggle to deal with the practical arrangements.

Parking area, Doxford Cottages
Parking area, Doxford Cottages

In the preceding weeks, I had made a real effort to work on my balance so that I would feel more confident in a new setting and that did help but it is difficult when grab rails are in different places and chairs are a different shape! Really deep armchairs can be a bit problematic for anyone who is not particularly tall as you need to get the right combination of cushions to feel comfortable but there was a really good selection of different sized cushions!

Sitting room, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Sitting room, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

With grab rails, shower seats etc, it’s a case of needing to feel sure that things won’t budge when you grab them or lean on them. This place does not claim to have the top level of accessibility but, given that it is wheelchair accessible and they have made an effort with some grab rails, they could just do with having a bit of a rethink and making it even better. As ever, different people need different help but that’s why there are industry recommendations for layouts that suit the most people.

Kitchen and dining area, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Kitchen and dining area, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

We weren’t planning to do anything much, we knew the weather was going to be dodgy on some days and we wanted to get the balance right so as not to come back from holiday needing a holiday! The weather was glorious on the Sunday so we spent most of the day in the garden, then on Monday when the weather turned and was wet most of the day, we were able to sit in the conservatory, looking out at the trees. We were thoroughly chilled by now so on the Tuesday we ventured out to the somewhat unfortunately named Spittal to see the sea. Spittal promenade is a low key affair but very easily accessible and with good parking in well-marked bays for Blue Badge holders. We hadn’t seen the sea since visiting Northumberland last summer and very refreshing it was too and with distant views of Holy Island and Bambrugh Castle. There were plenty of other people about and we exchanged hellos while remaining suitably distanced.

Spittal Promenade
Spittal Promenade
Easy parking at Spittal Promenade
Easy parking at Spittal Promenade

On the Wednesday we went to Howick Hall Gardens. I had seen them recommended in the cottage visitors’ book and on Euan’sGuide and they would be a great place to visit for the able-bodied as they are very extensive. In a good-sized scooter they would probably be a bit bumpy but for a power chair it really was a bit too uneven in places as the paths are mainly all grass.

Howick Hall Gardens
Howick Hall Gardens
Howick Hall Gardens
Howick Hall Gardens

Some of it was no more uneven than our lawn at home but there were some tree roots and other obstacles which made it a bit tiring to deal with while the threshold into the Sensory Garden was just impossible to even attempt.

Rather tricky entrance to the Sensory Garden, Howick Hall
Rather tricky entrance to the Sensory Garden, Howick Hall

I was glad to have gone because I wanted to see what it was like and it was a great change of scene with some lovely plants. The visitor centre was closed except for a ticket counter where a member of staff gave us a map of the grounds with the access of all groups marked. It wasn’t a very detailed map and as we left, we asked for the usual map which described the path surfaces so I would recommend asking for both maps if you are a wheelchair user or accompanying one.

Bog Garden, Howick Hall
Bog Garden, Howick Hall

The Thursday was mainly drizzly again then the Friday was an absolute corker, really hot and sunny. We thought we would have a brief trip to Bamburgh to get another glimpse of the sea, but as I suspected, even though it was about 10am when we got there, it was heaving so our vague plan of perhaps parking somewhere with a view of the sea was impossible. On the way there was a lovely, clear view of the Farne Islands and we got a glorious view of the silvery waves, the beach, and the castle behind.

Bamburgh Castle and beach
Bamburgh Castle and beach

Back at the cottage, a chap had turned up to trim the hedges. He wasn’t going to be long so we wandered back down the lane under the shady trees and discovered there were lots of little mice in the bank under the hedge. Doxford Cottages are something of a haven for wildlife: every day we saw a woodpecker or two, seven or eight chaffinches all at once, a nuthatch, pheasants, rabbits and a squirrel as well as the mice and lots of crows, jackdaws, house-martins and many other birds.  

Driveway to Doxford Cottages
Driveway to Doxford Cottages
wild mouse
P1000765

I really recommend this cottage if the access is right for you. It’s a great cottage in lovely surroundings and there is plenty to do in the area. I know the bathroom arrangements can be make or break for many disabled people and, guess what? We forgot to take photos of the bathroom! You can see the shower area on the cottage website and they provide a good adjustable height shower seat and also a toilet seat raiser if you wish (and were happy to provide measurements). The toilet has a vertical grab rail to the left of it but as it is not a back-to-the-wall lavatory, the rail is too far back to be useful and the drop-down rail to the right of the loo is a bit too far away to lean on but of course that won’t be a problem for everyone. It’s also great that it is possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair! The dressing table is also at an accessible height.

Wild rabbits, Doxford Cottages
Wild rabbits, Doxford Cottages

This may have been a little tiring physically at times but it was great to have a change of scene (I’d not been away from the house since the lockdown) and be in such peaceful surroundings. It was also very mentally refreshing to have a break from the news: we just checked the local weather and national headlines once a day and didn’t look at social media at all. We didn’t even have the radio on, just lots of our favourite CDs and only got a newspaper on the days when we were out and about.

Woodpecker, Doxford Cottages
Woodpecker, Doxford Cottages

I’m glad that we went on some ‘exotic’ holidays when we did as we have them to look back on. I certainly have no intention of flying until the airlines have sorted out accommodating wheelchair users properly. Besides, even if I was able-bodied, the thought of having to wear a mask for hours on end in the airport and on the flight is not very appealing. At the moment, simple staycations are right for us. I think a shorter break would suit me better as far as not getting too tired goes and as we are no longer bound by school holiday dates, I can see us doing a short break in the autumn or spring (or both!) in future. Maybe not at this cottage but we shall enjoy exploring other options!

Private garden, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Private garden, Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Entrance to Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Entrance to Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

Here are some other accessible places we have stayed.

Possibly the best cottage yet?

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

We might have found our favourite cottage of all, plus some thoughts on what adjustments should owners of accessible cottages make?

Do you come over all ‘hotel inspector’ when you stay somewhere? We tend to, whether it’s a hotel, B&B or cottage, but with Fox Cover at Doxford Cottages, there’s not much you could improve on!

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover
Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

A cottage for two, it has a spacious sitting room / dining room / kitchen, large bedroom, bathroom with both a bath and a roll-in shower and there is also a conservatory to sit in which overlooks the private garden and the woods beyond.

Looking out from the courtyard garden at Fox Cover
Looking out from the courtyard garden at Fox Cover

It is one of nine cottages created from the old coach house and stables on the Doxford estate in Northumberland, all of which have beautiful décor. It was clean, comfortable and very well equipped, including up-to-date local information.

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

Fox Cover is fully accessible, being step-free and with wide doorways. There were grab rails in the bathroom by the shower and the loo. Inevitably, everybody needs rails in different places but it did strike me as slightly odd that the ones in the bathroom were placed as if you were left-handed. In the shower area, the rails were on the left if you were to use them to stand up from the shower seat (provided on request) as were the shower controls and there was no drop-down rail to the right of the loo to lean on when standing up but there was one on the left. There is a recommended setup for loos and washbasins that many holiday cottages don’t adhere to it. In some cases I think this is so that the loo can be used by people who prefer either a right-hand or left-hand transfer but I suspect it ends up being not ideal for anybody. Perhaps cottage owners should simply state whether it is a right-hand or left-hand transfer or even create an accessible cottage for each configuration. Anyway, we coped but for many disabled people, the bathroom arrangements are a deal breaker. It staggers me that some places advertising themselves as disabled-friendly don’t provide photos of the bathroom. Having said that, I have been very remiss in not photographing the cottage interior myself – there are pictures on their website though.

The owners have some equipment they can lend and are happy to answer questions – I asked about the height of the bed, for example. A bit high for me so we used a portable step. As a general principal, I think providing normal height furniture should be the rule, with the possibility of ‘raisers’ if people need different heights. Having said that, a lowered hob in the kitchen would have been useful. This sort of adjustment makes things accessible for everybody: lowered kitchen surfaces are not inconvenient for non-wheelchair users.

I really appreciated that I could sit at the dining table in my power chair with no problem. In the past two places we stayed, Normandy last summer and Norfolk at Easter, we had to prop the table up on books which was far from ideal. The dressing table was also a good height for a wheelchair user. At Valley View in Herefordshire the height of the dressing table was adjustable!

Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Parking and drop off area for Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

You can park right outside the cottage on the tarmac driveway to unpack or for drop-off and pickup but you need to move car to a gravelled area for more longer term parking. This was fine for us as Pete does the driving but if a wheelchair-user was the driver and couldn’t negotiate the gravel this could be problematic.

The lake, Doxford Cottages
The lake, Doxford Cottages

For the more mobile, there is a track down to a lake in the grounds. There was quite a lot of flooding when we were there but even without that you would need a sturdy all-terrain scooter to explore the estate.

The path to the lake, Doxford Cottages
The path to the lake, Doxford Cottages

The Doxford Cottages website has loads of useful information (although not an accessibility statement) such as what you will find in your cottage including a welcome pack of a bottle of wine, local honey, some tea and coffee and a pint of milk. They also mentioned a local company, Food Heaven that provides meals and other food items delivered to your cottage. We ordered three different ready meals and quite a few other items such as ham, eggs, bread, fruit and vegetables. A very friendly delivery driver turned up with it just after we’d arrived and helped to unpack: if you aren’t there they unpack it and put things in the fridge, bread bin etc. I’m not sure I would recommend them particularly though – the meals were tasty but the other things weren’t particularly special. Although it’s good to use local shops and services, it’s no good if the items aren’t things you would choose anyway and shops aren’t always accessible. There are supermarkets in Alnwick to stock up – we went to the local Sainsbury’s during the week which is very modern and accessible.

Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!
Barter Books in Alnwick is accessible!

Although it rained quite a lot, we had lovely sunshine for our trips out and just chilled out on other days with books, magazines, puzzles and, yes, a jigsaw and did plenty of sitting outside in the peace and quiet. Even before we had entered the cottage we had spotted a rabbit and saw many more during the week plus a weasel, mouse, at least one woodpecker everyday – sometimes two or three at once! – nuthatches and half a dozen or more chaffinches plus, on the last evening, bats flying around! There are seed feeders opposite the sitting room window which are refilled every day.

Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!
Lots of cute bunnies live near Fox Cover!

I did feel a little bit inclined to keep this place to myself as it is so nice but as we have booked it for a week next summer already, I may as well share!

The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden
The Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden

There are a number of accessible things to do nearby – we visited Barter Books in Alnwick and the Alnwick Garden, reviewed separately. The coast is lovely too and we will try out some more places next year.

The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden
The Ornamental Garden at The Alnwick Garden

Click here for more accessible places to stay.

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

Accessible adventures in Normandy!

La Fresnaie, 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!

Could try harder!

How do you reach those automatic doors?

 

The Ashford International Hotel is theoretically accessible but I don’t think they are really committed to getting it right.

We stayed here one night before getting the shuttle the next day and, as you can imagine, chose it for its convenient location rather than its character!

How do you reach those automatic doors?
How do you reach those automatic doors?

When we first arrived, we parked in a marked Blue Badge bay but then realised that to leave the car park meant negotiating a rather bumpy ramp so we decided to use the drop off space by the main door instead. There was a really rather bizarre wheelchair route from the car park to the door which involved a short pathway and then the choice of either rejoining the road or going over some very rough grass to reach the automatic doors. There was no way to get to the automatic doors without going over the grass. We were glad we decided to use the drop-off area but then realised we were going to have to use the revolving doors. Eventually we noticed a blue button with a wheelchair symbol which we pressed and I think it slowed down the speed of the revolving. It was fine but I wouldn’t really choose to use revolving doors in a wheelchair!

Weird wheelchair route Ashford International
Weird wheelchair route Ashford International

The reception desk didn’t have a lowered portion which again doesn’t really show commitment to making things accessible. We checked in and went off to find our room which was down a lot of corridors and meant negotiating heavy fire doors. The route the receptionist indicated was actually not the shortest route!

Weird wheelchair route Ashford International
Weird wheelchair route Ashford International

The room was good and spacious but the bathroom was rather strange. It had a very good shower seat and the basin could be raised or lowered as required but the basin was so close to the loo that you had to sort of sidle in to access the loo. Not brilliant for anyone let alone people for whom sidling is not that easy! The accessible loo in the lobby was an awful lot easier to use.

Not much room to access the loo!
Not much room to access the loo!

This is starting to sound like a list of moans. When we went to the restaurant we discovered that the tables were not the sort you can sit at in a wheelchair so I had to transfer into one of their dining chairs. Generally, I like sitting in a dining chair but when you’re tired it can be easier to just stay put in your own chair.

Restaurant Ashford International
Restaurant Ashford International

On entering the restaurant we were greeted with the information that I was the “Guest of the Day!” What treats did this entail? A plate was put on our table with Guest of the Day piped on it in chocolate and sprinkled with stars. Our excitement and gratitude knew no bounds. Actually, it explained the two mini bottles of prosecco in our room with a note addressed to Hayley explaining that she was Guest of the Day. I was evidently Hayley.

I can’t actually remember much about the meal, other than that we didn’t fancy any of the starters so had mains and desert. The staff were very pleasant and efficient.

Revolving door, Ashford International
Revolving door, Ashford International

We then decamped to the sitting area in the lobby which was rather chilly as the outside doors were open at the far end.

Tricky ramp to exit carpark, Ashford International
Tricky ramp to exit carpark, Ashford International

Breakfast next day was in the same restaurant so there was the same issue with seating but the breakfast was fine with plenty of choices. Could have done without a member of staff having absolutely violent BO, though.

To summarise, a conveniently placed hotel with some accessible features but we would not stay there again, it was just too much like hard work! They emailed a link to a feedback form and I ticked the box asking to be contacted but have not heard anything back, showing yet again that they are not really committed to great customer service and accessibility. Their loss!

For more details and photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.

Click here for more accessible places to stay.

Ye olde accessible pub!

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

The Black Horse Inn at Thurnham near Maidstone in Kent is an 18th-century inn that manages to be accessible too!

The Black Horse Inn, Thurnham, Kent
The Black Horse Inn, Thurnham, Kent

We stayed here one night on our way back to York from Folkestone and although I’m not sure I would stay here again as there are probably other, better places in the area, it was fine and convenient and better than the Ashford International we stayed at on the way down. (that’s another story!)

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

The old part of the pub has been extended sympathetically so that when you’re inside, you can’t really tell where the old parts ends and the new parts begin. According to the website, the pub is mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, so presumably there was an earlier pub on the same site. The accommodation is in barns across the car park from the inn, the four rooms at the top of the slope being accessible, family rooms.

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

The rooms are pleasant and spacious, ours had a double bed and a single plus a couple of tub chairs, coffee table, tea and coffee making facilities (the UHT milk said it tasted like fresh milk and it did!) and a spacious wet-room style bathroom with a fold down shower seat, a couple of grab rails and two sinks, one lower than the other so more convenient for wheelchair users.

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

To get into the pub, they have ingenuously created a brick-paved pathway that takes you up to the back of the pub, although you could go via the car park if you preferred. When we arrived, it was Sunday lunchtime and extremely busy but once we were checked in, (there is a separate reception, but it was closed) we were able to park opposite our room or you can park directly outside and there was a slope to get in to the room.

Accessible pathway at The Black Horse, Thurnham, Kent
Accessible pathway at The Black Horse, Thurnham, Kent

We ate in the pub in the evening. The tables were not ideal with a wheelchair but you could get pretty close up to them. The food all sounded great and although it didn’t quite live up to expectations, it was fine. I did the terribly English thing of, when asked if the meal was all right, I said it was fine when in fact the pork belly I had chosen was rather dry. We had a very nice Greek sharing platter for a starter and my glass of rosé was very good so all in all, a good meal. IMG_1725

Breakfast was good with plenty of choices: I had smoked salmon and scrambled egg, Pete had a full English and there was toast with jam and fresh fruit and yoghurt.

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

The staff are pleasant and efficient, it was easy to find, in fact it was surprising to find such a quiet little village so near to the motorway, so a very convenient place to stay.

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

For more detail on the accessibility and photos, see my review on EuansGuide and click here for more accessible places to stay, eat at or visit.

Accessible gourmet stopover

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

It’s just as well we only stayed one night at La Cour de Rémi otherwise we might not have fitted through the door on the way out!

If ever you need somewhere that is a bit of a treat and within easy reach of the channel ports, this is it!

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

The hotel rooms and restaurant are in the stables of a château that was the headquarters of the British tank command in the First World War. Sébastien, the proprietor, has created a lovely relaxed atmosphere with his friendly team of staff, comfortable rooms and fabulous food. There’s an additional room in a treehouse.

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

It is slightly a work in progress still: the paths need redoing, they were very rough and there was no slope into the restaurant. The staff had to bring a wooden board but that worked a treat and everyone was very jolly and good natured about it. In other circumstances it could all have been a bit awkward but it certainly wasn’t here – all just part of the laid-back atmosphere. They will be sorting out the access so maybe we’ll just have to go back to check it out!

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

Our room (chambre 2, if you are looking at the website) was really spacious with a sofa and two upright chairs with arms. It wasn’t entirely user-friendly as they make use of original features, so what had been the trough for the horses’ feed overhung the head of the bed and did not make a very good headboard! Also, the bed was a bit low and the bathroom floor very slippery when wet but generally it was fine as a disabled-adapted room as it had grab rails and a shower seat. The toiletries were lovely and there was also tea and coffee making facilities. Only one coffee sachet though, so we had to ask for some more but it was worth it as it was surprisingly good coffee!

Chambre 2, La Cour de Rémi
Chambre 2, La Cour de Rémi

Dinner was a really fun experience. Once we had negotiated the temporary slope, we entered a restaurant with tables I could sit at in my power chair (hooray!) and with a huge wooden table down the length of the room, apparently hewn from a single tree trunk. At this, a member of staff was industriously slicing home-made bread. We were brought some of this along with a terrine dish half full of rough-hewn home-made pâté plus a stone jar full of gherkins. This was our ‘amuse-bouche’ or appetiser! Pete would happily have eaten nothing but that all evening! Our food was equally wonderful (best fish I’ve ever eaten!) and they use plenty of home-grown vegetables, fruit and herbs from their lovely walled garden as well as other regional produce.

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

Breakfast was equally fun: a brioche loaf between the two of us with two kinds of home-made jam, ham and cheese and boiled egg along with lovely coffee and hot milk. I love it when they offer you hot milk so you can have milky coffee that isn’t cold!

Tank Corps memorial, La Cour de Rémi
Tank Corps memorial, La Cour de Rémi

They are planning to add a little museum about the tank corps but if we were to visit again, it would be for the location, the atmosphere, and, yes, the food.

The chateau de Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais
The chateau de Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

For more details about the accessibility and more photos, please see my review on Euan’s Guide.

Click here for more reviews of accessible places to stay.

 

 

 

Relaxed, accessible hotel

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

Les Saules was a very relaxing place to spend a couple of days on our way from Calais to our gîte in Normandy. We spent two nights here which meant we had a day to explore the local area, the Baie de Somme, so we went to the coast for some extremely bracing sea air!

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The hotel is quite modest in style but does what it does very well, which is to provide a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere in pleasant, comfortable surroundings with good food and helpful, welcoming staff.

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

Our room was on the ground floor and had a terrace outside with table and chairs, looking over the grounds which were very attractive, including a couple of ponds with ducks. In fact the terrace reached all round the hotel and there was an outside dining area which would have been lovely had the weather been more settled. There was a bit of a door sill to negotiate to get out to the terrace but Pete had cunningly brought a couple of pieces of slightly chamfered wood for just such an occasion and they made it easier to get in and out.

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The hotel has a spa but it’s just as well we weren’t intending to use it as it would have meant negotiating the pebbly car park. There was a disabled bay in which we parked initially before realising that I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate the pebbled surface. Access was fine at the front of the hotel, just a couple of slight bumps, so we used the driveway as a drop-off area then Pete would park the car afterwards. There was further parking on a tarmac surface.

The Spa, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
The Spa, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The bathroom had grab rails and a shower seat; I would have welcomed an extra drop-down grab rail so that there was one each side of the shower seat and the loo was very high but I guess different arrangements suit different people. You can see more or less what the room was like on their website if you look at the ‘chambre premium.’

It seems to be becoming more common for hotel rooms on the continent to have tea and coffee making facilities and they were happy to provide us with some milk.

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

When we went to the restaurant the first evening, we realised that the majority of the tables were too narrow for my power chair to fit under so I would have had to transfer to a dining chair, which I can do but it all adds to the hassle, so I was pleased when a member of staff pointed out that a nearby table in a different style would work (it was one of just a couple of old, wooden circular tables) so we used that and asked if we might reserve it for the next evening and they even reserved it for us for breakfast!

The terrace, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
The terrace, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The food was good without being fabulous and they use local produce and have some local specialities on the menu. Disappointed they had run out of decaffeinated coffee though!

Breakfast involved croissants, pastries, and cheese, fruit and yoghurt and also eggs. This provided us with a slight puzzle: we had assumed they were hard-boiled and started to peel one when we realised they were in fact raw and you are supposed to pop them into a bath of hot water to cook. The laughing waiter assured us that we were not the first people to make that mistake. Fortunately we realised in time to avoid getting raw egg everywhere!

The next day we investigated Le Crotoy, Fort Mahon and other places along the coast. It was incredibly windy so we didn’t venture outside the car other than to take photos and try to find postcards but I think it would have been possible to get along the prom at Le Crotoy at least. It clearly suited the people windsurfing and kite surfing at any rate!

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme
At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

I would stay at Les Saules again as it was a very pleasant place and the access was OK. It was just over sixty miles from Calais, so convenient for the tunnel or ferry.

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme
At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

For further details on accessibility and more photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.

See my website for more reviews of accessible places to stay.

 

Lovely, accessible gîte in Normandy

La Fresnaie, Normandy

Beautiful, spacious, peaceful and with a fully accessible ground floor, La Fresnaie is a great base for exploring the local area with its picturesque towns and villages and wonderful, rolling countryside.IMG_1590

La Fresnaie can be booked for four people or six: the ground floor has two bedrooms and a wet room style bathroom, while upstairs there are a double and a twin, a bathroom and toilet.

The terrace, La Fresnaie
The terrace, La Fresnaie

Surrounding the house is a terrace, some of which is shaded so you can enjoy the sun or keep out of it, whichever you prefer and there is plenty of garden furniture for if you want to eat or sit and relax on a sofa. The car parking is also covered so you can easily pack or unpack the car, whatever the weather.

The terrace, La Fresnaie
The terrace, La Fresnaie

The grounds, which include the home of Paula and Nigel the owners and two other cottages, are beautiful with plenty of the ash trees that the place is named after and we were thrilled to see red squirrels running about and to spot buzzards wheeling overhead.

A lot of thought has gone into the accessibility: grab rails by the loo and shower which has a drop-down seat. The doorways have a very low threshold so there is no problem with access and in the kitchen the worktop which includes the hob is at a lower level with space underneath.

A few things could be improved to make it even more wheelchair-friendly, for example, the dining table was of the sort that you cannot fully pull up to in a wheelchair (we popped a book under each leg to raise it up but of course that did make it rather high!). Fortunately, the table outside was of a different design and we were able to eat out there quite often. I could have done with a vertical grab rail by the loo but I guess that sort of detail is going to be different from one person to the next.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

We were not too worried about whether there were many accessible things to do in the local area as we fully intended to have a very relaxing time after the incredibly stressful few weeks I had just had at work (long story). There were recommendations in the visitors’ book but this is where the difference between perhaps pushing somebody, a child may be, in a wheelchair and accessing things in a power chair are two different situations. I tend to duck out of exploring things which look rather hard work as, the greater the hassle, the less worth doing it becomes. Just driving around spotting ‘dream cottages,’ getting glimpses of castles and absorbing the still traditional French village way of life was great fun in itself.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

For all there were big supermarkets on the edges of some of the towns, many people still pop to the local boulangerie for their daily baguette.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

The supermarkets were useful as, much as I like to support local businesses, quaint little shops are not generally accessible. Many French supermarkets have a ‘traiteur’ counter where you can buy portions of home-made style meals to take home. They are so much nicer than a ready meal and much easier than actually cooking from scratch. We tried a good range of them as with hotel stays on the way to and from the cottage, we were not bothered about eating out during our week in Normandy, and they were delicious.

Lassay-les-Châteaux
Lassay-les-Châteaux

When we visited Lassay-les-Châteaux, a lovely little town with a wonderful castle, we explored La Roseraie, a delightful rose garden, perhaps slightly past its best so late in the season but still full of a huge variety of beautiful roses. It is very easily accessible from the main car park of the town which is tarmac and the paths in the rose garden are fine gravel. We also visited Domfront, Bagnoles de l’Orne and St Fraimbault – all very picturesque. Many towns and villages are ‘villes fleuris’ – full of flowers at this time of year.

Domfront
Domfront

Our intention was to have a really relaxing time and we certainly did. We had chosen somewhere that was lovely to be at even if we didn’t do very much and that was pretty much exactly what happened. Just being at La Fresnaie, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet was exactly what we had hoped for!

La Fresnaie, Loré, Basse-Normandy
La Fresnaie, Loré, Basse-Normandy

For further details on accessibility and more photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.