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.

Fairburn Ings – huge wetlands, somewhat wetter than usual!

Distant views, Fairburn Ings

It had occurred to me that after all this rain, Fairburn Ings might be flooded but it was a lovely sunny day so we thought we’d go anyway.

Distant views, Fairburn Ings
Distant views, Fairburn Ings

Fairburn is quite near Ledsham where we have been to the Chequers Inn on many occasions and is easily accessible from the A1.

It was steeper than this looks!
It was steeper than this looks!

The Ings are managed by the RSPB and they have reclaimed former coal mine spoil tips to create different types of habitats for a variety of wildlife.

Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings
Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings

The paths are generally quite fine gravel and there are also boardwalks. Most of the boardwalk areas were inaccessible due to flooding but the small bit we were able to do, part of the duck and swan feeding platform, was a great surface. We could have explored much further around the site than we did but it would have involved a long and quite steep slope so we just admired the view and turned around. There are various hides, all of which have level entry. There is really good access information on their website.

Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings
Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings

The visitors’ centre has level access and a power-assisted door and sells lots of RSPB gifts as well as birdfeeders and food. It doesn’t have a cafe but it does have a coffee machine and snacks and a little seating area where you can eat or drink. There are loos including a unisex accessible one.

Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings
Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings

The staff member who welcomed us was really helpful, pointing out on the map which parts of the Ings were best for wheelchair users and which were not flooded!

Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings
Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings

Entry is free for members of the RSPB and for Blue Badge holders (non-members are charged £4 per car).

This is definitely a place to revisit once the floods have receded!

Fairburn Ings
Fairburn Ings

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.

Accessible, yes, but I wouldn’t go back.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

The Alnwick Garden prides itself on its accessibility but what a bumpy ride!

We enjoyed our visit to The Alnwick Garden: the weather was sunny. the walled garden is lovely and it was good to see somewhere with accessibility designed into it from the start but some of the path surfaces were so bumpy that it was rather annoying. There are lots of very positive reviews on Euan’sGuide so I feel a bit ”bah, humbug” being negative but I found the constant jolting very tiring.

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

A couple of years ago, I think I would just have been grateful that somewhere was accessible. Now, I tend to question why places aren’t more accessible and what could be done about it? I’ve emailed the gardens on the subject.

Entrance to the Ornamental Garden
Entrance to the Ornamental Garden

The walled Ornamental Garden at the top of the slope is very attractive as is the Rose Garden and there were lovely wild flowers by the side of the path as you came down through the Cherry Orchard, but that’s not enough to draw me back. It’s designed to be very child-friendly and there were plenty of children really enjoying the little streams in the Ornamental Garden, the various fountains in the Serpent Garden and the swings in the Cherry Orchard, in fact some families were literally camped out on the lawn area below the Grand Cascade but I didn’t see much interest in the giant-themed features such as a huge pair of boots or a giant-sized pie, perhaps because of the notices warning you not to climb on them.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens
The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

It is clearly a very commercial setup: there is a large shop and cafe, all very accessible and the plant centre, in fact many of the plants around the gardens had signs saying that they were available to buy in the shop. On the other hand, they also do lots of community outreach such as activities for over 55s and for young people. They also lend out wheelchairs and mobility scooters which you should book in advance.

The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens
The Ornamental Garden, Alnwick Gardens

We arrived by car and followed signs for Accessible Parking. There are many members of staff in attendance to help and I’m pretty sure we were directed to a general parking area but as the staff were aware of our Blue Badge we had plenty of space as the next car parked leaving us ample room. Apparently there is designated Blue Badge parking but this was the summer holidays so perhaps it was full. It was up hill from there to the ticket office (we hadn’t booked in advance) then through the main gates onto the terrace with plenty of café tables and a view of the Grand Cascade. We had been given a map of the gardens with the accessible routes marked but still managed to get a bit lost as we made our way to look at the Serpent Garden and Rose Garden. I think maybe I slightly missed the point of the fountains in the Serpent Garden, they just seemed a bit dull to me! We wound our way through woodland to the top of the slope on fairly good paths: other reviewers comment on this being rather hard going for those pushing somebody in a wheelchair but at least there are benches all round the gardens for a rest.

The slope down through the Cherry Orchard
The slope down through the Cherry Orchard

The Ornamental Garden at the top is absolutely lovely with little streams, good paths everywhere and some beautiful flowers and shrubs.

From there along to the Cherry Orchard the path was rather rough and then the snaking path through the orchard was very rough indeed as the tarmac surface had been worn away in many places plus the bends are quite sharp so you had to concentrate on your steering. Towards the bottom, there were some beautiful wildflowers growing amongst the grass.

Wild flowers, Alnwick Garden
Wild flowers, Alnwick Garden

Once we were on the flat we then encountered the worst bit of path of the lot near the Poison Garden. This had a queue so we gave it a miss.

We had a look in the shop which was light, airy and spacious with lots of souvenirs, gardening books, some tools (very decorative and expensive!) the usual jams and chutneys and also a small exhibition by a local artist. We didn’t partake of anything in the café which was ‘food-court’ style: different outlets but with central tables which I think were wheelchair-friendly. There were also some very civilised accessible loos, accessed via a spacious lift to the basement level. There are other accessible loos around the site. Apparently the Treehouse tearooms are also accessible via a ramp.

The Ornamental Garden
The Ornamental Garden

It was a pleasant visit and I would happily visit the Ornamental Garden again but wouldn’t be inclined to pay the entrance fee just for that! It’s great that access has been built in to the place, it is far more than just a token effort but I feel less and less inclined these days to accept poor access and to me, being constantly jolted constitutes poor access. I’ll be interested to see their reply to my email about the path surfaces. I’ll keep you posted!

Click here for 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.

Rowntree Park looking lovely!

Rowntree Park

Roses, lupins, clematis, goslings… there’s plenty going on in Rowntree Park!

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

It looked more well-tended than sometimes when we visited the other day and, as ever, the mix of tree types is very striking: copper beeches contrasting with the greenery. There have been some improvements in the pathways, various uneven bits have been smoothed.

Love the contrasting colours!
Love the contrasting colours!
Goslings, Rowntree Park
Goslings, Rowntree Park

There are always plenty of interesting things to look out for. On our visit there were goslings, moorhen chicks and ducklings and all the installations which make the park so varied such as the duck house on the pond, the ‘chess-piece’ horse that small children love to scramble on, the totem pole and the helmet. There is of course, the more traditional play equipment and the skateboard park and there is even a boat selling ice creams across the river!

The ice cream boat!
The ice cream boat!
The Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge

I used to always use my scooter when we went to the park, but actually my Powerchair handles all the surfaces absolutely fine, even the slight bump at the flood barrier.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

Lovely as The Homestead is, you can make a longer visit at Rowntree Park because of the paths by the river. These are a little rougher than the paths within the park and the cycle path heading out of town is rather bumpy with tree roots but not too bad. I understood that was going to be fixed, perhaps it will be soon.

Riverside paths
Riverside paths

It’s always a pleasure to visit Rowntree Park and the riverside paths.

More accessible places to visit.