Accessible adventures in 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!

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Late Spring in Rowntree Park

Ducklings, Rowntree Park
Ducklings, Rowntree Park

We had hoped there would be ducklings in Rowntree Park and there were! Quite big really, and we also spotted a coot on its nest, sheltering several tiny young ones (cootlets?).

Coot's nest, Rowntree Park
Coot’s nest, Rowntree Park

We came along the riverside path to the main gates from the direction of the Millennium Bridge having parked at the bottom of Butcher Terrace and all the trees, shrubs and cow-parsley are lush and beautiful.Heading to Rowntree Park from the Millennium Bridge

The flower borders in the park look a little less wild and neglected than sometimes and have plenty of colour and interest – lupins, geraniums, peonies, euphorbia and much more.

Flower borders, Rowntree Park
Flower borders, Rowntree Park

All the grassy areas are positively rank with daisies – thanks to all the goose poo fertiliser, I presume – beautiful or a bit much? Not sure.

There’s an attractive art installation of lots of tiny yellow birds on one side of the bridge and an uneven bit of the lake path has been repaved – hurrah!

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

As it was half-term, the kids’ play equipment, skate-park and café were all being well-used and as the sun was out, everything looked gorgeous. We even got a wave from pleasure boat passengers on the river!

River bank, York
River bank, York

Last time we came for a visit the park was flooded so instead we went to the Homestead, but both parks are lovely, accessible and well worth a visit.

 

The Balloon Tree – accessible farm shop and café

Café at The Balloon Tree

This is a popular place! Even early on a Tuesday lunchtime, the café was pretty packed but we nabbed a table by the window and had a very tasty lunch, served by pleasant staff, before, inevitably, buying some take-home treats from the deli!

The Balloon Tree , Gate Helmsley
The Balloon Tree , Gate Helmsley

It was a bit early in the season for much home-grown veg, but that part of the shop was still well-stocked: not sure if some of it was imported, but they do generally sell locally-grown produce. The deli part sells cold meats, cheese, salads, bread, cakes, ready meals both fresh and frozen and loads more. Their website has details about their ethos of “fewer food miles – more farm yards.”

Entrance to The Balloon Tree
Entrance to The Balloon Tree

Access was easy: the car park had quite a few Blue Badge spaces although they were all full when we arrived but we managed to park on the end of a row so there was room to get out. Entry was easy: low thresholds that my powerchair could manage easily and although the produce part of the shop was a little tight, you could get round although it would be impossible to pass anybody else who was in there. The deli had more space and most of the shelves were easily reachable. The staff would have been happy to help if not.

Easy, level access at The Balloon Tree
Easy, level access at The Balloon Tree

The café tables were the sort where you can easily sit at them in a wheelchair. There was plenty of room as we headed to the table, although on the way back I needed a chair to be moved so I could get through but people were happy to help. They do hot meals as well as sandwiches, paninis, baked potatoes and homemade cakes. Many of the cakes are also sold in the shop so you can enjoy them at home too.

Café at The Balloon Tree
Café at The Balloon Tree

There is seating outside as well as a children’s play area and some animals to see and feed.

The Balloon Tree was easy to find, on the A166 just past Gate Helmsley. We’ll definitely be going back!

Other accessible places to eat.

Always something of interest at The Homestead!

Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead

I thought I was going to be blogging about Rowntree Park but when we got there (as we half expected) it was closed because the river is in flood. (The rest of the city is fine, just a couple of riverside paths are under water!)

Instead, we tracked across town to The Homestead and discovered that, whatever the time of year, there is always something interesting to see there.

Spring flowers at The Homestead
Spring flowers at The Homestead

They are replacing the old flowering cherry trees in the Cherry Walk (and in fact seem to have planted lots of new trees all round the park) so that particular part was fenced off, but you could get round to see all the rest of the park by just taking a different route. There are plenty of daffodils out as well as camellias, hyacinths, primulas, scillas, hellebores and lots of ornamental bushes with interesting foliage.

Gearing up for Spring at The Homestead
Gearing up for Spring at The Homestead

When we last visited they were creating a space with some seating next to the mediaeval garden. This is now finished and has an attractive water feature.

Medieval Garden at The Homestead
Medieval Garden at The Homestead

The park also has a children’s play area and pop-up café, although these was shut on the day we visited probably because the heavy rain had made everywhere so muddy. There is also a rock garden, pond and plenty of benches and also toilets including an accessible one which no longer seems to need a RADAR key.

Hellebores at The Homestead
Hellebores at The Homestead

The car park has several marked Blue Badge bays and although there is some rather bumpy concrete to get over to reach the path, and some of the paved paths are a little rough, most of them are tarmac.

Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead
Plenty of daffodils are already out at The Homestead

It’s good to know that The Homestead can be enjoyed at any time of year and as the weather improves and the tree-planting is finished, it can only get even more beautiful!

See my review from last year.

Formal beds, The Homestead
Last year’s formal beds, The Homestead

Can beanstalks be accessible? Oh, yes, they can!

Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

Sorry, couldn’t resist! This was our 26th consecutive Theatre Royal pantomime and it’s as good as ever. It happened to be Jack and the Beanstalk, but the title (and plot, such as it is!) are irrelevant – it’s always mayhem!

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

This was the first time I had visited the theatre using my powerchair – last year I used my scooter and sat in a theatre seat. This year I stayed in my powerchair. We had booked seats in the Dress Circle but during the afternoon of the day of our visit, we got a phone call to say that their lift was broken so we would have to be either accommodated in the stalls, choose to go on a different night or be refunded. This was disappointing but as we were all geared up to going to the theatre that evening, we didn’t want to cancel and there is no way we would have got suitable seats for another performance before Christmas so we went anyway.

They told us to make ourselves known to a steward once we got there and they would sort us out. The first steward we spoke to didn’t seem to understand what the issue was but then we spoke to Rita (who’s been there over 40 years!) who was really helpful. She had been told to give us a programme free but as we’d already bought one, she went off and got us a refund! I sat next to the end of a row with Pete in a chair next to me. The visibility wasn’t perfect: you couldn’t quite see the very left hand side of the stage but it wasn’t a major problem as most of the action is of course centre stage. When it came to the interval, Rita let us off paying for our ice creams. Brilliant PR from the Theatre Royal! We might even go again…

Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

If you’re familiar with the theatre, but haven’t visited since they refurbished it, I would recommend taking a look as it is so much more accessible than it was. There is now a bar at ground floor level and a lift that takes you up just a few steps to the bar that was there before and, of course when it’s working, a lift that takes you up to the Dress Circle. For more details and lots of photos, see my review from last year.

Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

You don’t have to be a local to enjoy the panto at the Theatre Royal and there was plenty of audience participation, particularly booing and hissing the baddie and lots of applause for Berwick Kaler, back from major heart surgery and Martin Barrass, recovered from a very serious motorbike accident. They have booster seats for people who need them and there are British Sign Language interpreted performances, audio described and subtitled performances.

Performances continue until 3rd February. I don’t know about the availability of wheelchair spaces – it’s worth phoning up to discuss what you want. Hopefully they’ll get that lift fixed soon!

Goday, My Lord Sire Christemas

York Waits

Definitely feeling Christmassy now, thanks to The York Waits! There is somehow something very festive about crumhorns, shawms, sackbuts and rebecs!

York Waits
York Waits

Yes, we’ve been to the National Centre for Early Music and actually seen some early music for once – usually we see what I suppose you’d call World Music and occasionally the two coincide, but this was very definitely English Early Music, from the 15th to 17th century. The programme included some familiar pieces, such as Past 3 o’clock, God rest you, merry gentlemen, The Coventry Carol and an encore that was a storming rendition of Gaudete – who knew mediaeval music could be so funky? – and some lovely songs and tunes that were new to me, all with a Christmas or Wintery theme.

The five versatile musicians each play a number of instruments that also included harp, recorder, tabor pipe and bagpipes – nothing like Scottish pipes, but more like the Spanish gaita or Breton pipes. They were accompanied by the splendid Deborah Catterall on vocals and sometimes recorder.

The NCEM was packed and extra-atmospheric as they had lots of candles going, plus there were mince pies on offer along with the other refreshments. (I heroically resisted!)

The York Waits have been going since the 1970s, playing around the UK and abroad on period instruments, including at the Sheriff’s Riding, when the company the Sheriff of York around the city while he reads a proclamation at various locations allowing “whores, thieves, dice players and other unthrifty folk” into the city for the 12 days of Christmas.

As ever, the NCEM is wonderfully accessible, in fact there were two other wheelchair users there apart from myself. Word has obviously got around!

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

Around this time last year, we went to see Joglaresa at the NCEM. They were there again this year but on a day when we couldn’t go and, having seen them before, we thought we’d give this a go instead and I’m so glad we did!

 

Moishe’s Bagel are always fabulous!

NCEM entrance

We had a lovely evening yesterday at the wonderful NCEM listening to Moishe’s Bagel and their superb mix of klezmer music with jazz and Latin influences – toe-tapping one moment, break-your-heart plaintive the next. They even played a really stomping rumba – I suspect they could play anything and it would sound terrific. The line-up includes piano, double bass, accordion, violin and percussion but sometimes mandolin and occasionally two accordions – a really rich sound which filled the place, especially in the tunes where they really gave it some welly!

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

The chat between songs was sometimes jolly sometimes touching and the atmosphere was great: the audience loved it and there was even some dancing!

I’ve reviewed the NCEM plenty of times so suffice to say: it is completely accessible, has an accessible loo and at least one Blue Badge parking space. The staff are helpful and for the first time, they had a couple of spaces (we were on the front row!) specially reserved for wheelchair-users which removed the small amount of hassle we had before where a member of staff struggled to disconnected a chair from the row to create space.

We’ve never seen a show here that was anything less than good, they are usually absolutely brilliant and this was no exception. Moishe’s Bagel have more dates coming up in the New Year. If you went to see them, I can’t imagine you would be disappointed.