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.

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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.

Accessible woodland trails

Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum is a great place to visit if you like woods and great views!

Amazing view at Queenswood Arboretum, Herefordhsire
Amazing view at Queenswood Arboretum, Herefordhsire

We came here after visiting Hampton Court Castle which has a lovely accessible walled garden but whose woodland trails required a bigger scooter than mine.

We picnicked in the car park surrounded by trees (parking is free with a Blue Badge) then moved to the main car park which has some designated Blue Badge spaces and set off into the woods with a basic map provided by the visitor centre. The trails are way-marked, including the route to the viewing point!

Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire
Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire

The paths were earth and occasionally a little muddy in places (as it had chucked it down the previous night, it was actually remarkably dry!) and generally bump-free. We made our way to the viewing point for yet another wonderful view of the Herefordshire countryside.

Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire
Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire

As it is an arboretum, many of the trees were labelled but we managed to identify a giant redwood even before reading the sign!

Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire
Queenswood Country Park and Arboretum, Herefordshire

The visitor centre has locally made honey and preserves and some lovely cards and gifts and friendly staff. Accessible loo a little small but enough room for my scooter! Plenty of parking, including some Blue Badge spaces although it could possibly do with some more and I’m not surprised – it was a great place to visit not only for scooter-users: there were plenty of people with pushchairs as well. You can borrow an electric scooter for a suggested £5 donation if you book it in advance.

I thoroughly recommend this place if you fancy some fresh air, trees and a lovely view!

We visited while we were staying at Valley View, Thatch Close Cottages, Llangrove. Other accessible things to do nearby include Yat Rock and Hampton Court Castle, The Prospect, a modest park in Ross-on-Wye with yet more lovely views and the riverside paths down below – in fact the tourist office sent us a wheel-users route to get around Ross – it’s good to know more places are starting to think of these things.

The original Hampton Court!

The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire is actually the original Hampton Court! It predates the more famous palace by a hundred years or so. Most of its life it belonged to a local Herefordshire family but in the 19th century was bought by Richard Arkwright, son of the famous inventor.IMG_1230

We went because I had investigated online and found that it was largely accessible. We then discovered that it has what I think must be the best walled garden I have ever seen – absolutely wonderful!

The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

Apart from lovely old brick walls, it has hedges dividing it up  into lots of different ‘rooms’ – you just want to keep discovering what is around the next corner. There are water features and statuary and also lots of flowers and fruit and vegetables.

The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

The surfaces are either flags, fine gravel, bark chips or grass and my scooter coped fine even on the wide expanse of lawns beyond the walled garden and despite the fact that it had poured with rain during the previous night.

The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

We didn’t attempt to visit the castle itself – you can visit the ground floor and they have photos of the upstairs floors to look at if you can’t get there as there is no lift. We also didn’t attempt the woodland walks as that would have required a larger, all-terrain type scooter but as it turned out, Queenswood Arboretum down the road has perfectly accessible woodland walks so the two complement each other quite nicely!

The lawns, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The lawns, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

We had set off bright and early so by the time we looked round everything we could it was still a bit early to sample the cafe besides we had brought a picnic with us. The cafe is accessible and did look very attractive and has lots of outdoor seating on the lawn and we could happily have had our picnic if it had been a bit later – perhaps we’ll just have to come back some time!

The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The walled garden, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

There is an accessible loo by the café – it has a steep little ramp to get in and it was a little tight backing out but otherwise fine. There is disabled access information on the website. The parking is simply in a field and getting from there onto the level pass might be a little tricky depending on your wheels but if you can access this place then I really recommend it. You could even combine it with a visit to Queenswood, like we did!

The courtyard, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire
The courtyard, Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

We visited while we were staying at Valley View, Thatch Close Cottages, Llangrove, an accessible cottage with wonderful views.