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.

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.