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.

Accessible adventures in Northumberland!

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

A great cottage, Alnwick Garden and Barter Books!

Our summer holiday this year was a very modest affair but really relaxing and restorative just as a holiday should be.

Accessible entrance to Fox Cover
Accessible entrance to Fox Cover

We had decided ages ago that we would “staycation” this year in anticipation of Brexit-related chaos after the previous deadline of 31 March (is that right? It’s all such a mess!). I don’t know if it’s because we therefore weren’t geared up to a longer holiday or to going abroad or whether I/we would have felt like this anyway but the thought of a long journey, even one broken up into stages (or perhaps particularly one broken up into stages with several different places to stay) would have been an utterly exhausting prospect!

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

As it was, the journey up to Doxford Cottages only took three hours. We started out on the A1 but as there were signs flashing up that there was congestion ahead we switched to the A19 for a while. There was sunshine and showers on the way with one particularly monsoon-like downpour, fortunately not in heavy traffic, when even the wipers in superfast mode couldn’t cope. That meant it was particularly lovely to arrive at the cottage, Fox Cover, in sunshine!

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

I’m sure any wheelchair user would agree that it’s also quite a relief to arrive at an unknown destination and find that it is, indeed, wheelchair accessible.

Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages
Fox Cover, Doxford Cottages

One of the first things we spotted on arriving was a really cute little rabbit and we saw plenty more during the week as well as various other wildlife spots, including a weasel, a mouse, woodpeckers, squirrels (they used to have red squirrels which would have been lovely but grey ones are appealing too!) nuthatches, chaffinches, lots of rooks and also bats.

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

Our delivery from Food Heaven arrived so we were all set for a relaxing time. I’d been having a somewhat stressful time at work so the complete switch off was very necessary. I barely looked at my personal emails and certainly didn’t access work ones or accessed any social media and we just caught the headlines on television now and again.

Peaceful surroundings at Doxford Cottages
Peaceful surroundings at Doxford Cottages

Reading, doing puzzles and jigsaws was the order of the day. Yes, it’s tame but it was also blissful.

There are a number of accessible things to do in the area. Knowing that the weather was not going to be terribly good, we had only really planned to go to the Alnwick Garden and to the coast.

The weather did exactly what was forecast: it rained solidly all Sunday but we had planned to just relax that day anyway. On Monday we went to Barter Books, a huge second-hand book shop in the old station in Alnwick. It has a slightly bumpy threshold but is accessible and has an accessible loo and a few designated parking bays right outside the door.

Accessible and entrance to Barter Books, Alnwick
Accessible and entrance to Barter Books, Alnwick

We have been here before but not for a few years; they have developed the café since our last visit but there is still the same relaxed atmosphere and, of course, thousands of books!

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

The next day, as the forecast was good we headed to Alnwick Garden (see my separate, more detailed review). I had read reviews of this on Euan’sGuide and knew it was accessible, which indeed it was as long as you don’t mind a bumpy ride. Many of the surfaces were very uneven but it was a pleasant visit overall and the walled garden is really attractive. I contacted the gardens once we were home and they said that improving the path surfaces is part of their development plans and they are going to include millions of fibre-optic lights in them so that the gardens can open at night.

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

Another day we explored the coast which is lovely and unspoiled with huge sandy beaches and big skies. We went as far as Bamburgh, an immensely impressive castle which we had visited before when I was perfectly mobile so this time we just admired the outside. I’m afraid I’ve been a very bad blogger and not taken anything like enough photographs.

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

Because these days doing lots of visits is quite tiring, it’s really important to us to have a cottage with pleasant surroundings and preferably a good view. This cottage has that in spades and we have even booked to go back next year. It’s important for us to get cottages booked up in plenty of time as there are not that many cottages which are exactly suitable and with the sort of surroundings we want. We had rather hoped we would be able to book it for a short break but it was only available to book for a whole week during the times when we want to go so we decided to go back next summer. I promise I will take more photos next year!

Here are some more of our Accessible Adventures!

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.