Big skies and accessible hides

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

It was rather chilly for outdoor exploring during our stay in Norfolk but the views from the car were magnificent! The North Norfolk coast is completely different to that of North Yorkshire, west of Sheringham it flattens out and there are no cliffs or rocky coves but lots of shingle beaches, sand dunes, marshes, wetlands and that huge, huge sky.

Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk
Church Farm Barns, Bircham Newton, Norfolk

This was our second stay at Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages (now called Church Farm Barns), this time in The Little Workshop, a fully accessible cottage for four. Last time, we booked Stable Cottage but because of a problem with the heating, we were upgraded to The Big Workshop which had a lovely view so this time we booked the smaller next-door cottage in order to benefit from the same view which Stable Cottage doesn’t have.

Great view from The Little Workshop
Great view from The Little Workshop

All the cottages are accessible and of different sizes and there is plenty of equipment such as hoists or a profiling bed which the owners will hire out to you if required. The owners are really helpful and Lavinia makes a point of coming to welcome you and check that everything is all right.

French windows
French windows

Despite the name, The Little Workshop is really spacious with plenty of room to move around. Not quite perfect, however, as it’s not possible to sit at the dining table in a wheelchair but, as in Normandy last summer, we raised the legs on top of books which makes the table rather high but at least you can sit at it. Another small gripe would be that all the pillows were really thick ones: I ended up using a thin cushion instead as I couldn’t possibly have slept with my head on such a high pillow! Also, the mattress could do with replacing when they update the cottage: it was a little bit like hammock-like! I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or a disability thing, probably a bit of both, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with different domestic arrangements. Our house isn’t perfectly arranged, but at least I’m used to it and feel more confident there. Different furniture arrangements, positions of grab rails etc take a bit of getting used to. Sad, but true!

Easy access to The Little Workshop
Easy access to The Little Workshop

There was also an issue with getting out onto the patio as the threshold was rather high and there was a bit of a dip where a drainage grid had been put in which had maybe sunk a bit. We had found something similar with the Big Workshop, but with that cottage, you can exit through the front door and come around the side but this isn’t the case with the Little Workshop. We mentioned this to Lavinia and somebody brought a bit of board which we could put down to form a bridge between the rather high threshold, over the drainage grid and onto the patio itself. We tried it the next day and despite some overnight rain which had warped the board a bit, it worked a treat!

Access to the patio sorted!
Access to the patio sorted!

Another brilliant thing is that the cottages are really cosy, so unlike many of the quaint, old cottages we’ve stayed in, although I don’t see why they couldn’t be made to be as cosy as this as well!

We arrived on Friday and as I said, the weather was rather cold so on the Saturday we set out for a drive along the coast, heading first for Cromer then driving westwards past Sheringham then we came across the Cley Marshes Visitor Centre which looked like an accessible place so we decided to check it out. It strongly reminded us of The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre that we visited this time last year in Cumbria as it was built in a similar style with plenty of wood and glass and a ‘living roof’ and designed to be sustainable and accessible.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We managed to resist the cakes in the café, but they did look rather good! It’s run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and has a shop and café in the main building, accessed by a lift (one of those rather basic ones where you have to hold down the button as you go up or down) then there was a separate building with information about the work of the Trust and another building that was a hide with telescopes/binoculars that you could use although they were either too high or in front of the bench so accessing them from a wheelchair would have needed a bit of manoeuvring. There was also an exhibition in there by a local artist.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre
Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

We continued on to Blakeney where we stopped for a pot of fresh seafood. I don’t think I’ve done that for years so it felt rather nostalgic! We continued on past Wells, past Burnham Overy Staithe and Brancaster then slightly past the turnoff back to the cottage in order to check out Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve which we thought we might visit the next day.

The weather continued to be rather iffy but we fancied more fresh air so the next day we did go to Titchwell. The staff were very helpful and explained that most of the path was slightly better than the path between the car park and the visitor centre which was indeed the case, not too bumpy and some of the way round there were boardwalks but most of the way was a rather rough path (failed to get a photo of the path, unfortunately). However, as it was starting to rain we decided to call it a day which was just as well as it started to chuck it down on our way home. Apparently, there are accessible hides at Titchwell but we didn’t make it that far!

Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve
Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve

It is, of course, really frustrating not to be able to go for a brisk walk and explore places like we used to but I can’t live my entire life being irritated by that situation or it would be miserable, so I just have to accept that we have to curtail what we do. Many of the visitors to Titchwell were all geared up for bad weather but I think even if I was completely able-bodied we wouldn’t have wanted to walk around in the rain anyway!

Nowadays, we usually choose accommodation with good views and this cottage has them in spades: the windows are huge to take advantage of them and it was fun spotting (and hearing!) the oystercatchers which live round about. We also wanted to feel like we had had a relaxing time, especially as my work is slightly stressful at the moment, so it was lovely to not check even ‘home’ emails but to read, do puzzles, listen to music, chat and just generally chill out.

Lovely sunshine on our last morning!
Lovely sunshine on our last morning!

The Monday when we left, the temperature was due to reach about 20°!

As ever, different accessibility adaptations suit different people, but if the facilities at Church Farm Barns suit you, then I thoroughly recommend them as they are generally high-quality accommodation, even the ones which haven’t been updated yet, and the staff are really welcoming. They have improved their website as well which has information about accessible things to do locally.

For more information about accessible places to stay, see my other reviews.

Great views, great access!

The patio

Norfolk Disabled-Friendly Cottages are just that – in Norfolk, adapted for disabled people and the owners are very friendly!

The Big Workshop
The Big Workshop

The website does not do the cottages or the view justice. We were expecting something a little bit twee and with some sort of view but what we got was pretty stylish and with a fabulous view. Admittedly, if we had been in the Stable Cottage which we had booked, we wouldn’t have had a view, but a phone call the day before we set out explained that the heating there wasn’t working so we had been ‘upgraded’ to The Big Workshop which meant we had a huge house all to ourselves, including a sitting room with French windows and large, low-silled windows to give  a panoramic view of the rolling countryside, including a windmill!

The panoramic view
The panoramic view

The cottages are especially designed for disabled people, with roll-in showers, grab-rails, low-level surfaces in the kitchen and wide doorways amongst other things, plus you can hire other equipment you may need, such as hoists, but it’s all perfectly comfortable for the able-bodied too. A lot of thought has gone into the design and the whole place is very attractive.

The view from The Big Workshop
The view from The Big Workshop

All the cottages have some outside space – patio or garden and they sleep from 3 people in the smallest to 10 in the largest; a couple of them are two-storey with a lift. Ours was open-plan and very spacious and although the kitchen area wasn’t that attractive it was very well-equipped and everything was in good condition – except the table was rather wobbly but as the owners are on site, they happily fetched us a different one and took ours away for mending!

The sitting room
The sitting room

The house was really warm: they are very well-insulated and the bio-mass system keeps you in hot water and heating. We even slept with the window open – which doesn’t tend to happen in March! – but it meant we heard the most fabulous dawn chorus and the calls of the oyster catchers and little owl (I think!). Much better than it being too cold – so often we’ve been on a short break and the first night has been freezing until the storage heating has kicked in and we’ve got the fire going.IMG_0559

We had planned to visit Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, run by the Hawk and Owl trust, having seen a review of it on Euan’sGuide, so off we went in the Saturday morning sunshine and we weren’t disappointed! It’s lovely to go somewhere that’s so accessible you don’t have to give it any more thought than anyone else would – this is how it should be. The whole place is accessed by boardwalks with netting on for grip and all the hides are accessible too – we saw some birds very close up which we’ve never seen before, plus some water voles running in and out of their holes in the bank of the stream. For more detail, see my separate review of Sculthorpe.

Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve
Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve

Lavinia, who runs the cottages, had recommended Bircham Mill, the windmill we could see from the cottage, which was reopening that day for the start of the season, so we called in there for some bread and couldn’t resist a cake or two! They have a tearoom and gift shop as well which are accessible but I didn’t go in so can’t give details.

Bircham Mill
Bircham Mill

We also visited Hunstanton in brilliant sunshine on the Sunday morning. It has some attractive parts although the promenade is rather stark and concrete-y but it’s always good to get some fresh sea air! They seemed to be renovating some parts of the seafront area so it might be interesting to see it again some time.

The prom at Hunstanton
The prom at Hunstanton

Back at the cottage, we had asked if they could put out the garden furniture – it had been stored away for the winter – and we were able to sit outside enjoying the sunshine, the view and the birdsong. There was a slight hitch going out through the French windows – the anti-tip wheels on my powerchair caught on the threshold, so we used the front door instead and came around the side of the cottage.

The patio
The patio

Actually, the front door threshold was a bit of a jolt and there were a couple of other things which could be improved – a firmer mattress , for example, but those are very minor compared to the general good design of the cottages overall. I’m sure we’ll be back!

The Big Workshop
The Big Workshop