Is this year’s panto as good as ever?

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

Well, not so sure. This is the first time in 30 years that Berwick Kaler has not starred in the York Theatre Royal pantomime although he did write and co-direct it. He also appeared in the filmed section which has become an annual fixture.

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

I don’t think the issue was the lack of Berwick so much as that the pantomime can be a bit hit and miss. Some years you come away having laughed solidly all the way through, other years not so much although it is always very good with plenty of audience participation, great sets and costumes, no smut and Wagon Wheels aplenty!

Whether you like it or not is, of course, subjective. It was always going to be tricky continuing the pantomime after Berwick’s retirement but I think they have succeeded very well, particularly as the usual cast were all in there.

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

Like last year, we had places in the Dress Circle, only this time on the side nearest to where you enter. The accessibility is just great, the lift is spacious and you don’t need to back out of it as it has doors on more than one side. They could maybe have created a wider corridor outside the lift but were probably restricted by the space available and have done the best they can. It would be good to know what their policy is on evacuation of wheelchair users in case of fire. Obviously, it’s not something you want to think about but I suppose one should.

The staff are all incredibly helpful and pleasant and the honeycomb ice-cream is delectable. The pantomime runs until 25th January.

As usual, we parked in Duncombe Place, braving its horribly rough tarmac.

Will we go next year? There’s plenty of time to decide.

Check out more reviews of accessible places to visit.

Immersed in Van Gogh – and fairly detached about being in town

360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

The Van Gogh Immersive Experience was lovely, visiting that part of town for the first time in years was not as great as expected.

The Van Gogh Immersive Experience has come to York having previously been in Brussels and elsewhere – it’s at St Mary’s Church, Castlegate, next to the Jorvik Viking Centre.

The main event is the 35 minute Immersive Experience where you are, indeed, immersed in 360° projections of Van Gogh paintings accompanied by music and some voice-over. They are not just static paintings though: windmill sails rotate, trees and flowers blow in the breeze, rain falls, a train passes through a sunny landscape and yes, you become enveloped in a starry, starry night. They make imaginative use of the space, sometimes projecting different pictures between the pillars, at other times one picture fills the room and you are part of the landscape.

360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)
360° projections at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

I think their website said that it was wheelchair accessible but didn’t have information about who could get a concession and whether an accompanying carer could go free. I e-mailed them to enquire and they asked me to forward my booking confirmation so they could make a note that I would be accompanied; this all seemed a little complicated so I suggested they update their website information to make all this clear and they have! Result! The staff on duty at the venue were very helpful.

Entrance to the Immersive Experience
Entrance to the Immersive Experience

There is ample Blue Badge parking fairly nearby in the Castle Carpark by Clifford’s Tower. The route between the two is a bit bumpy but not too drastic – we came via the road as it’s a quiet one and the dropped kerb at the top of the slope near the church is quite a good one. If your wheelchair is too big to manoeuvre around to the entrance, you could go in the exit. The seating was mainly deckchairs which was a jolly idea but many people were struggling to get in and out of them, plus there were a couple of wooden benches.

360° projections at the Immersive Experience
360° projections at the Immersive Experience

Unfortunately, the second part of the experience was in a room up a small, steep little slope that my chair couldn’t cope with (I think the stabiliser wheels back got caught in the angle as it was so steep). What we missed was mainly some activities for kids, so that didn’t matter to us but there was also some virtual reality headsets (at an extra cost) which I was really looking forward to as I’ve never tried virtual reality so I was very disappointed but I guess it can’t be helped: it’s an old building. It might be that they could have tried a bit harder, though, it was a really steep slope for anyone on wheels.

Reproduction of Van Gogh's room at Arles
Reproduction of Van Gogh’s room at Arles

Afterwards, as the rain held off, we had a look round Coppergate Walk as I have not been there for years. It was very busy and I don’t want to do York down, but it was a bit scruffy, very commercial, with pop-up food outlets and somewhat rubbish strewn. The sloping pavement meant that the entrance to the Body Shop has a small step so wasn’t accessible. I wasn’t worried about The Whisky Shop, the jewellers or the umpteen cafés but we were able to pop into Boots and Fenwick’s which has changed mightily since I was last there. The fabulous selection of greetings cards that they used to have on the ground floor has now been moved to the lower ground floor and wasn’t quite so fabulous anymore but there is a very spacious lift to get you there.

Van Gogh at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)
Van Gogh at the Immersive Experience (Visityork.org)

I have mixed feelings about being in town: it was good to see some once-familiar places, but on the other hand a lot of the things you can get in town, you can also get out of town where, as well as being more accessible, is a lot less crowded. We used to be a bit snotty about out-of-town shopping but now realise how incredibly convenient it is for anyone other than the very mobile. On the whole, I can live without looking round shops anyway!

Do visit the Van Gogh if you can – it’s beautiful, it’s different and it’s fun.

Other accessible places to visit.

Rowntree Park looking lovely!

Rowntree Park

Roses, lupins, clematis, goslings… there’s plenty going on in Rowntree Park!

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

It looked more well-tended than sometimes when we visited the other day and, as ever, the mix of tree types is very striking: copper beeches contrasting with the greenery. There have been some improvements in the pathways, various uneven bits have been smoothed.

Love the contrasting colours!
Love the contrasting colours!
Goslings, Rowntree Park
Goslings, Rowntree Park

There are always plenty of interesting things to look out for. On our visit there were goslings, moorhen chicks and ducklings and all the installations which make the park so varied such as the duck house on the pond, the ‘chess-piece’ horse that small children love to scramble on, the totem pole and the helmet. There is of course, the more traditional play equipment and the skateboard park and there is even a boat selling ice creams across the river!

The ice cream boat!
The ice cream boat!
The Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge

I used to always use my scooter when we went to the park, but actually my Powerchair handles all the surfaces absolutely fine, even the slight bump at the flood barrier.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

Lovely as The Homestead is, you can make a longer visit at Rowntree Park because of the paths by the river. These are a little rougher than the paths within the park and the cycle path heading out of town is rather bumpy with tree roots but not too bad. I understood that was going to be fixed, perhaps it will be soon.

Riverside paths
Riverside paths

It’s always a pleasure to visit Rowntree Park and the riverside paths.

More accessible places to visit.

York’s most beautiful park: now less bumpy!

Homestead Park, York

Decided to give Homestead Park a go with my power chair rather than my scooter. I had my email to the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust half written in my head, asking if they could make the crazy paving a bit smoother and found that they have done exactly that: the pathway near the pond that was a bit rough going is now tarmac like most of the rest of the paths – hooray!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

I still emailed them, though, to enquire if the surface of the car park could be improved as it is really bumpy and they promptly replied to say that they are looking to improve it, so good news all round for those of us who like a smooth ride when possible.

Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Circle Garden, Homestead Park, York
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city
Celebrating 800 years of York as a city

It was a lovely, sunny day so the park was being very well used: the children’s play area seems really popular and there were plenty of people admiring the gorgeous flower beds.

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

There always seem to be improvements on the go. During our last visit, they were replacing the trees on the Cherry Walk and these were in bloom and looking lovely. There was a guy in waders clearing the pond and plenty of other staff generally tending the place, which is always immaculately kept.

Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York
Always improvements going on at Homestead Park, York

Great to know that they are committed to improvements in accessibility as well as in horticulture!

Homestead Park, York
Homestead Park, York

Here are some other accessible places to visit.

Did you know Celtic Gypsy Klezmer is a thing?

NCEM entrance

The Dodo Street Band perform it in spades! Skilful and versatile, they gave us toe-tapping jolly tunes and daft banter to warm us up on the day we had been threatened with freezing rain and blizzards. Fortunately those didn’t materialise, just heavy rain.

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

The NCEM has been granted £144,200 some of which will be used to improve access and seating. I remember from when I used to use their seats that they are not the most comfortable so that’s welcome news and as the place is really accessible already, I can only imagine how fabulous it will be with even better access – less bumpy thresholds and more Blue Badge spaces, perhaps?

When we arrived, the only remaining Blue Badge space in the carpark was reserved – we didn’t realise you could reserve them but now we know! We parked in the street which wasn’t really a greater distance – just as well as it was chucking it down! It did mean setting up my chair in the road which was only busy because of the concertgoers and really not a problem. I will remember to book a space next time though as it means not having to go up and down the dropped kerb.

We used a space for wheelchair users on the front row so had a great view of the band and their amazing range of instruments: violin, accordion, double base, clarinet and bodhran mainly but also recorder, mandolin and plenty of others.

There was mulled wine and mince pies on offer as well as a couple of CDs by the band. We bought both the CDs – maybe we should have gone entirely digital by now but I like buying a CD!

I’m looking forward to future trips the NCEM to see how they develop it further.

See my other reviews of trips to the NCEM.

Accessible tapas!

Ambiente, Fossgate, York

We had a fun time at Ambiente in Fossgate, York, sharing various tapas dishes between four of us. Having eaten tapas galore in Spain, I would say that these seemed pretty authentic, although some were better than others.

Ambiente, Fossgate, York
Ambiente, Fossgate, York

They describe the food as having “a Yorkshire twist” – they use local as well as Spanish suppliers, for example, the morcilla is a mixture of local sausage meat and Spanish black pudding, round a quail’s egg, so it’s actually a delicious kind of Scotch egg.

The croquetas, patatas bravas, chorizo y patatas and buñuelos de pescado (fishcakes) were also fabulous. The pulpo (octopus) was good too but I wasn’t impressed by the gambas (prawns) or the champiñones (mushrooms) – a good excuse to try some of the other items on the menu next time! The bread was good too, a soft, herby focaccia.

Staff were pleasant and efficient. Pete had checked out the place in advance as we weren’t quite sure about negotiating the doorway: there is a bit of lip which is higher on one side than the other but with both doors open it was easy. The trickiest thing were the cobbles nearby. There is no actual parking for the restaurant, but there are parking bays in the street. According to the council website, those with a Blue Badge can park in them free of charge, although there was no mention of this on the parking meters. We pulled up in a nearby private parking area in order not to have to set up my power chair on the road. This meant negotiating some rather bumpy cobbles but nothing my chair couldn’t cope with. Pete then parked the car in a bay over the road.

Inside the restaurant there is plenty of room to manoeuvre and the tables are high enough that you can sit at them in a wheelchair. There is an accessible loo with grabrails – didn’t use it, though, so can’t describe it in detail. There was background music but not too loud. They have two branches in York as well as one in Leeds and Hull.

Here are some other eateries I’ve tried.

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.

 

Sutlers, York (or, that bar in what used to be the Army and Navy Stores)

Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com

On the whole, it was rather fun and I’d go again. We went on a Monday night, arriving about 6.30 and it was pretty busy. Service was a bit slow and rather amateurish – they lost our drinks order so we reordered but didn’t get them until after the food started arriving! We had ordered from the ‘Ration Packs’ (small plates, rather like tapas) part of the menu and five dishes between three of us was fine as we weren’t up for a big meal – two or three of them came with delicious bread and the bill was incredibly reasonable. They also do burgers, steaks, salads, sandwiches and sharing platters as well as a range of other dishes.

Lower bar, Sutlers York (different seats to when we went!)
Lower bar, Sutlers York (different seats to when we went!) tripadvisor.ca

Pete had checked the place out in advance for access – we sat in the lower part which has level access and an accessible loo. I think the main bar has level access too, but you’d have to leave the building and re-enter if you wanted the loo! The tables in this section were not the sort you can sit at in a wheelchair – I sat on one of their chairs. Some of the tables had bench seats but staff were very accommodating about swapping the seats around.

Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com
Sutlers, York. yorkmix.com

The food was tasty without being fabulous and some parts better than others, but on the whole I prefer it to the food at Bill’s which was our last foray into central York. You can park on Fossgate after 6.00pm (free for residents) and there are dropped kerbs or you could use Pavement as a drop-off as we did (the pavement is flush with the road).

To sum up: tasty enough food, pleasant staff if a little haphazard and a good, buzzy atmosphere – we’ll go again!

More reviews of accessible restaurants.

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!