A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “accessibility”

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

Tramping in the Lake District

I’ve just had a really great day out: scooting about along Lakeland paths in a Tramper!

Tarn Hows, Lake District

Tarn Hows, Lake District

We were at Tarn Hows on a beautiful spring day and had booked one of these four-wheel all-terrain mobility vehicles from the National Trust. I collected it from their information point at the tarn’s car park then we headed off on the circular walk around the tarn.

The Tramper

The Tramper

It’s a lovely walk, and one I have done many times over the years, so it was fantastic to be doing it once more. It takes you from beside the water’s edge, through shady woodland and on up to higher ground so that you get a great view of the tarn from above.

We had picked a perfect day and, although I wasn’t moving and creating body warmth in my sturdy seat, I didn’t get chilled – even through the shady woods. The light made its way softly through the still bare trees, dappling the grassy tussocks. It really felt like a fairy dell, quite enchanting!

through the woods

through the woods

And the Tramper was magnificent, powering up the inclines without a hint of complaint – it felt great! It was so good to be in control too, and, with some reassurance from Pete that he didn’t mind, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to speed up, slow down and stop where I liked.

powering up the hills

powering up the hills

Of course, I ‘walked’ along beside Pete too but I hadn’t appreciated the difference between tootling along at a sedate pace beside him at his normal walking pace, which was a pleasant gentle exertion for him, and the fun of that extra speed for me. It was only a couple of miles an hour extra but it just gave that extra buzz and more wind in your face and hair flying about! Of course, I was very safe in my handling of the vehicle – keeping an eye out for others strolling along the path and avoiding the deepest muddy puddles.

simply enjoying the ride!

simply enjoying the ride!

We stopped for a little while at the far corner of the lake where the sun was speckling the water in bright shards of light. It was mesmerising.

tranquility

tranquility

On we trekked, up and down the undulating path and along to more open views.

Eventually, we had to hand back the Tramper but it really was a great way of getting out. The ‘ups’ would certainly have been too steep for a wheelchair so it was the perfect answer. Highly recommended! You can get more information about hiring one here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tarn-hows-and-coniston/features/take-a-tramper-at-tarn-hows

Off-roading by wheelchair!

After weeks of all-day fog, rain and storms, we happened to be in the Lake District when the weather turned all bright blue skies and sharp winter cold. Pete had an idea for an explore.

We went to Glenridding, by Ullswater, where he had an idea for a little walk. It was along a path by a stream. This was not a path that immediately shouted wheelchair accessible. It was stony and uneven. In fact, it was along one of the routes that ultimately took you up Hellvelyn!

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

However, Pete was undeterred, and pushed and cajoled the wheelchair along the path. It was one very bumpy journey and the path always looked slightly smoother just a little further along …

I got out on several occasions to walk over particularly stony sections – I felt at great risk of being bumped out by the rocks at several points!

It was well worth all Pete’s heroic efforts. The stream we followed was fast flowing and lively, slipping over stones much more smoothly than us! I was outside for long enough to really feel woken up by the cold and was able to enjoy being right in the depths of the Lakes.

pink sheep!

pink sheep!

It certainly wasn’t a path to recommend for a wheelchair but it was fun to make it accessible for the day. A lady stopped us on our way back along the (very smooth!) road. She said she’d watched us making our way along the path and was glad we’d been able to get ourselves round – I think she was a little impressed!

Escape!

Recently, I’ve been escaping to the hills in my mind. I’ve been reading ‘Walking Home’ by Simon Armitage. The book tells of his journey along the Pennine Way, back to his home town of Marsden, which sits in the Pennines a couple of days’ walk south of me.

He’s a poet – I found one of his poems engraved on a stone as part of a sequence, on a previous tandem ride. And so he decided, not only to walk the route home (and a little more), but to provide a poetry reading each evening to ‘sing for his supper’ and bed for the night.

'Walking Home' by Simon Armitage

‘Walking Home’ by Simon Armitage

So he found himself reading to varying numbers of people in out-of-the-way pubs, with an ever-changing band of companions joining him for an odd day of the walk. As for me, I found him easygoing company along the whole journey.

He made me smile as he told of days where he became completely lost in empty landscapes unable to get his bearings, of eating soggy sandwiches on damp grass, and of long days walking, finding his stride and keeping going.

He recreated the beauty of the hills and the wonder of suddenly happening on a stunning piece of scenery, usually with absolutely no one about for miles and miles.

The more I read, the more I found that, when I shut my eyes, those hills and moors and rivers and valleys were before me again. It’s been a very refreshing journey.

On the Edge

We were staying in a caravan in Whitby, or rather, not in Whitby, but above and behind it, like in the old days.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby, North Yorkshire

We used to camp up here year after year – a fresh air get-away. The highlight was walking along the cliff path which hugs the edge of the fields on one side and plunges straight down to the sea just beyond a crooked wire fence on the other. We would descend the 199 steps into Whitby, mooch around the shops and walk along the sea walls, then trip back up the steps to our haven above the cliffs.

Whitby's red roofs and the 199 steps

Whitby’s red roofs and the 199 steps

Whilst we regularly return to Whitby it had been a long time since we‘d stayed on the cliff top as tents were no longer welcome at the site. However, we had been very pleased to take up the offer of staying in a friend’s caravan.

harbour wall

harbour wall

Our first day was taken up with enjoying the open views from our bolthole – miles of green fields and wide blue skies, with a glimpse of Whitby Abbey in the distance; and refamiliarising ourselves with the piers, cafes and shops of the town.

... with perching cormorants

… with perching cormorants

Although I think I’ve had my fill of the cobbles in the old part – painful bumps, deep fissures that the wheelchair (and Pete) struggled to manoeuvre out of and such numbers of people to negotiate!

In the evening we returned to enjoy the views by night. It was now distinctly autumnal but so fresh, making you feel very alive.

harbour at night

harbour at night

The next day, Pete did an early morning check of the footpath and returned to say that he thought it was negotiable by wheelchair from the site right along to Whitby Abbey, above the town.

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

This was great news. I had been pushing away those memories of all the coastal walks we’d done round here, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the caravan was right next to one of the footpaths along which a steady flow of people passed, clearly enjoying the walk.

wheelchair-friendly footpath

wheelchair-friendly footpath

I didn’t need to think of that any more. Soon I was on the path myself, peering through the fence and following the line of steep cliffs careering down to the sea hundreds of feet below. The tide was out and we watched tiny people walking their dogs across the flat rocks. And we simply watched and listened to the sea.

cliff edge

cliff edge

After about half a mile we reached the ruins of Whitby Abbey, and shortly after that, having bowled through Dracula’s graveyard, we found a bench overlooking the town. From here we had spectacular views of the harbour, the maze of houses with their red roofs, and, of course, the sea.

cliff top view

cliff top view

It was great to be back on top – and I didn’t have to negotiate the 199 steps either!

Cycling Along the Pennine Way

Well, it was just four miles each way along the Pennine Way, but still! There I was, on – well, amongst – the Pennine moors, with the wind really blowing on my face. It felt really good!

Pennine moorland

Pennine moorland

This new, exciting route was made possible by our new purchase: a tandem bike rack! We’ve been talking about getting one for ages and finally got round to it. It’s great! More details will follow when Pete is able to update the About the Tandem page, but in the meantime this is a peek of what it looks like.

the new bike rack

the new bike rack

It is going to open up so many more possibilities, not least taking it to Wales on holiday. I’m being distracted: back to the moors!

We had driven to the White House pub at the edge of Blackstone Edge, towards the end of the third day of the Pennine Way if you are walking the whole route. We were able to get on to a wide gravelly path that headed north, winding round to give us a different view of our familiar Calder valley in the distance.

looking across the Calder Valley

looking across the Calder Valley

It never ceases to amaze me how many views there are in this part of the world. The hills and valleys twist and turn so much that there is a new angle and a new view every few minutes. It’s extremely good value!

The path was flat and kind to us except for the several gates which we managed to open and close without either of us dismounting – quite an art! But worth doing as I find it tiring getting on and off, fitting my feet in and out of the pedal covers. We shuffle backwards and forwards with me holding on to the gate and giving it a firm shove once we are safely through – a bit tricky but quite satisfying!

gritstone outcrop

gritstone outcrop

I was very pleased to find a poem engraved on to one of the giant gritstone boulders that are scattered across the landscape. There are several poems dotted across the moors from Marsden to Ilkley as part of the ‘Stanza Poems’ written by local poet, Simon Armitage. I certainly hadn’t expect to be able to get anywhere near any of them! This was ‘Rain’ – apparently inspired by the weather. I’m saying nothing, except, well, it wasn’t raining when I visited!

'Rain' boulder

‘Rain’ boulder

The path follows by the side of two or three small reservoirs cut into the moors. They seem very ‘relaxed’ reservoirs somehow – there is a shoreline rather than a wall at the far side of them and they seem very much part of the landscape.

We were unable to travel further than four miles as the path became a walker’s footpath at that point. However, we were able to see across to Stoodley Pike before turning back – well worth it!

Stoodley Pike

Stoodley Pike

Big Skies in Morecambe

On a recent visit to my parents, I had the chance of a day out in Morecambe, Lancashire. I’d particularly wanted to visit the Midland Hotel there, which is an Art Deco building that had fallen into disrepair before being recently renovated back to its former glory.

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

I’d scarcely visited Morecambe since I was a child when I remember regularly running along the prom whilst a sea breeze tugged firmly at my coat. The wide prom was still there, and the breeze was still fresh, but I had no recollection of the endless curving view across Morecambe Bay to the blue-tinged Lakeland fells in the distance. It was simply panoramic!

Midland Hotel

Midland Hotel

We gently made our way along the prom to the hotel. I was not disappointed! It is so elegant with its smooth white walls and its curves which complement the sweep of the shoreline.

hotel entrance

hotel entrance

We made our way inside to have a morning coffee and found more elegance coupled with a relaxed atmosphere. And views! Through the long windows we could look out across the sunny bay. It was beautiful.

long hotel windows to maximise the views

long hotel windows to maximise the views

As was the decor. Dad and I had a little mooch round, and I was really impressed by the bar, all pinks and reds.

looking out from the bar

looking out from the bar

I saw someone taking photos of the ceiling above the spiral staircase. I had to have a look too … and then I also had to take a photo!

spiral staircase from below

spiral staircase from below

Outside, we had a walk down the stone pier which has a bird theme. As well as a large metal sculpture of cormorants, more are perched at intervals along the railings.

cormorants at start of pier

cormorants at start of pier

And a feature I totally appreciated: there are breaks in the cobbles so that those on wheels can have a smooth passage along. Full marks for that!

cobblestone gap along pier

cobblestone gap along pier

The sea front is so long and the parking opportunities so numerous that you can choose how little or how much you want to do and park accordingly. There is plenty of space to run if you are young and energetic like my four-year-old niece who came with us and illustrated the point admirably! It is flat and bump-free if your form of transport is a pram or wheelchair. Or it makes a lovely cycle ride along the whole bay if you prefer. And all with plenty of sea air!

fishing boat in the bay

fishing boat in the bay

Edinburgh on Wheels!

We had decided that a weekend away in Edinburgh would be good for us all to do (Pete, me and the offspring) so I booked the hotel and we started looking forward to it. It was many years since I’d been and what I remembered were the wide streets, the old buildings and the Royal Mile.

Then I started to think some more … wasn’t Edinburgh the hilliest city we could have arranged to stay in … were we completely mad?! I decided that if I was going to make the trip then going with three healthy and helpful members of the family was the way to do it.

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

I really made the most of my support team: Calton Hill – no problem! The Royal Mile – no problem! Miles of Edinburgh streets – no problem! (Okay, total exhaustion by the end but totally worth it!)

There are a few steps at the start of Calton Hill which I successfully negotiated and the upward slope thereafter was well within the capabilities of my pusher – and it was only just off the main thoroughfare. There were great views at the top, as well as a cluster of great monuments, and the slight rain showers didn’t dampen our spirits.

National Monument, Calton Hill

National Monument, Calton Hill

The younger members of the party clambered around the National Monument which is pretty impressive up close. And all of us, as enthusiastic Proclaimers fans, just had to recreate their iconic album cover for ‘Sunshine on Leith’, looking moodily over to the coast towards Leith. Totally embarrassing but quite hilarious at the time!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

We spent a sunny Saturday morning conquering the Royal Mile on our mission to get to the castle – a distinct effort was required by the team to get me there. Once we arrived at the castle entrance, wondering how we’d manage the next steep cobbled path inside, I was approached by a steward who said that I could be taken by car into the castle right to the top. Excellent!

I waited with a 92-year old woman who had walked to there under her own steam(!). We were taken by car round the side of the castle, through a tunnel which was bored through the ancient rock in the 1980s, and emerged at the sunny summit, with no effort required!

We generally mooched around enjoying the amazing views over the city, admired the huge gun, Mons Meg, and watched the ever growing crowds making their way into the castle.

views across Edinburgh from the castle

views across Edinburgh from the castle

My driver(!)  had said that there was disabled access to see the Crown Jewels. I thought that this possibility ought to be investigated. We approached the entrance to the exhibition but all I could see were a narrow turret, steep stairway and long queue … not promising.

However, our daughter was not to be deterred. She went in search of a steward and came back (Miss Fixer that she is) with information and assistance. There was a secret entrance – we were taken via a lift right into the depths of the castle and emerged near the front of the queue. A very friendly but firm steward in the Jewel Room ensured that I had a great view of the displays. After we had finished, the whole queue was halted to enable me to exit via the lift. This must be how celebrities feel!

Although the collection is modest, the jewels are beautiful and an important part of Scottish history. The way through is narrow and the queue was long, and I would definitely recommend going on a quieter day than we did, especially if you can’t call on the VIP treatment.

Edinburgh streets

Edinburgh streets

In the afternoon the younger group headed energetically up Arthur’s Seat whilst we meandered at a slower pace down to Princes Street. There, I was able to lie on the grass and rest whilst listening to cheery jazz musicians. It was so good to lie down!

I was having a great time but was finding just watching the sheer number of people exhausting. I’m not used to being around crowds!

A friend had given me a recommendation to visit the Royal Botanic Garden and it was sounding ever more attractive as an antidote to the business of the morning. Fortunately, we could break up our journey by stopping off at our hotel en route as it was probably a 30-40 minute walk from the centre.

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

At every step we travelled north, the roads and footpaths grew emptier. We had wide Georgian streets flanked with parks to ourselves and before long we found ourselves in what felt like a village within a city, in Stocksbridge. There was bustle here, but of a much more relaxed Saturday kind.

We passed streets of cottages and followed a river. On we went, over cobbles (ouch!) and negotiating some unhelpfully high kerbstones, until we eventually arrived at the Botanic Garden.

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

It was wonderful, a real haven of calm so close to the city centre – definitely worth the journey. It was late afternoon when we arrived so it wasn’t too busy but there was so much space that I’m sure it would be difficult for it to actually look busy.

There were wide paths, lawns spotted with trees, hidden spaces behind hedges and well-tended bushes in full flower.

We’d been advised to visit the Queen Mother Memorial Garden. It was a circular garden, tucked away behind a 100-year-old hedge, and commemorated the Queen Mother’s long life, marking off the decades on flagstones with notable dates. All around the edge were little alcoves to sit in, hidden from everyone.

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Elsewhere, there was an amazing conservatory, and next to it lay Britain’s largest plant fossil, of a tree that grew 320-340 million years ago.

330-million-year-old tree fossil

330-million-year-old tree fossil

Although the cafe was just shutting as we arrived, we were able to sit outside looking out towards the Edinburgh skyline. No hurry, no rush. Perfect!

impressive glasshouse

impressive glasshouse

Just a note about accessibility – I would not have been able to get about as I did if it wasn’t for my energetic pushers. I wouldn’t recommend the city for self-propelled wheelchairs – the kerbs were a real challenge. I don’t recall seeing any other wheelchair users and definitely saw no mobility scooter. However, taxis would certainly be way of getting about and the castle did well considering its great age.

 

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