A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Wheelchair”

Pompeii on Wheels

Pompeii is one of those places that I feel that I’ve always known about, and have always wanted to visit. We’ve just been staying in Naples and I really couldn’t let the wheelchair get in the way of a visit to the ancient ruins.

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Temple of Jupiter, the forum

We had read that there was an accessible route round Pompeii. To reach it, on leaving the railway station you need to avoid being guided with everyone else towards the nearest entrance of the site. The start of the accessible route is at the far end, the southeast entrance. It’s nearly a mile from the station but worth the effort as you enter by the amphitheatre, and there were no queues when we were there. Also, you travel along flat pavements rather than potentially getting there and back via the roman streets inside.

Then we were in! – the place is huge! Just the amphitheatre is huge! I made it inside the amphitheatre but it was down a fairly steep slope so I decided to walk (and gratefully accepted a bumpy push back up in the chair!).

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the amphitheatre

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outside of the amphitheatre

Then we headed down the Via dell’Abbondanza, which has a flat pavement at the side of the roman cobbled street and for part of the way has a helpful raised metal platform when needed. You can wander along and see the rows and rows of houses and shops and get a feel for the bustling liveliness that there must have been along these streets all that time ago.

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metal walkway

There are still some pieces of mosaic to be seen and roman signs on the walls. The pools where the Romans collected water at the front of their homes are clearly visible.

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peering inside a home

Eventually, you come to the forum. Coming to it after travelling along the streets crowded with houses you get a real sense of its spaciousness and how splendid and imposing it must have been.

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the forum

The surface is rougher round this section and to fully explore the far edges of the area I needed to get up periodically to negotiate steps. Several times, as I was about to stand up, people kindly offered to lift me (and the chair) up, though I was able to manage. Mainly Americans – very friendly. This way, with many bumps, we negotiated some way up the Via del Foro – worth it for the (reasonably priced!) cafe and also to be able to peer into more, clearly elegant, homes, some complete with fountains.

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less easy parts to negotiate

Eventually, we had to give in to the roman stones and head back. I didn’t make it round the Basilica, situated next to the Forum. I had no more energy to get up and down, which I would have had to do repeatedly – and we had spent about four hours at the site, exploring and taking our time, and just enjoying being there.

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more helpful bridges between stepping stones

Of course, you’ve got to get there in the first place! That was an adventure in itself! We braved the circumvesuviana train system from Naples. Be warned – it is very busy! However, I was grateful for the wheelchair in providing me with a seat – the only way I was ever going to get one! A note – to get  to the platform at Naples we could see only  a flight of steps, not a lift – not accessible if you are unable to walk at all.

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‘beware of the dog’ mosaic at house entrance

A couple of days later we went to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Oh the bliss of smooth floors! There are amazing bronze and marble statues taken from Pompeii and other Vesuvian sites. On upper floors there are frescoes and stunning moaiscs. In your mind’s eye you can place them in the houses of Pompeii.

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the forum

A worthwhile and easier visit than to the ruins of Pompeii itself! Also, we were pleasantly surprised that neither of us was charged an entrance fee at either place. Lovely Italians!

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innocent-looking Vesuvius, from Naples

All in all, Pompeii was quite an adventure and required a certain amount of determination – not least from Pete – to negotiate the bumps and kerbs of the ancient city. You certainly need to be able to get up and walk here and there, even on the accessible route. And be prepared to feel a little battered by the end of the day! However, the effort was definitely worthwhile.

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Water Above and Below!

It had seemed like good idea – a trip to the Lake District, taking our inflatable canoe. We had not expected a weekend of rain, not in July!

We decided to abandon the idea of going on the water on the Saturday – pumping up the canoe, putting the seats and oars together, and then spending time on the water, all in the rain, wasn’t appealing, even to us two hardly souls!

We took out the chair, and had a little pootle along the lane in the Langdale valley, glad of our top-to-toe waterproofs, even for that trip. It was nice to see people coming down off the fells, dripping wet but well waterpoofed and looking happy to have successfully managed a hike. I can’t say we were envious though!

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Ullswater, Lake District

The next day brought a chink of dry weather, with the impending threat of more rain at any moment, as assessed either by the grey clouds above or the dispiriting analysis on the weather app. Should we be brave (or foolhardy) and risk a canoe trip on Ullswater? Would the rain hold off long enough even to enable us to get the canoe ready for launching?

We decided to be brave (no, not foolhardy!). I kept glancing nervously at the sky as Pete pumped up the canoe – it took effort and I didn’t want it to be wasted, especially as I wasn’t much help. I managed to clip the oars together (!)  and Pete did everything else.

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pumping up the canoe

Finally, we were ready and it still wasn’t raining! Then we were on the lake, floating near to Glenridding Pier. The wind was blowing towards us – strongly. That wasn’t helpful. It was pretty hard work making headway in the direction we wanted. I paddled a bit but really Pete was the engine. And we couldn’t stop to admire the view as we started going back the way we’d come dishearteningly quickly.

Eventually, we made it to a sheltered spot near the reeds. From there we could enjoy watching a few swans diving about, as well as a large group of Canada geese that were sitting so still on the bank that they were effectively camouflaged, and we almost missed them.

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rain bouncing off the water

Eventually our luck ran out and the rain began. Fortunately we’d had a good stint on the lake by then and were happy to head back (with the wind now helping!). It was even fun to watch the water bouncing off the lake surface just a few centimetres away. It was quite dramatic.

It had been worth the effort after all. Wet air is still fresh air and we felt pretty invigorated by our efforts!

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!

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!

Castles by the Sea

We’ve just got back from a few days exploring in Northumberland. It’s been a few days spent outside all day in fresh sunshine, and enjoying fabulous views. We stopped at the Angel of the North on the way up: a beautiful piece of art and engineering.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

Then it was onward and upward to the very north or England, a land of wide empty fields to the west and miles of long sandy beaches to the east. One day was spent on castle walks. In the morning, on Holy Island, we spotted Lindesfarne Castle from the monastery ruins. It was at the far end of the island but we decided that we could manage the walk there.

distant Lindisfarne Castle

distant Lindisfarne Castle

I had good pushing assistance from Pete and our teenage son (who coped very well with a break away with both parents and no sister for moral support!). It was about a mile from the car park, and the terrain was not very wheelchair-friendly approaching the castle itself – so we simply went round the side and admired it from the outside. There were many, many spots to sit and enjoy the sea views and, although many people were doing exactly that, there was still plenty of space and it still felt wild and empty.

view from Holy Island

view from Holy Island

Later, we headed a little south to Craster with its picturesque harbour. From here we took a footpath to Dunstanburgh Castle, a truly impressive ruin that stood against the skyline about a mile away, tempting us towards it.

Craster harbour

Craster harbour

The path was largely flat and more of a walk (or wheel) over short grass than along a footpath. However, after a time the route started to slope gently up towards the castle, and not always so gently. Also, sometimes the path became very stony and I had to get out of the wheelchair in order to negotiate those sections.

Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance

Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance

My fantastic pushers did a marvellous job, and indeed our son was the most game for pushing me over the last and steepest section so that we could get to the castle itself. It is a huge castle, even as a ruin, spanning right across the ridge, and becomes even more imposing the closer you get.

getting nearer

getting nearer

The wide expanse of grassy hillside with no sign of any road ever having cut across it looked absolutely made for horses to gallop across and up to the castle. You could practically hear their hooves thundering past! Once inside, I sat on a wall watching out to sea happily, whilst the other two had a good wander around, including climbing a (non-ruined!) tower.

below the castle walls

below the castle walls

It was a great walk, though I can’t really call it wheelchair-accessible. A strong mobility scooter would probably be fine. Someone who can get out of a chair to help with tricky bits would be ok, but you also need strong companions to push so … on the edge of accessibility. But if you can do it, do! It is well worth the effort.

view from Dunstanburgh Castle

view from Dunstanburgh Castle

On Reflection

As it’s the first anniversary of the London Paralympics, I’ve been taking a bit of time out from the tandem to ponder whether the Games have affected me personally. I’m a part-time wheelchair user, (a tandem can only get you so far, unfortunately) and it’s when I consider my wheelchair that I realise I have been affected.IMG_0840

I’ve been a reluctant convert to the use of a wheelchair. Although I’d eventually got my head round the idea of using one for when I couldn’t just walk a small distance, I would cringe inwardly as I was wheeled around in my clunky chair.

I became enormously self-conscious at the thought of getting out of my chair and walking the last part of my journey, say into a cafe or, sometimes, down a flight of steps as it was just such a darned hassle to find an alternative route. I imagined horrified looks from passersby, believing me to be a fraud. I wanted a card to wave at such people, saying, ‘I’ve got MS, I can’t walk very far’.

Then I watched the Paralympics. I was totally hooked and soaked up everything there was to know about the athletes and their machines. David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft and Sarah Storey became familiar names, and I was awed by the brutality of Murderball and the agility of the wheelchair basketball players. I became a Paralympic geek.

I also noticed that sometimes a swimmer would walk to their starting position but would use a wheelchair after having given their all in the water, although the camera remained firmly on their exhausted face during the post-race interview.

I became an avid watcher of the Last Leg too: the programme that took a light hearted view of each day’s events. It was very funny! People with disabilities were laughing at funny things that happened in relation to their disabilities; and about anything else that made them – and anyone else – laugh. (I’m delighted that they’ve now got a regular series; a light hearted look at the previous week’s news by three blokes who happen to have only four legs between them.)

And then I found that I was getting severe wheelchair envy. I wanted to whizz about like these athletes! I realised that I was no longer seeing disabled people playing sport but athletes using wheelchairs as a means to an end. A wheelchair was just a piece of kit, like a car; it got you about. In fact, it was getting some of them about at great speed! If I wasn’t looking at their chairs (except with envy!) then maybe people wouldn’t be looking at my chair rather than me either.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have made one particular change though, to the wheelchair itself. After a final noble trip to Ghent (where the cobbles, although pretty, are totally impractical if you’re in a wheelchair) finally did for my chair (and very nearly me too!), it was quietly retired and I have acquired a sleek, black self-propelling one. I can now imagine myself to be a member of the wheelchair basketball team – so long as no one throws me a ball!

It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks they’ve seen a miracle if I get out of my chair to walk a little – they probably aren’t watching and I should skip down stairs when I can anyway! (Okay, ‘skip’ is a bit of a stretch but I liked the image!) I always have a seat when I want one, and I have also (almost!) embraced being wheeled at terrifying speed by one of the teenagers. A white-knuckle ride all of its own! IMG_0808

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