When we go on holiday we like to keep exploring our boundaries. The boundaries of what we can do despite the wheelchair and the braindamage. Little did I know at the time of planning this holiday that new boundaries would jump up!
Up until now I always tried to plan in enough rest around us so J could recover from all the impressions. This is easiest if you are staying in self-catering accommodation in a quiet area. As he is still getting stronger every year I noticed he needs less and less recovery time. So when we decided we wanted to explore the South Coast this year we also decided to try if staying in more than just two different holiday accommodations was a possibility. If we wanted to see all of the South Coast without having to drive longer distances between the accommodations that is. It meant a lot more planning, trying to find hotels and B&B’s with accessible rooms that were available one after the other. So less room for sudden changes towards the start of our holiday like we had last year! And then we had a sudden change 3 weeks before the holiday when I landed in hospital myself, with heart trouble. Fortunately we could still go, even if I had to take it easier.
In this blog I will tell you about all the different accommodations we stayed in.
On the road: De Panne, Belgium
To make the first day in England a true part of the holiday we had to cross the Channel Tunnel reasonably early. As it is still between 3 and 4 hours drive from our house we booked a hotel on the Belgian coast, close to the French border. For this I used the brochure about accessibility of the Flanders coast. We stayed in the Hotel aan Zee in De Panne. It was located on a square not too far from the seafront. Unfortunately, the square was cobbled, even the disabled parking spaces, which were on the other side of the square. To get into the hotel you had to go through a very narrow hallway to a small lift, which just took the wheelchair, I had to squeeze in, and take the luggage on another run. The room was small and rustic. I could just get the wheelchair in, and I couldn’t get it around the bed, so J had to sleep on the ‘wrong’ side of the bed, which made transfers a bit more difficult, especially since the table on that side could not be moved. There were no other chairs in the room, so I could only sit on the bed, as it was far too cold to sit on the balcony. The bathroom was adequate for our needs. I don’t think this hotel room would have suited someone in an electric wheelchair. The breakfast the next morning was excellent.
Still on the road: Hastings
After a fairly uneventful crossing of the Channel Tunnel we started on our Coastal discovery tour. I had been wondering what the facilities were for wheelchairusers on the train through the tunnel. Basically you get a place right at the front or the back of the train to make disembarkation easier in case of emergency. Not that we needed anything.
The first stop we made (after several touristy visits during the day) was in Hastings. As we wanted to visit several attractions around Hastings we booked into the Travelodge Hotel for two nights. This hotel has one wheelchairaccessible room which is perfectly adequate. The only problems are that there are only two disabled parkings spots in front of the hotel, which were almost always in use. Also you had to go through two doors quickly after each other to get into the room. It is quite difficult to hold these doors open and push the wheelchair through at the same time. Fortunately there were usually people around to lend a helping hand. The room is immediately next to the reception area, making it easy to reach. There was plenty of room to move around the beds with the wheelchair and the bathroom was reasonably large as well. However, as is the case with a lot of wheelchair accessible bathrooms, the people designing it apparently think you need to be able to wash your hands whilst sitting on the toilet. Not realising that this impedes transfers to and from the wheelchair……
The hotel is not far from the seafront and the centre of Hastings. However, it is quite a way uphill, so we needed the car to get into Hastings. As it wasn’t high season yet, there were plenty of (disabled) parking opportunities along the seafront.
Relaxing in West Sussex
After this first stop we continued along the Sussex coast westwards. We soon found out that at most places along the coast you will have to pay for parking, even in a blue badge spot. Usually it is pay and display, which is a bother if you have paid only then to find out that the area you are visiting is not really accessible for a wheelchair, so you leave within 5 minutes. Quite often you have to pay for a minimum of 2 or 3 hours at once….
We continued to the lovely Chichester Harbour area, west of Chichester. Here we had booked self catering accommodation at Canute Cottages. We were staying in Granary cottage, one of the four cottages around a courtyard almost at the end of a private farm road. The owner, Diana, received us personally. She went round the cottage with me, discussing possibilities of changing things around so it would suit our needs. She even found a solution for attaching a monkeypole on a chain from the rafters. We had to move the big double bed so J could reach the monkeypole, but it made things easier for him. Not necessarily for me, as there was less room left to manoeuvre the wheelchair around the bedroom. Fortunately, there were two bedrooms, so I could use the other one giving us both some rest. Both bedrooms opened to the hallway, which also leads to the bathroom and spaceous living room. I left the shower chair in the barn until we wanted to use it, as it would have taken up a lot of room in the bathroom, which was just large enough for our needs.
There are plenty of things to do around the cottages, although we didn’t try any of the accessible walks. We just didn’t have enough time for everything we wanted to do. We really enjoyed a trip around the harbour on a chairboat, though.
Summer in Somerset?
In moving South West we had been expecting nice summer weather, but were a bit disappointed, and not only in the weather…… We started with a hotel near Wells, at Wookey Hole. I found it googling for wheelchair accessible hotels. When I booked it, almost 11 months before we were setting off on this holiday, I had mentioned that I needed a bathroom with a roll in shower rather than a bath, and that we would like a twin bedded set up. So I was unpleasantly surprised when just two weeks before we were setting off I received an email stating that they had only just then found out I needed a wetroom, and that this room was no longer available. Kicking up a fuss didn’t help, so we had to settle for a bathroom with a bath, with no shower. Not nice if you are staying in this hotel for 5 nights….. Okay, they did give me a discount, but still. As you can see, the washbasin is again blocking transfers to the toilet. It was also so low that even J had to bend down from the wheelchair. On the whole, the hotel was perfectly adequate, the room was reasonably large with enough room to manoeuvre. There were also nice chairs for me to sit in, if we came back to the room early. The room was on the ground floor at the end of a corridor, which was nice, because in the weekend the hotel is quite full with families with children visiting Wookey Hole, so the room was relatively quiet. Unfortunately, the staff tended to stand in the courtyard in front of our room smoking their cigarettes, so we couldn’t keep the window open. Access to the hotel was a bit difficult too. The disabled parking bays were situated close to the entrance of Wookey Hole, so a bit further from the entrance to the hotel. Also, there were not enough of them. Usually they would all be taken when we arrived. The incline of the parking area was quite steep. There was a ramp to the front door, but trying to handle the door while pushing a wheelchair was difficult. As the hotel was quite busy, there were often people there to lend a helping hand, though. The staff was mostly very friendly. As the pub in the village wasn’t accessible we sometimes ate in the hotel. Food was reasonably good.
Moving further west, the next stop was in Ilfracombe, on the North Devon coast. Here I found a B&B called Epchris House, were we stayed for three nights. Although it wasn’t far from the centre of town, from looking at Google Street View I had already realised that we needed the car to actually get into town, because the road was on a fairly steep hill, and the pavement not very wide. And of course, paid parking everywhere, certainly until 6 o’clock. Not only was the road steep, the access road was also quite steep. Fortunately, we had a reserved parking space right in front of the front door. Our suite of rooms was located on the ground floor, with our private access door from the patio overlooking the terraced gardens. The suite consisted of two adjoining bedrooms and a smallish bathroom. There was a double door to get into the room, but the door was halfway down the bed in the first bedroom, and it was tricky to manoeuvre the wheelchair around the bed to get to the other bedroom and through that one to the bathroom. There was hardly anywhere to sit in the wheelchair to be able to watch the television. In the end I moved the bed in the second bedroom to one side to create just enough room to get the wheelchair next to it, but that meant no access to the chair and the fridge in the corner, and also the door couldn’t be shut anymore. So for once I had the nice double bed, being able to watch tv from bed. But it meant J had a bed that was more comfortable for him because his feet wouldn’t touch the bottom of the bed. Although it rained a couple of times, we always managed to get to the breakfast room without getting wet, as we had to cross the patio to get there, and get in through the patio doors. Breakfast here was excellent, although it meant having to get up quite early for us. One morning after breakfast is was nice and sunny so we relaxed and enjoyed the view of the valley from the patio. Pity it wasn’t warm enough to try the pool.
From Ilfracombe we followed the road along the North Coast of Devon and Cornwall almost to Newquay, where we crossed to the South Coast. We stayed in the Chapel Guest House in Carthew near St Austell where the owners Chris and Wendy received us. First we discussed how I would like to use the room and while we were enjoying a cup of tea in the dining room they moved the furniture around accordingly, leaving us a room with a lot of room to manoeuvre the wheelchair in and where we could stay very comfortably for the four nights we booked. Nice to find some people who listen to you carefully and then come up with a very workable solution. Unfortunately (for us visitors) they wish to retire and sell the business. The bathroom was adequate, although a bit tight. Also getting through the doorways was a bit tight, but just manageable. Our bedroom was the only one on the ground floor, which didn’t really look like a chapel. I am sure the rooms upstairs had more of that character. The guesthouse is on a fairly busy road up a hill, so walking to the village was out of the question. In the end we usually had a big lunch on the road and brought sandwiches back to the room for tea. Be warned that if you drive around in the West Country it is better to use maps than a SatNav if you want to avoid the narrow and steep country roads! Visiting the picturesque coastal villages can also be a problem, as you usually have to park at the top of the hill and then walk down. However, at Tintagel there is a hill across the bay overlooking the castle where you can park so we could still have a look.
To the Jurassic Coast
To be able to visit a few places on the road back east we decided to break our journey for one night. It turned out to be quite difficult to find suitable accommodation for just the one night. Quite a few guesthouses didn’t want us to stay for just one night. In the end I found a guesthouse in Teignmouth called The Thornhill. It is right on the seafront, but still a bit difficult to find in the car. The entrance to the hotel was not very easy. Up two ramps which are at an angle with no room to turn the chair around. The corridor inside was not very wide either, and we had to get around two corners too. The room was quite spacious, the bathroom quite small. It did have a roll in shower, a washbasin and a toilet, but I had to leave the wheelchair standing in the door and make the transfer from there to the toilet. And of course, the washbasin was hindering the transfer again. Then again, if it is only for one night, you don’t mind as much. There were quite a few restaurants on the seafront, so along a road more or less level. However, most of them seemed to be fully booked, even if it was a Wednesday. So in the end we had to walk a bit further than we would have liked.
The last guesthouse we stayed in (for five nights) was in Weymouth. Oaklands Guesthouse is not far from the seafront, but it is uphill. I didn’t see that on Google Streetview, so I was a bit disappointed I needed the car to get into town, especially since parking in Weymouth is far from easy, even with a blue badge. Also, walking around town with a wheelchair leads to some ‘interesting’ obstacles. The owners of the guesthouse, Mike and Jenny, are very friendly and willing to supply you with advice on all kinds of matters. They had reserved a parking spot in front of the door for us. Still, the slope in front of the door was causing some problems for us with the transfers. The wide front door leads to a spacious hallway. However, the corridor at the end is quite narrow, so making the corners to get through the doors to the hallway, the room or the breakfast room was quite difficult. I am afraid the paintwork on the doorposts suffered. I am told they have had guests in electric wheelchairs too, but I wonder how they managed the turns. The bedroom was just big enough for us, but the bathroom was by far the largest we saw during this trip. And low and behold, enough room around the toilet! We could have stayed here much longer as there is so much to see and do. We also had one of the more interesting trips of this holiday, thanks to Mike. He advised us to take the steamtrain into Swanage. This made parking much easier, and the facilities on board were great. One carriage had all the seating taken out of it and a wider door. The guard puts a ramp at the door as soon as he sees a wheelchair on the platform and helps you on and off board.
On the way back home
For the last night we booked into Travelodge again. This time in Maidstone. Close enough to the Channel Tunnel, but with enough possibilities to visit things on the last day. The bad weather on the road made the distance from Weymouth a bit longer, so we didn’t get to see Maidstone itself. We were too tired and didn’t fancy seeing it in the rain. Again, there were not a lot of disabled parking spaces. I had to unload the luggage and then drive around Asda to park. Not so nice when it is raining. Also, this time our room was not on the ground floor but on the fourth floor. However, the reception assistant immediately offered to help me get the luggage upstairs when she saw me struggle. The room was an interesting shape, because of the curved outside wall. It also made the room quite spacious. The bathroom was at the end of the room and again adequate. Because of the weather again we ate in the hotel, but the breakfast the next morning we had on the road.
So what did we learn from exploring our boundaries? That bathrooms in B&B’s are usually smaller than in self-catering accommodation. That we don’t like having to get up at a certain time to make it in time for breakfast. And also that you always have to get out of the room during the day, whereas in self-catering you can take a rest day, get up late and only do something in the afternoon.
All that doesn’t mean it was all bad. Not even the weather. We had a great holiday again, and saw a lot! Some places are better accessible than others, especially since pushing the wheelchair up and down steep hills is getting more of a problem for me. It is great to see that some historic properties manage to organize wheelchairaccess. Like the lift in Winchester cathedral, like Arlington Court in Devon with a separate entrance. We also enjoyed all the facilities at the Eden Project, although the incline of the path in the Subtropical Rainforest was too steep for me, in combination with the climate. But I won’t tell you about all the things we saw, that would make this blog far too long, which it already is.