Crossing

In Roscoff we boarded a ferry of Brittany Ferries. They sail once a week from Roscoff to Cork. Sailing times depend on the time of high tide, as we found out. We arrived at the harbour around 6 in the evening. We were supposed to sail around 10 o’clock but left about an hour later.

Breton coast from the ferry deck

Breton coast from the ferry deck

As usual with ferry companies we get into a special queue to board so they can make sure we get a spot on the car deck close to the lift and with enough room around the car to get the wheelchair out. With past experience I have requested purser assistance with the luggage which makes it easier to get to the cabin. Even with only overnight bags we have quite a bit of luggage to take on and off board because of all the aids I need for J.

The cabin has portholes which give daylight, but there is a deck in front of it, so it is a bit strange to see people walking past your windows. The cabin has two berths, one on the side wall and one on the outer wall, so both can be easily reached with the wheelchair. The cabin is small, but just big enough (see video). As usual it is a bit difficult to get the wheelchair in the bathroom because there are always high threshholds. I have to think where we are going before I get the wheelchair in the bathroom as I have to go in backwards if J needs the washbasin and straight if he needs the toilet. However, I can get the wheelchair in, get J on the toilet, there are grabrails so he feels safe and he can wash and shave himself. You don’t need more for the one night. In this case the biggest problem in the bathroom is J himself, or rather his acquired brain damage. In the morning he puts the plug in the washbasin to wash his face, then he can’t figure out how to unplug it and he leaves the tap running. Result: wet trousers and a wet wheelchair. Of course I didn’t have a dry pair of trousers in the overnight bag and once we get back to the car I don’t have a chance of changing his trousers.

After we have inspected the cabin we find somewhere to have a drink and then enjoy the evening sun on deck, hoping to see the ship leaving port. However, because we leave later then expected, the sun is going down and it starts getting too cold for John. In the end it is already dark by the time we set off. So even in the restaurant where we have found a table close enough to the windows we can’t see how we leave France behind us.

The crossing takes all night, so a chance of a reasonable night sleep, if it wasn’t for J not being comfortable and waking me up every hour. The next morning we have breakfast in the self-service restaurant. As it is quite full on the ferry it is a bit difficult to find a suitable table that we can reach with the wheelchair. After that I have to go from queue to queue twice (once for his breakfast and then again for my own as I can’t carry the two of them at the same time). Unfortunately there is no map of the crossing available so it is difficult to understand where we are when we actually see land. We arrive round 10.30 am.

Disembarkation is swift and soon we are driving from Ringaskiddy towards Cork, and then on the Motorway north towards Dublin. At first the roads are reasonably quiet and driving is swift. Although the views are beautiful J is soon fast asleep. I follow the signs to a coffee shop just off the Motorway somewhere on the way and then continue north. Round Dublin it is much busier. In Drogheda I leave the Motorway again to get some petrol. There don’t seem to be many serviceareas on the Motorway in Ireland. Lured by the roadsigns in Drogheda we make a little detour to the Battle of the Boyne Visitorcentre to see if it is wheelchairaccessible. Although we intend to come back, we never make it during this holiday. We continue to the north and cross the border to Northern Ireland. First we continue on the Motorway towards Belfast, but after a while we travel cross country towards Ballynahinch.

Accommodation

SAM_1094We have found a holiday cottage called Hemp Cottage just outside Crossgar. We chose the area because it is reasonably close to friends that we want to visit. However, there seems to be not a lot to chose from yet in Northern Ireland if you are looking for accessible accommodation, so you have to make allowances. The cottage is in the back garden of the owners, Rachel and Tom, both architects. Its situation is idyllic, next to a bridge over a brook, and nice and quiet. You do need a car to get to the village to be able to do some shopping, though.

To get into the cottage you have to go through the grass to get to the ramp up to SAM_0571the decking around the house. The front door into the hallway is nice and wide. However there is a very thick mat behind the door which makes pushing a wheelchair in cumbersome. From the hall there are four doors, two into the bedrooms, one into the bathroom and one to the main room. The main room is very nice. Open to the roof which gives a roomy feel, with a sitting area, dining area and kitchen area. I have to move one of the sofas to create room for the wheelchair. The dining table is a bit more difficult. J can only sit at the head of the table and then he is right up against the stones under the wood-SAM_0572fire. The kitchen is very nice and very well equipped. In the bathroom there is a walk in shower, but with a glass wall to one side which makes manoeuvring the wheelchair a bit cumbersome. There are no grab-rails by the toilet. On the whole it would have been easier if the bathroom had been half a meter wider. Saying that, we knew this before we came and I could manage. The larger bedroom has just enough room next to the bed for the wheelchair, but that doesn’t leave a lot of room on the other side of the bed for me to get in and out. Yet again, it would have been more comfortable if the room had been half a meter wider. The second bedroom has bunk-beds. Good if you bring children, maybe not really suitable for adults. For us it is a useful place to store the luggage. Rachel and Tom are very friendly and welcoming. We are free to use some of the veg from the veg plot and there is plenty of wood for the wood-fire. As it can be cold during the night the wood-fire is very pleasant to quickly heat up the cottage. In the afternoon it can be nice and warm especially on the terrace. There are doors opening from the living room to the terrace.

Crossgar is a friendly village. During our stay I find out there are not only local grocery shops but also two little supermarkets with the petrol stations. Not that we have to do a lot of shopping, as we keep getting invited for dinner at our friends house and they keep supplying us with food too.

Enjoying the countryside

SAM_0856As usual, we enjoy driving around the countryside, getting to know the country and driving past local places of interest even if we can’t visit them all. In the beautiful weather that we have you quite often have a lovely view of the Mountains of Mourne to the south. So of course we go for a drive through the mountains too. To get there we follow the coastal road with lovely views over the Irish Sea, lovely little villages with the odd castle here and there and lovely views of the ‘Mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea’. SAM_0743We visit Silent Valley and after a while find how we can drive to the dam so J can actually see it as well. It is quite far to walk there all the way from the parking. I think it might be possible to go for a walk with someone in an electric wheelchair or a mobility scooter in the area.

SAM_0853Another day we go for lunch by the sea in Newcastle. There are plenty of disabled parking facilities. The promenade allows for a nice walk along the shore. It is sunny so we can sit outside for lunch. If I remember correctly I saw signs to wheelchair accessible toilets, but we didn’t use them.IMG_1073 Afterwards we follow another part of the coastal road and visit some of the buildings associated with Saint Patrick. There is a good path going down from the parking area to Inch Abbey. SAM_0906From the end of the path you can see most of the ruins and the nice view towards Downpatrick, but to get into the ruins you have to go over grass and the ground isn’t too even.

SAM_0676The last long roadtrip along the coast is the Causeway Coastal Road which we follow all the way from Belfast to the Giant Causeway. The views along this Coastal Road are magnificent all the way, changing all the time. Stopping off several times makes it quite late by the time we actually get to the Giant Causeway, but of course we are going to visit it. The parking attendants show us the way to the disabled parking area close to the visitor centre. At first I am optimistic about the path down to the Causeway itself but I soon accept that I can’t walk it with the wheelchair, so we take the shuttle bus, which has a ramp into the bus and one place for a wheelchair. On the way down the driver lets us in first so I can make sure I am sitting next to the wheelchair to keep it steady. On the way up I am not so lucky and the Chinese sitting on the spot where I should sit refuse to understand me. The wheelchair almost topples over in one of the bends. Still, we are very glad we went down to see the Causeway. Not that we can walk over the stones, but you get a very good impression from the side. We finish off with a cup of tea in the visitor centre. We do use the toilets here and I experience a ‘Changing Places‘ toilet for the first time. The amount of room is a revalation.

Other attractions

We visit quite a few places while we are here. To begin with (and not the least) the Titanic Experience in Belfast. As it is a very new museum they have ample facilities for wheelchairs. The staff are brilliant too, even if it turns out to be more difficult than expected to get J’s wheelchair on the big ride and the queue behind us grows. Even if he is squashed into the ride a bit he enjoys it tremendously, as he does the rest of the museum.

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We also have a very good time at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. We visit the Transport bit first. Good ramps through the museum, and once we are all the way down I am allowed to get the car at the top and pick J up at the bottom. There is so much to see that we only visit the exhibition about Irish Dance at the Folk museum and leave the rest.

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The third and last museum we visit is the Down County museum in Downpatrick where we get a personal tour as our friend used to work there. The accessibility is reasonable. The funny thing in the museum is some Dutch tourists complaining in a loud voice that they have to wait because we take up the whole lift with the wheelchair. So nice to reply in Dutch ……… After visiting the museum I get some exercise pushing J up the hill to visit Downpatrick cathedral.

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Gardens

As in the first part of the holiday I cannot resist visiting some gardens while we are here, and J comes along to most of them. The first is Glenarm Castle Walled Garden, where we stop for lunch on our way to the Giant’s Causeway. We know we don’t have a lot of time for this visit, so we leave J just outside the tearoom. We would have had to cross a bit of gravel, but the rest of the paths are grass, but a bit on a slope, so it would have been possible to push the wheelchair around. After our visit a table with enough room for the wheelchair has been cleared for us in the tearoom. There are toilets, but I am not completely sure they would have been big enough.

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We also visit a small garden opened for the Ulster Open Gardens Scheme. The owner kindly lets us pass through his living room so J can also see the back garden. This being a private garden it is not especially well designed for visiting wheelchairs, but J enjoys it anyway.

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The next garden we visit is much larger, Mount Stewart. The National Trust have special facilities like a special disabled entrance into the gardens. Of course it is difficult to get everywhere in the garden with the wheelchair. Sometimes paths are just not wide enough, or too steep, or gravel, or there are steps, but usually there is a way around, or J just waits until I have seen what I want to see. We just stay close to the house, and visit the ground floor of the house, the park would have been too much. Lunch in the tearoom is lovely, and afterwards we drive all the way around Strangford Lough and take the ferry at Portaferry to Strangford. The crossing only takes 15 minutes or so, so it isn’t worth it to get the wheelchair out of the car. Wouldn’t have been possible either.

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When we visit Seaforde Gardens and Butterfly house it is drizzling a bit, so I leave J in the Butterfly house and don’t take him into the garden. That would have been possible, although pushing over the gravel paths might have been heavy. The path through the butterfly house is just wide enough and J really enjoys watching all the butterflies flying around and even landing on him.

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The last garden we visit is Rowallane, also a National Trust property, close to Crossgar. It is a lovely sunny day, so it would have been enough to sit outside and drink tea, but we also walk around the walled garden. Very enjoyable even if we have to retrace our steps because only one entrance is accessible. There are disabled toilets, but they are not very big.

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Moving on

IMG_1094Far too soon for our liking the two weeks in Northern Ireland have passed. We end with a lovely dinner with our friends in a local pub and the next day we have to drive to the next ferryport. This time it is in Belfast. The ferry goes to Cairnryan in Scotland. As usual we are in a separate queue, get enough room to get out of the car. As it is a short crossing we do not need any luggage from the car. It is possible to take the wheelchair out on a deck, but J choses to watch the scenery of Belfast lough from the comfort of the cafeteria. We have a nice lunch and enough time to use the facilities. Just before we arrive in Scotland a lady from the information desk accompanies us to the car deck so we have enough time to get back in the car.

View of Belfast Lough from ferry deck

View of Belfast Lough from ferry deck