Mini-access review: Chester, Cheshire.

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Despite being a student at Manchester Met. University, Cheshire campus. The nearest City isn’t Manchester, It is in fact Chester. It’s only a 20 minute train journey from Crewe, whereas an average train ride to Manchester can take up to 56 minutes, which is a little long winded considering you can get to London in an hour and 40, just a shame it’s far too expensive to be a feasible, regular trip.

Chester is one of my favourite cities in the world and I’ve been going there since I was in my Mum’s womb. Apparently my love for music was apparent by my kicking to the brass band in the summer of ’93!

When I can justify this strange phenomena known as “free time” i usually jump on the train and head to Chester.

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I just think this picture sums up my life: Looking confused whilst i sit in hope that the ramp people will come and rescue me off the train…

It’s a beautiful ancient city, it’s main streets being carved out by  the romans whilst every man-made feature is seeping with remnants of its own history.

So how accessible is the place, considering it’s all so old and beautiful?

Often, accessible history is a common and clear oxymoron. Which is sad when it’s one of your favourite interests. However, Chester isn’t too bad. It depends on your perspective and individual needs.

Cobbles are a large feature of the streets, like with most well preserved places. However, there are ways to get around them with relatively smooth pathways accompanying them along the four main streets beneath the Chester Rows. When I was first injured, i thought i’d never have chance to get up on the rows again and enjoy the view and experience. One sunny Sunday afternoon a few years ago i was proved wrong, with my Mum in tow i discovered wheelchair access!

Surprisingly, at least two of the first floor levels of the Rows are wheelchair accessible.

You can gain access through a series of cleverly located lifts in Debenahms on Eastgate Street, and a rather steep ramp on Bridge street row. I’ll leave the discovery of finding these entrances to you. It makes for a rewarding, and satisfying adventure! Sadly there’s not too many wheelchair accessible shops/cafes/bars on the ground level as a set of steps usually leads down to them. But I don’t think Medieval Britain had an Equality Act that took the lame into consideration. Rude, I know.

The bars and restaurant that are wheelchair accessible are often just off the main streets and worth the cobble dodging. Last weekend my friend and I stumbled across a wheelchair accessible Tapas bar, that’s building dates back to 1494.

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Gambas Pil Pil. So good, but rather hot!

It was very intimate, with some glass walls exhibiting the old architecture and was fine for a manual wheelchair user to manouver, though larger motorised chairs may struggle. Sadly, all toilets were upstairs but there were accessible places nearby to use. As I mentioned, it’s all about accepting limitations that come with historical preservation and in this case, I was able to get around it. I highly recommend the Blue Bell to anyone who has a fondness of great authentic Tapas, friendly fast service and gets excited when they eat in old buildings.

During winter and inconvenient showers of icy cold rain, a walk or roll along the Roman Walls is not something I would advocate even though they are semi-accessible. This is something I also found out the day i discovered i could get on the rows. Just be prepared to take someone who is willing to push you up steep ramps every few metres so you can do the whole length…My parents are very accommodating to my historical needs, as they accept it’s there fault that I have them. It also seems the Romans didn’t care too much for wheelchair-chariot users which is again, rude.

As an alternative I would recommend heading to the Grosvenor museum on…Grosvenor Street! There is an extremely large accessible bathroom and a lift to the gift shop and ground floor of the period house, though sadly none to the first where the natural history is…It seems to Victorians didn’t care much for the immobile members of society, which is just really rude. Despite that, we spent over an hour and a half in the ground floor galleries because we are those annoying people that read everything. That’s why we’re friends!
I must not fail to mention the incredible photo exhibition by Sue Flood of the earth’s polar regions. The Free museum is way worth a visit just for that!

For late afternoon, evening or whenever you can justify having an alcoholic beverage because you’re out with your best friend, I suggest heading through the Chester Cross onto Watergate Street where at the end you will find Barlounge. This often busy but friendly cocktail bar is fully high-functioning-manual-wheelchair-user accessible (with a small-medium sized disabled toilet – handy for when you’re drinking alcohol!) and does amazing cocktails…and food! A lot of people would complain that there are often balloons in their, but i think it makes urinating a celebratory experience.

We headed there because in the past they had James Bond and political cocktails, which is basically my brain but fermented. This time we found ourselves experimenting with a cocktail chart (if anyone can tell me the type of chart this is, i will fully appreciate it. I’m a an outdoor-history geek, maths isn’t my strong point) to help us choose what we wanted. It actually didn’t help and made us more indecisive, but i guess that’s part of the fun.

The brain power used to decide on which cocktails we wanted to drink, gave us an appetite. The Saturday after pay-day meant that Bar Lounge was full and I remembered an American Grill place near the river, so we headed there. (I have no pictures because my phone died due to trip-advisor)

Hickory’s is a place where I can almost pretend i’m still 19 and have just done a full days skiing in Whistler. It’s a full on American grill with a really large menu. The place is wheelchair accessible both inside and outside with a good size accessible bathroom. We’d done pretty well not to have booked anywhere all day, but there was an hour wait for food inside. Though outside, despite it being around 5 degrees, was perfect. The one great outcome of the public smoking ban (according to smithy from Gavin and Stacey) is outdoor heating. Sitting with my bobble hat on, winter jacket with a hot water bottle, blanket and juicy beef burger is basically the meaning of happiness for a girl who gets mountain withdrawal. Even my friend, who is no big fan of the outdoors enjoyed it. I will definitely be returning in the summer and will book a table outside to enjoy a beer next to the river Dee.

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So that’s me bigging up one of my favourite “local” escapes. It’s not perfect and it can feel pretty rubbish passing by cool shops and bars that you know are impossible to get into, but the ones i can get into somewhat override it. Maybe in the future there’ll be more done to improve access to historical buildings, until then i’ll just remain happy and excited that i can enjoy the places I can get to.

If you want me to review anywhere in depth and properly, not just as a bi-product to a day of historical shenanigans, food and cocktails. (Though this would be a bi-product of the review) let me know.

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Guide for "Disabled" festival goers:

Time to swap my shorts for ski pants, for Biffy to become less shirt-less and the butty vans to return back to their industrial estates.  Yes, it’s sadly that time of year. The British summer music festivals have all come to a close. As the abandoned blow up beds and tents finally lay to rest in landfill sights, i thought it was only fitting that I compile a guide for next years disabled festival goers.

Wheelchair-aerial view of The Killers at T – July 2013

Is the “Disabled Campsite” for you?
For first timers, it’s about making the decision on whether to use the “disabled” camping facilities or not. Festivals are pretty open as to what defines a “disability” and a large number of different people are now making use of the facilities on offer. I’ve met people with Chrone’s disease, autism, visual impairment, MS and bumped into the odd spinal cord injured friend. Large festivals, like Reading for instance, are now asking for proof of disability when you register for disabled camping. (They tend to ask you for a copy/scan of your DLA letter.)

Still not sure?  Liberty with autism says “it’s quieter than the other camps and there’s always staff to help.” Iain, who’s deaf, likes to use the “disabled access because it’s easier for all the deaf friends to stay close without having to stress too much as it can be hard to hear with all the crowd making noise!” He also mentioned that he loves the atmosphere of the disabled campsite and feels safer as there are less people which makes it easier when people aren’t necessarily deaf aware.

If you are opting to book and register for disabled camping:

  • Make use of the “2 for 1” carer tickets available.
  • Book and register for disabled camping tickets as soon as possible, so you’re not disappointed…
  • Put the “Disabled registration date” in your diary! Most festivals don’t open up their registration up until about 2/3 months before the festival, don’t buy your tickets and then forget to register!
  • It will give you and (usually one other person) access to Disabled viewing platforms.