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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Travelling on a plane as a wheelchair user.

Travelling in cars, catching trains and flying on aeroplanes should be all part of life for anyone of us who lives life, needs to get somewhere and likes going places.

If you happen to be a wheelchair user, that doesn’t change.

I guess we are in the middle of holiday season and everyone’s jetting off and enjoying time in the sun (real sun, that stays clear from clouds for more than ten minutes). So, I thought it might be helpful to a few people to let them know what it’s like flying with a spinal cord injury or as a wheelchair user, as I get asked about it a lot, with a few different people expressing a fear of the unknown. Well have no fear, i’ve written a guide to let you know what to expect.

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Trying to board a plane, hold passport, book, earphones and life together whilst taking pictures thinking about a blog you will eventually write in over  a months time is always a good idea, right?

 

I wouldn’t call myself a frequent flyer, but I guess it’s easy to say I’ve done a fair bit of solo travelling, before I chose to tie myself to uni for at least three years, and still do. This Summer I’ve been on holiday. An actual holiday that I booked through a travel agent because I wanted to relax, get a tan and have fun. No stressing with booking last minute rooms and coaches, which I will admit is all part of the fun of travelling, but for once I just wanted to get away with my best friend, without much effort.

I’m writing this from my own experience and from how I function. Everyone does everything slightly different, and I want to make it clear that this is just a guide on what to expect when you get on a plane and have a wheelchair as extra baggage.

Booking a flight

It’s all pretty simple. Every airline is different and if you book through a travel agency or even better, one that sells holidays specifically for people with disabilities, then they sort booking assistance with airlines out for you. I used Enable Holidays for my holiday recently and everything went very smoothly, so i highly recommend them.

However, if you are booking a flight yourself simply:

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Cheesy selfie in a roasting hot salou…to show it’s worth overcoming any plane fears you have! (Also, the one i took at the airport wasn’t flattering at all!)

Look up what you need to do to inform the airline of any assistance you need.You book your assistance with your airline whilst you book your flight/s and they organise the exact assistance you require with the airports you’ll be travelling to and from.

At the airport

In my case, when I am travelling alone I arrange to have assistance when i arrive at the airport. There’s often a sign where you arrive directing you to the assistance desk.

  • Make your way to the assistance desk and the people their will help you through to departures. Often, once your checked in, through to departures and if there’s time, they let you do your own thing until boarding.
  • If you’re travelling in a taxi and fully alone and in a wheelchair and can’t carry your bags, just ask your taxi driver to watch your bags whilst you find a member of staff or internal phone to help you to the check in desk.
  • My best piece of advice i can give to anyone travelling alone is “be vocal”. If you need to ask something, ask.

Getting on the plane (the exciting bit)

So once you’re at the gate you do all the usual passport checking and are usually met by another assistance person. It also differs depending on the airport. At places like Manchester and Heathrow you roll down a tunnel and transfer into an aisle chair at the entrance of the plane. As i mentioned, I’m strong enough and have a level of spinal injury that enables me to independently transfer. The reason you don’t transfer onto the plane seat straight from your chair is because as you may know, the aisles are too thin for even a chair as skinny as mine.

However, if you’re at a smaller airport getting on the plane is  bit more of an “adventure.”

As you can seIMG_2304e in the picture, everyone who’s unable to walk up the steps to the plane, goes up a lift into this interesting van contraption. It can get a little cramped, which shows just how many people with physical impairments travel.

In this case, i was the only person who needed the aisle chair and transferred once we were docked onto the side of the plane.

One you’re in the aisle chair, you’re strapped in and guided down the aisle by the assistants.

As i mentioned, i have the strength to transfer myself from the aisle chair to the seat. But not everyone does. In this case, the people who take you on the plane lift you over to a seat. (don’t worry, this is part of their job) and that’s that.

Now, i know a lot of you are thinking “where does my beloved chair go?!”
Again, this depends on the airline and type of plane. When i fly to Canada, it’s a long haul flight and big plane, so they keep my chair on board. However, with short haul flights they tend to put it in the hold. I can’t say to anyone to be “100% worry free” about your chair not getting lost, but i can say that it’s never happened with me. I find emphasising how important your chair is to you, helps.

Extra bits I’ve worried about and dealt with (mainly for people with sci)

Ok, long haul flights. 10 hours and no intermittent catheterisation is a big worry. So this is what i’ve done about it.
The first flight i went on post-injury was to New York. I think it was around 5-7 hours. My bladder is extremely temperamental, but i thought i’d be able to hold on. I wasn’t able, and so i didn’t leave a puddle in the chair, transferred into the aisle chair and had a wee (i can do ic in my chair) behind a curtain at 30 000ft. It’s probably one of my finest achievements.

Once i needed to travel to Vancouver, i gave in and used an indwelling catheter. The first time, my bag seriously needed emptying. To solve this problem, i transferred back into the aisle chair and was able to empty it over the loo. (That just proves how tiny plane toilets are!)

Leaving the plane

The same applies getting off, as does getting on. Once you’ve done it once, you kind of know how everything works and the more polite and friendly you are, the more polite and friendly people are going to be to you!

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or message me with them. If i don’t know the answer straight away, i will be sure to find it out for you.

Happy flying!

 

 

 

Mountain Triking – Calf Hey Reservoir, Lancashire

It’s a pretty busy time of year for any student and i’m no exception to the rule. 2 assignments, my work placement i needed to do before i could even write one of them and revision for my first exam since my A Levels (4 years ago) is upon me. However, I’ve still managed to find a bit of time to play outside!

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The joys of a steady hill on a semi-smooth path at Calf Hey reservoir. Sun was out, but still a little chilly!

For two weeks over the school easter Holidays, I had my uni volunteering placement over in Rochdale, volunteering for a programme called Sunsport that runs sport and activity workshops for young people both with and without disabilities. Rochdale is a good 45 mins to an hour away from Chorley, depending  on traffic. So I found myself resorting to Google maps for traffic beating routes away from the M60, as I don’t sit in traffic, i dodge it. On one of my scenic diversions I found myself passing a sign for a cafe that had a good feeling to it (I have a nose for good cafes situated in outdoorsy areas) and a sign for a car park and information centre named “Clough Head.” I noted it in the back of my brain for a possible trike access investigation adventure, and it turned out that the Sunday after was a fresh spring day, perfect for a wander around in search of a new place for a push in the trike.

My Mum and I are originally from Cheshire, so we literally find out about the history and geography of the area through getting out and exploring with no tales or knowledge absorbed from our past. From what i’ve found, Clough Head is situated about 4 miles to the West of Haslingden in the Borough of Rossendale, Lancashire. It’s situated smack bang in the middle of the Forest of Rossendale and the West Pennine Moors. I always find this area of the world ruggedly beautiful yet steeped in industrial history whilst at the same time moving forward with its numerous amount of reservoirs keeping the north west watered.

We arrived at Clough Head cafe and saw many walkers appearing and disappearing up steep hills and steps. Not feeling too confident we had a trike friendly route on our hands, we got out of the car and went to the cafe/information centre. (which turns out to be a lovely little cafe with leaflets, a notice board and a knowledgable lady working there.) After a few minutes of staring blankly at a notice board and talking quietly between ourselves, a man sat reading his paper and lady behind the counter asked us if we needed a hand finding somewhere to go. I told them about my trike and they recommended Calf Hey reservoir as a good circuit as it’s style free and not overly steep. I know that’s the best way of finding out about local areas, but sometimes i feel daft and worry people will be thinking why on earth a young woman in a green wheelchair is asking questions like that, as you don’t see many of us roaming about on rugged terrain. So, with confidence back on our side, we jumped back in the car, turned left at the junction and took the first right and followed an old single track road to a car park that had one disabled space and luckily, it was free!

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Kissing Gate from the car park. It’s big enough to get a trike through, so big enough to get most wheelchairs and prams through (if handled well!)

At first glance, the kissing gate you can see to the right looks locked, but it’s not. We then followed a pretty steep hill that involved some skilled braking and came to a path crossing. Straight down was another gate that a trike would easily get through and to the right was a steady hill that we assumed went around the reservoir as we had been told it was a circuit walk. We decided to go up the hill and the take in the view, leaving the family enjoying a BBQ behind us. As we walked/triked up the hill the view got pretty impressive and through the

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trees you could see Ogden Reservoir and the nearby town of Haslingden in the distance.

trees you could see Ogden Reservoir and the nearby town of Haslingden in the distance. It was satisfying to feel we’d climbed really high rather quickly and we spent a few moments enjoying the view.