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Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Christmas Newsletter

 I only occasionally bother with a Christmas newsletter but this year surely warrants one. I'm doing it on my blog so anyone who is interested can have a read. For once, I'm actually going to take a look back at the outgoing year, in a chronological manner...

January

I remember Neil hitting 25 years old and being somewhat overwhelmed at the thought of being a quarter of a century old. Well this year, he reached half a century. To celebrate, Neil's brother, Graham, came over from Hong Kong - a real treat for Neil, and, with hindsight a very timely visit. We went out for dinner and had a lovely day out at Clumber Park, one of our favourite places to get out for a walk. 

On his birthday, the first two cases of Coronavirus were identified in the UK... in York, actually, which is where we went on the Sunday of Graham's visit. We sat in Pizza Hut, unaware that this would become a rare luxury, watching swarms of people going about their business, some wearing masks... which at that stage, was a bit unusual.

February

Again, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that we fully appreciate our little jaunt in mid-February. I had booked to attend the Learning Technologies conference at the Excel in London, and to help the week go smoothly, Neil took some leave and we planned a few days around it to visit family there too. The conference itself was fantastic! I met up with various colleagues and we spent a blissful two days in a crowded venue, totally unaware of the risks we were being exposed to. Fortunately, it was early enough that we all stayed safe.

On one of the evenings, we met up with my brother, Matt, and went for dinner at the O2 Arena. The last time I was there, it was the Millennium Dome, so that was a while back. It was wonderful both seeing my brother and also being out in a new place like some kind of normal human being, that doesn't have to worry about accessibility all the time. Thing was, access there was great! 

After the conference, we had a day at the Science Museum and Hyde Park, meeting up with my friend, Debs for lunch. Then we headed over to visit Neil's mum and took her out for lunch. I think that was the last time we ate out. If we'd realised what was coming, we might have made more of seeing his mum but we still had no idea, really.

March

Well, March was when it all escalated rather quickly! Having spent a year, accepting that I couldn't work from home all the time but not really understanding any of the reasons why, on 17th March, I was sent home and told not to return for at least the immediate future, until we got rid of Coronavirus. How naive a thought was that?!!

A few days later, Neil was also working from home. He had never previously liked us both working from home on the same day, but we didn't have a choice now. Actually, although we both missed seeing our colleagues face-to-face, we have both made it work for us. As well as being able to spend some working time together, we also now enjoy lunch together every day, which encourages us to take a break. We also both had to walk Liggy, as initially exercise was only permitted once a day... and Liggy was rather peeved at only having two walks. One would have upset her immensely!

April

Spring Harvest was inevitably cancelled, though we still took a week's leave and enjoyed participating online. They did a fab job and it was really well done but we missed meeting up with the usual group of friends. 

In April, we were still on one walk a day and that had to be from home. Driving anywhere was discouraged. The only place I could walk Liggy was round the cemetery, and that began to wear really thin. I began to feel the darkness of the Covid situation, particularly seeing an increase in funerals and the horrors of lone mourners. Fortunately, the rules loosened a little and I was allowed to drive to the park. I never thought of that as a luxury before.

May/June/July/August

Got to be honest, it all becomes a bit of a blur as I look back on May. In fact throughout the summer, everything is a little vague. We enjoyed being allowed to travel for exercise and visited Scarborough a few times. We even managed to see family at a distance. 

Somewhere in the summer, Neil started his new job, back at the council. The irony is, it was all the commuting that triggered him applying and again with hindsight, this would probably not be an issue now... but it was a promotion too and a challenge and he is settling in really well.

September

Still a bit of a blur but the exciting event was the purchase of Zerubbabel, our new motorhome. Well, new to us. We managed a couple of early visits - just weekends on nearby sites, to test her out. I can't wait to have a proper holiday in her!

October

Cases were beginning to rise again and tiers became a thing, but fortunately, we managed a weekend at Chatsworth to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We walked a lot and enjoyed a first taste of 'off grid' in Zerubbabel. We stayed in a pub car park, had meals delivered to the van and enjoyed being totally self-isolated and not having to risk public toilets and cafes. 

November

We were braced for bad news, as it looked like our main holiday was going to be cancelled, however we got lucky with dates. One more week and it would have all been different. We spent a wonderful week in Norfolk, in a disabled-friendly cottage, which was absolutely perfect! From there, we discovered some new favourite places - Hunstanton Beach... Sandringham... Kings Lynn. A week wasn't long enough and we'll definitely be back there some time in the future.

December

So here we are at the end of 2020. We had a plan A for Christmas, which involved taking Zerubbabel down to visit Neil's mum. Then plan B, which involved a short visit to Scarborough. Now we're on plan C, which is stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. I feel like that should feel more heroic than it actually does. It feels a bit flat really. But there's now two new variants, both spreading like crazy... we know of several people who have died of this horrible virus and knew one personally. We also now know quite a few people who have either had it or currently have it... which makes it all feel much more real than it did back in March. 

Christmas

So many people feel that Christmas has been cancelled this year... Bojo has ruined it! I get that, but I disagree.

I have read the Christmas story so many times and I find it hard to fully celebrate the event. Mary was just a young girl. Getting pregnant before marriage was shameful. People would have been gossiping about her, looking down on her, judging her. 

I've had two babies. I remember going to my mum's graduation 2 weeks before Josh was due. It was so stressful! I was really worried about going into labour away from home, even though Scarborough is my home. When you have a baby, you want everything to be ready, to know that baby is coming into a safe home environment. I can't imagine the stress of having to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem when heavily pregnant and then having your first baby in a strange place.... maybe a stable. It doesn't bear thinking about. The situation was just horrible. The government totally ruined Mary's Christmas!

So this year actually feels more real. I feel more like Christmas is something to remember... to celebrate. Christmas is about the imperfect and how Jesus comes to be God with us, in our imperfect places. Whether you believe the Christmas story or not, I hope and pray that you feel peace and joy in some way this Christmas... maybe that it would come in an unexpected way. And more than anything else, I hope and pray that 2021 is nowhere near as bad as this year has been. Dull and boring and uneventful would be perfect!

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 3

 Felbrigg Hall and Estate

In general, we like National Trust walks and you can usually get really accurate information on their website to enable you to decide which walks are suitable. I'll start by saying that I couldn't find information on the waymarked walks at Felbrigg but we figured the lack of information probably meant that it was going to be okay.

The problem is, of course, that we are entering lockdown again and although the website says...

"We also have several waymarked walks around the estate, of varying lengths and accessibility. Just have a chat with one of the team when you arrive and they can provide you with a map and send you in the right direction."

... there was no team present. The entrance and information area was kind of deserted. So we had to get all our information from the map board, which didn't mention accessibility at all. Going on previous experience, where the shorter walks are accessible but the longer ones are a bit iffy, we decided to do two short walks, one before and one after lunch.

Victory V walk (lime arrows)

This is a 1.5 mile walk through the woods. The path was wide and apart from a few boggy bits, it was quite manageable. We passed the Ice House, which was interesting and enjoyed the beautiful autumn colours. In general the first half of the walk was a long gradual uphill, and the second half was a series of downhills with some little ups in between. In my mountain trike, it was easily manageable.

A collage of photos showing Felbrigg Hall, woodland paths, the church, reflections in the lake and me in my trike with Liggy, my black labrador.



Church and Lakes walk (blue arrows)

This is a 1.7 mile walk passing St Margaret's Church and then going down to the lake. Right from the outset, it was more challenging terrain, as it was over fields of grazing sheep, with massive piles of poo everywhere and varying lengths of grass and very uneven. However, we made it across the field to the church, which was very pretty. 

The next bit was quite a climb across another sheep field. We could see that there was a gate at the top, but usually National Trust properties have gates that work for us. So we did the climb. When we got there, we discovered a kissing gate and there was no chance of getting me through it. We almost turned back but then another couple appeared and told us they thought the gate at the bottom of the field was okay and that they would go that way and wave if it was suitable. We waited and it was wave-worthy, so we separated and Neil took Liggy the correct route, leaving me with quite a high number of sheep, to navigate a very uneven path down to the better gate. The gate was fine.

We made it through several more gates of varying difficulty and down to the lake... which was stunning in the autumn sunshine. There was a small area fenced off where a large tree had blown over and had left a gaping hole and had its roots sticking up in the air. No problem to get round. The path the other side of the lake did become increasingly narrow and there were a couple of sections where the nettles were closer than I'm really comfortable with, but I was very well dressed so I took deep breaths, prayed louder in tongues than I really intended, swore a few times and got through.

Then the path got really quite narrow, such that passing oncoming walkers would have been totally impossible... but again, it looked possible until we looked just a little further ahead. The lack of photos of what we saw is purely down to shock! Steps. Not a flight of stairs... but more mud steps with wooden edges. We stopped for a while to discuss our options. I've never attempted steps in that number before but they looked quite wide and each step was big enough to pause with my whole chair on, and faced with the possibility of retracing the entire route, I figured it was worth a try.

To our credit, we managed a few steps before I lost the plot. A higher than manageable step coincided with more nettles, which Neil decided he could push me through but I was not entirely sure of our ability to keep me and the trike upright and neither wanted to fall back down the steps or into said nettles, so I opted to get out and crawl up the remaining steps, much to the amusement of some fellow walkers.

Neil helped me back in when we were nearish to the top and we did the remaining steps with lever power and Neil pushing from behind. Liggy was baffled, distracted and less than helpful. A husky would have been more use. 

The remainder of the walk was slightly easier than the steps but still gave us some ups and downs and some more overgrown narrow paths before we eventually made it back to a concrete road. Liggy was decidedly more helpful here and between the three of us - Neil pushing, me levering and Liggy pulling, we got up a steep hill and back to the Hall and toilets. 

Several times on this walk, the thought crossed my mind... 

How difficult would it have been to mention on the map that there were kissing gates and steps? Don't get me wrong, we had some laughs on the way, and the smell of sheep/fox poo on my gloves gradually began to smell quite normal, and we all had a major sense of achievement afterwards... but some better information might have enabled us to choose a slightly more suitable walk.

East Runton

Following our walks, we had decided to visit Cromer, as we were so close. However, in the centre of Cromer was a set of temporary traffic lights, which appeared to be causing more chaos than a small town could manage and so we decided to reduce the traffic jam by one and move on.

As we continued along the coast road, Neil spotted a sign for toilets and a beach. Without even checking whether toilets were needed, he swerved in. We found a car park, toilets and an extremely steep hill down to a pretty much deserted beach... irresistible! 

I'll spare you the details of me skidding down the hill to the beach or being pushed/pulled back up... but it was a lovely quiet beach with a low tide, which gave Liggy some space to run and sniff and play in the sea. The sand was soft enough for me to sit on and relax for a while. 

Apart from being grateful for an hour on a beach, we couldn't help but notice two signs, which seemed rather ridiculous.

1. The car park was rough ground and mostly gravel or mud. At the entrance was a warning sign, telling users that it hadn't been gritted. What!?!?!?! It was made of grit. Why would anyone even think of gritting it?

2. Inside the accessible toilet was a Covid sign, telling users to queue outside the facility. But the sign was inside... so for anyone to read it, and not be at the front of the queue, they would have to be already inside the cubicle with (presumably) a total stranger on the toilet. Really!?!?!?

All week our stereotyped views of Norfolk have been challenged and changed... for the better. These two signs just undid all that good work. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 2

 King's Lynn

I had no idea that King's Lynn was such an old city and that there would be so much historical architecture and stories. We needed a day where I could use my normal wheelchair, to give my arm and shoulder muscles a break and King's Lynn was the nearest city, so off we went.

I found a guided walk that the National Trust have written, so I put it on my phone and we followed it round the city, learning bits and pieces about the history of some of the buildings there. If you're interested in doing the walk, it's called the King's Lynn Heritage Walk.

Collage of photos showing a statue of George Vancouver, Neil standing under an old archway along Broad Walk, Red Mount Chapel, the Custom House and the Minster,

In terms of accessibility, King's Lynn was much like any old city - there were some cobbles, some narrow pavements and occasional piles of dog poo that someone had unhelpfully walked in and spread around. However, we found it largely a very pleasant walk, with no major obstacles and an abundance of well maintained public toilets, most of which require a RADAR key. 

One of the things that can spoil a city walk is if dropped kerbs get missed but King's Lynn was pretty good and it was easy to cross most roads. There weren't too many obstructions either, with the exception of a Highways England van, which almost totally blocked an entire pavement. You'd really think they would know better!

We particularly enjoyed 'The Walks'. a beautiful green space in the city, with wide paths, which was great for a walk and gave us somewhere to stop and have a game of frisbee with Liggy. I imagine that for those who work in the city, it provides a fantastic place to take a lunchtime walk and to destress a little.


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 1

 I appreciate that most people prefer to take their holidays in the middle of summer, when the sun shines brightly and you can wear shorts and t-shirts and eat ice cream... well I'm just different! I love autumn and winter holidays! There is nothing to beat getting all wrapped up and going out hiking or sight seeing with all the beautiful colours of autumn and then stopping for hot chocolate and maybe some fudge.

This year, we decided to go somewhere we've never been before and so we booked a cottage in Norfolk (more about the cottage later) and had some days out exploring the area. Here, in this first post, are the first couple of day trips...

Sandringham Estate

With Covid being a serious concern, we wanted somewhere outdoors to hike but with decent facilities, including toilets and a hot drink. Maybe it's connected with family walks when the kids were little, but I just can't resist those walks where you follow coloured arrows on wooden posts, and Sandringham was great for this. We did the yellow walk - about 3.5 miles and it was perfect for us. Here's a little collage of photos from our hike.

A collage of photos showing me in my mountain trike with Liggy, my black labrador, in the woods, surrounded by orange and brown leaves and a mixture of different trees.

From an accessibility point of view, I would say two things... 

1. The toilets are great! You need a RADAR key, which generally means a clean and well maintained loo experience. It's a proper toilet block too, with good handwashing facilities.

2. The walks are technically wheelchair accessible, in that there are no steps or stiles. However, I can't imagine attempting them in anything but an off-road chair. My mountain trike handled it very well and something like a tramper would probably be fine, but there are lots of ups and downs, and things like tree roots, bogs, soft ground, grass, pebbles, etc. I don't think I would even want to try it in my normal chair with a freewheel. 

Hunstanton

I'll start by saying that we didn't intend to visit this lovely seaside town on such a windy day! We actually set off to Holkham Hall and Estate but when we got there, it was closed, so we had a last minute change of plan. 

In terms of access, I was pretty impressed with Hunstanton. There were plenty of toilets - not perfect, but spacious and clean (you'll need a RADAR key) and somebody has clearly thought about how a wheelchair user would manage cliff paths and tricky terrain.

Collage of photos showing the cliffs, view over the Wash towards Skeggy wind farm, and the promenade

It was extremely windy, the day we visited, and it was pretty tiring fighting against the wind along the prom, though it was very pretty and so nice to hear/see the sea. Wind hypes poor Liggy up something rotten though - it's her nemesis - and so I was fighting against her a lot of the time too, which drains me a bit. It also meant we couldn't really let her off lead on the beach, which was a shame. 

At the cliffs end of the prom, there's a long ramp, taking you up to the Lookout, from where you can see right across the Wash towards Boston - you can just see the Stump on a clear day - and to Skegness and the off-shore wind farm. 

Going the other way, we walked almost all the way to Heacham. The prom is wide and well surfaced. I happened to be in my trike but my normal chair would have handled it well, especially with my Loopwheels and possibly a freewheel. We only really turned back because I needed a toilet and a passer-by was kind enough to let us know that the toilets in Heacham were all locked up.

Would we go back?

Absolutely! These were two fab days out. Loved the venues! Accessible(ish) with the right equipment. We would definitely choose a still day to go back to the beach. Out of season, there are no dog restrictions and Liggy could run for miles and have a great time. The beach is mainly sandy but with pebbles at the top and millions of mussel shells. 

Hopefully, I'll share some other Norfolk days out soon, as well as some pics and a review of the cottages.

Just a word of warning about the aforementioned hot chocolate and fudge... Her Maj is raking it in! A small bag of fudge... £7!!! You might want to remortgage the house first!

Friday, 9 October 2020

Planning a trip

The thing with having a disability, is that most things take more planning. Even a trip to the shop takes some planning, where before, I might have spontaneously just gone and bought a bar of chocolate or something. 

This weekend, I'm taking Liggy and Zerubbabel (my motorhome) and we're heading off for a weekend by ourselves, leaving Neil to attack some of those jobs that he avoids when we're around... like washing the decking, which is becoming slippery again.

So what sort of planning have we done? Well, first of all, there is the choosing of a destination and making sure I'll be able to pitch up. Then there is the more detailed planning to make sure it all goes smoothly. As this is my first solo trip, I did a couple of Amazon orders to get a couple of things to make life easier.

Washing up - we don't have anywhere to drain stuff so normally, Neil washes each item and then passes it to me for drying. We had a gadget on my wish list and were planning to ask someone for it as a Christmas pressy, but I decided to buy it now...

White plastic drainer with a cutlery holder, a grid for putting plates in, and most importantly, a shoot at one end where the water drains back into the sink.



I have planned my trips out, especially thinking about parking. I'm still not sure how parking will go. In theory, I should be able to use my blue badge as normal (must remember to transfer that, along with all my other car stuff) but obviously a motorhome is much bigger than a car, so finding a suitable space could be tricky. 

Mountain trike - one of the benefits of Zerubbabel, is that huge garage, which provides space for my mountain trike. This allows me to go hiking wherever I want... maybe even to get onto the beach, without needing help. The problem is, I can't lift it. It's too heavy! So, following much research into wheelchair ramps (jolly expensive!!!) I ordered two dog ramps...

A single black ramp from the boot of a car to the ground. The idea is for a dog to walk up it.


My plan is to use two of them to wheel my trike up into the garage. I hope it works!

Cooking/food - This is something that Neil usually does and I haven't yet trained Liggy to do. So I needed to plan meals that I can cook without having to stand for ages. I've treated myself to some king prawns and I'm going to prep some of it at home (spices, veg, etc) and I'm going to make a one pot paella kind of thing but not in a paella pan and with far too many missing ingredients. I've also planned lunches, breakfast, Liggy's food and drinks. 

I hope to take everything slowly and take lots of photos, so I might be able to update you on how I get on.