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Sunday, 28 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - Chatsworth

This is a good example of how things change from one day to the next, and how accessibility is not a simple thing, not black and white, not there or not there. It's a long spectrum, with variations that depend on many different things.

Looking back

We visited Chatsworth about a year and a half ago, focussing on the house and gardens. We had the best day out and felt that this was a really wonderful accessible venue. We took my usual wheelchair and freewheel, which worked perfectly for the gardens, as most of the paths are compacted gravel. We enjoyed lunch and afternoon tea in one of the restaurants and absolutely loved it. We have said many times that we would both love to visit again.

Silver wedding anniversary treat

With the aforementioned day in mind, we planned to spend our actual anniversary at Chatsworth, but this time exploring the parkland and country estate. We debated which chair to take, and decided on my day chair with freewheel. I've had some problems with it recently but the last time I used it, all was fine, so it seemed a good choice.

Photo of me in my wheelchair with freewheel attachment

What we hadn't factored in, was how exhausted I was from the previous day's hilly exertions and how windy it was going to be and that I just generally didn't feel very well. We also hadn't realised that the estate paths are very stony and that in places, the stones are sharp and very uneven. We managed to move around a little and take a few photos but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable day, as my arms and shoulders were aching too much to manage the terrain.

The restaurant

The best part of the day was lunch. The restaurant at Chatsworth is really lovely! The day we went, they had, amongst their options, a chicken and brocolli pie with potato and veg. It was a wonderful, warming, autumn meal and even though it was quite busy, we managed to find a good place to sit.

This is where I hope to educate rather than moan about other people. We sat in the dog-friendly area, where we should have attracted less attention than usual for Liggy. Fortunately, she was being really good (as she generally is when we are eating) but we had several members of the public come very close and just stand there and stare at her. Usually, I am quite patient but Neil had obviously realised how tired and unwell I felt and tried to warn people to leave us alone. He explained that she is a working dog and asked people to leave her alone. This had no effect whatsoever. They continued to stare at us, making eye contact with Liggy and trying to get her attention. One man came up and started talking to her. I tried to explain that it was our anniversary and we would really like to enjoy an uninterrupted meal together, just for once, and we would really appreciate being left in peace. He retreated a few metres but continued to just stand there watching us.

The education point is this... I don't carry a sign on my back telling everybody that I'm having a rough day, that I'm in pain and have no energy left. Liggy does have a large sign asking that people don't distract her, not that many people see it or take notice. That day, I really needed Liggy to be on task, able to help me take my coat off, pick up my phone when dropped, and generally be on best behaviour. Although she ignored the staring people, she was struggling to grip on a slippery floor and found tugging my sleeve tricky. She was in a totally new environment, as everyday this week was, and probably felt the stress of me being off colour. I can't always communicate all the reasons why some days we just need to be left alone, but some days we do just need leaving to do our thing. Leaving us absolutely includes not sitting/standing and staring at us.

If you are ever in that situation and someone with an assistance dog asks you to leave them alone, it's nothing personal and they are not being rude, but some days, living with a disability can be tough - really tough! That day might coincide with a special occasion and the inner disappointment of it not being as special as it should have been. It might be that in spite of good accessibility, like at Chatsworth, no amount of adjustments and accessible features can ease the pain and frustration of a bad day. The person who you want to chat with about their beautiful dog, might just need a day with their other half, to make them the only person who matters that day... because on a bad day, they are the only person who really matters. It's not rude, it's just how it is.

So sorry Chatsworth but we didn't have the best day. It was nothing you did or didn't do. It's still a beautiful place and we will return again on a better day. Thank you for a lovely lunch! and a clean toilet! and free parking! and and and... here are a couple more photos...

Photo of deer grazing

Photo of some building that I can't remember the story behind.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - Derwent Dam

I've missed a couple of days, because Sunday we met up with friends and went to church, which was great but not very interesting to read about... and Saturday, we went to Leek, which is hilly and in places lacks dropped kerbs but does have a town crier, who recommended a great pub for lunch.


I did plenty of research before deciding on days out, so that we wouldn't waste days, attempting to access places that clearly aren't meant to be accessed. I found the Access for all website really helpful in doing my homework, and from there, I found some video clips of various places and decided that Monday would be a great day to go to the Derwent Dam (and Lady Bower reservoir and Howden Dam).

Photo of the information hut at the visitor centre

There is a decent sized car park at the visitor centre, which also has a food/drink kiosk and toilets, including an accessible one. Having done my research and having decided this venue was a mountain trike venue, I found it easier to leave my 'monster machine' outside the loo and hobble in without it. As it weighs a fair bit and has seriously good brakes, it's also a handy anchor point for Liggy.

The walk doesn't get much of a mention in the accessibility guide, which could be because it isn't an easy walk without some help. They apparently have a Tramper for hire but I prefer to struggle around with my trusty Husky (at least in her mind) and Neil. The walk offers some seriously stunning autumn scenery, with a forest in full colour on the opposite side of the reservoir. The sad thing for us, was the serious lack of water. In theory, levels are at 40% but in places, it was bone dry!

Photo showing an empty section of the reservoir

I seem to remember this being mentioned on the news recently (or maybe it was on Countryfile). A village that was buried when the reservoir was made, has become visible for the first time in decades.

Photo showing ruins of a house, visible only because the dam is empty.

The path is extremely hilly! Having said that, it's a good surface - mostly concrete - and is lovely and wide. We managed it fine between us, but I was glad we had decided to put the push handle on the back of my trike. Although it was a cool day, it was sunny and very pleasant to be outdoors. 

Photo of me in my mountain trike with Liggy attached at my side.

We took loads of photos of the walk, mostly of the dam and the scenery but this one shows how nice the paths are... and that it was definitely not flat.

Photo showing nice wide path reaching the brow of a hill

If you follow the road up from the visitor centre to the viewing point, there is a lovely photo-taking spot and we spent a while there just taking piccies. Here are a couple of the better ones...

Photo of the reservoir showing some water but lots of bank too. 
Photo of the dam with the two turrets

We then continued past the viewing point, along a flatter path but more of a dirt track. It was really quiet and peaceful and the views were even better! Here's one, looking back towards the dam.

Photo of the dam, showing from a distance

When we eventually wandered back to the turrets, Neil had a nosy through the gates. There is a memorial for the Dambusters (cue for a song) which looked like it should be more visible really. It would have been very easy to miss.

Photo showing a memorial to the Dambusters, with flags either side.

Eventually, we decided to head back to Flash, but even driving back, there were still plenty of photo opportunities. I love this one, if only because I didn't even look through the viewfinder. I just stuck the camera out of the window, whilst Neil was driving, upped the shutter speed and clicked...

Photo of the road bridge over the reservoir.

So, in summary, this was a wonderful place to spend the day. Facilities were great and the paths were well surfaced and wide but it was really hilly and my shoulders seriously killed all week. Was it worth it? Every bit!!!

Friday, 26 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - our accommodation

We've just celebrated our silver wedding anniversary and after much deliberation and a near miss with a cruise, we decided to return to the Peak District, where we enjoyed our honeymoon 25 years ago. The only difference is, of course, that this time accessibility was a thing, whereas 25 years ago, we could pretty much do anything and go anywhere.

So let's start with our accommodation - a beautiful farm retreat in a village called Flash, the highest village in the UK.
Sign saying "Flash - highest village in Britain 1518 feet"

I have to confess, the journey there in the dark on a Friday night, was interesting! I have never been so grateful to Google Maps in my entire life. We took both cars, so that we could take both wheelchairs and some luggage, which meant we were both driving alone. Well, I took the lead... and the satnav and Neil followed me. I am not entirely sure that some of those roads were even real roads but we did eventually end up on a very steep, windy lane, from whence I spotted the lights of the farmhouse, and realised we had found it.

Photo of the farmhouse, taken from the gate - a considerable distance!

Axe Edge Green Farm is a working farm, with pigs, sheep, poultry and a variety of cats and dogs. The owner has made every effort to ensure that it is a safe environment for dogs who are visiting. Her own dogs are very friendly and Liggy was keen to spend as much time as possible running around the farm with them. We were assured that Liggy was fine to chase the hens, as there was no chance of her catching them. I'm not sure whether she just didn't want to chase them or whether she gave up trying, but she seemed more interested in exploring and sniffing out the environment.

The path from the gate to the farm is long and steep. I couldn't do it in either chair without Neil's help. I did manage it twice on crutches (different days) but I'm still paying the price! The views are stunning though and we must have had every kind of weather (except snow) at some point during the week. The early morning mist was very eerie but soon cleared to show views over the hills.
Photo of the view from the farm, showing green hills and dry stone walls.

We stayed in the Hayloft, which as the name suggests, is upstairs. There is a lift (a wheelchair lift) but it was too narrow for my chair, so I just used it with my crutches. The apartment itself is wheelchair friendly, though I managed without mine. There is a super wetroom, which satisfied my showering needs perfectly. The only thing it lacked is grab rails around the toilet, but we'd spotted that on the photos on their website, and took my portable stand. 

The kitchen is small but well equipped and the sink and some of the worktops are lowered. The living and dining area are open plan and have huge windows to show off the views. There is a lovely wood burner too, which made our evenings nice and cosy.

If any other Canine Partners are looking for a spot in the Peaks, this place has one big plus - right next to the front door, is a large pebbled area which is a perfect spot for 'better go nows' and there is a bin there too to put poo bags in. Liggy soon adjusted to that being her place to go and we had no problems getting her to perform. 

One final thing about the owners, Agnieszka and Ian... they were so friendly and nothing was too much trouble. They are very hardworking and aimed to make our holiday as special as possible. They left us some nice things in the fridge, including some freshly laid eggs and even brought a card and present round for our anniversary.