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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.

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