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Sunday, 24 March 2019

Fountains Abbey

I'm going to intersperse this post with photos of the day, that are totally irrelevant to the text but show how lovely it was and hopefully show what accessibility is like (in case it helps someone else decide to go there). There, you've been warned...

At the beginning of the year, we joined the National Trust and decided to try to visit one venue each month. Of course, the likelihood is, we'll visit some more than once and find favourites that just work for us. Yesterday, we visited Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens. I vaguely remember going there once before, when the boys were little but it was so long ago and my focus would have been on them.

Photo showing the wide compressed gravel path from West Gate to the Abbey

One of the things I'm enjoying about finding National Trust days out, is that their website contains really helpful accessibility information. Here is what it says about Fountains Abbey:

  • Designated mobility parking at visitor centre and West Gate. West Gate car park is reserved for mobility parking only on bank holidays and busy days. Access vehicle to all admission points
  • No wheelchair access from visitor centre to abbey; use West Gate car park or access vehicle from visitor centre
  • Level access into abbey and mill. NB some access over lawn. Many steps with handrails to Fountains Hall. Ramp into St Mary's Church
  • Adapted toilets at visitor centre, tea-room, near Fountains Hall and Studley Royal car park
  • Partly accessible grounds, steep slopes, some cobbles. Map of accessible route. Main areas on level ground. Upper footpaths restricted preventing full circular tour. Six wheelchairs - booking essential
  • Five mobility scooters available on a first come first served basis, booking essential. Call the estate office on 01765 608888.
  • Sighted guides are available to pre-book. Please call 01765 608888
When I first looked, I almost dismissed this place as not accessible for me and my needs, but then I read it again and decided it was probably mostly accessible, provided I take my mountain trike.

The paths were actually better than I expected and if I'd had my normal chair, I could have probably still done most of the walk unaided. However the abbey area definitely needed my trike. Getting to it, we had to go over grass. Grass is often my nemesis! Not with my trike though! In some ways, getting into the ruins of the abbey and looking around, was easier than getting into many church buildings. They have done their best to make it possible, with nice duck-boardy type ramps over some of the rugged doorways. Sometimes we had to detach Liggy's lead arm, as most doorways are too narrow for us to go through together but otherwise, it was great!

Photo showing wide gravel path with slight descent that approaches the water gardens

I have mixed views about religious sites. I have mixed views about the commonly held belief that church is not about the building, but rather, the people. I get that. People are what makes a church... well, people and God... but having lived in the North of Finland, where temperatures get as low as -40C, buildings (for church or anything else) are pretty important. Also, when accessibility issues make church either accessible or not, the building makes the difference between whether you can do church or not. So although I know what it means, it's not strictly true.

Photo showing narrow wooden footbridge, with no railings, over the lake

About religious sites then - places like Fountains Abbey, though in ruins now, must have been immense, highly ornamented places of worship. Somewhat like the Jewish temple, somebody decided to devote a lot of time and resources to building something that they felt reflected God's glory. When I look around places like this, there is a definite sense of God's presence, and a wonder about the people - monks in this case - who loved God so much and were so devoted that they suffered in their daily life but also persecution. Actually, in many places, that is still the story of Christians.

Photo showing cobbled path in front of the Temple of Piety

On the other hand, there are things, right through history, that the church has got so wrong. All the fighting between denominations - killing and destroying buildings - why??? How did they think that was ever okay? And that makes me think, what is this generation of Christians doing, that they are convinced is okay, but really isn't? There must be things. It would be arrogant to assume that just because it's 2019, we've got everything right.

Photo showing one of many entry points to the abbey, over grass

So, anyway, we had a fabulous day out! The only thing, access-wise, that I would say (in case anyone fancies a day there) is that the accessible toilets near West Gate, which are really nice, spacious toilets, with a half-way changing places attempt, are up a seriously steep hill, that for most independent wheelchair users, would be sufficiently challenging to make you either hold it or just wet yourself! Fortunately, Neil was on hand to help push me up said slope, but otherwise, I'd have struggled, especially after the walk, when my muscles were more like jelly!

Photo showing the inside of the cellar area, with dust floor

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Day-to-day issues

It has been a while since I wrote a post that highlighted the mish-mash of fairly dull issues that us wheelies (part-time or otherwise) face each day as we try to negotiate a largely non-disabled world. The last couple of days have given me some thoughts. I wish I'd taken photos but I didn't, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Some negatives

1. Dog poo! I know, I'm a dog owner and she poos... sometimes whilst out for a walk... but the key thing is, I PICK IT UP! Even though bending down to scoop poop is difficult and painful, I wouldn't dream of leaving it there for someone else to walk in. Recently, it feels like everywhere I go, there are piles of poo and if it's difficult walking without treading in it, it's ten times more difficult to avoid with four wheels and four paws to manage. A few weeks ago, I got a huge pile on my wheel and only noticed when I put my hand to my face to push my glasses up my nose and smelt it on my thumb. GROSS!

2. Broken glass. I understand how dog poo gets on a path but broken glass? How many people walk around with glass bottles in their hand or pocket. And why do they throw them on the floor so that they shatter everywhere? The dog poo is laziness but broken glass is downright spiteful! Yesterday, on the riverside path into town, there was loads of it. Again, it would be a pain if I was walking but tyres and paws can get seriously damaged by broken glass. I'll be honest, Liggy is more valuable than my tyres, so I realistically have to get her as safe as possible and just hope and pray that my tyres really are kevlar-lined as advertised.

3. Poor surfaces. I'm sure that when we first moved here, most of the footpaths had been fairly recently resurfaced and were lovely for wheeling on. Now, there are some that can best be described as a job creation scheme for the spinal injuries unit! Our normal walk into town, whichever of the two routes we take, shake me up and rattle my bones so much that they are increasing my pain levels, every time I go out. It annoys me for two reasons. Firstly, we are being continually encouraged to leave the car at home and walk short journeys, and I subscribe to that, even though I don't actually walk. But I am easily capable of wheeling myself into town and back. It's only about a mile each way. Secondly, the argument for not resurfacing is probably financial, but I'm sure that the cost of two discectomies would outweigh the cost of resurfacing the paths that are really bad.

Some positives

1. I've now been in my new workplace for just over 5 weeks. I was really nervous about leaving my old job because they had been fantastic with reasonable adjustments and I usually felt completely normal at work and rarely felt disabled there. That's a huge thing to risk losing. However, I have found my new workplace to be equally accessible, inclusive and helpful. I haven't had any major teething problems and I'm loving the job! It's in the news all the time about how difficult it is for disabled people to find work, and I know this to be true... but it is possible. There are good disability-friendly employers out there. That fills me with hope.

2. Liggy. Yes, she is a sentence in her own right. Going out with her is so much better than it was pre-Liggy. There have been a few occasions in the last few weeks, where we've gone to Starbucks for lunch. It's that time of year when it's cold out (hoodie weather) but warm in, and usually the first thing I want is my hoodie off. She just knows. As soon as we get to the table and I put her mat down, she knows the hoodie needs to come off. Then, one day last week, we went clothes shopping. Cotton Trader doesn't have accessible changing rooms and I didn't want to stress her out with being squished, so I left her with Neil, just outside and shut the curtain. She immediately realised it was a getting undressed moment, stuck her head under the curtain and got on with the job. If she could talk, I wonder what she was saying? "Mum, don't worry about me, I'm fine. It's my job to help you and I'm not scared of small spaces. Here give me a mouthful of that sleeve and we'll soon have you undressed."

3. The weather. Today has been pretty wet and miserable but I have to say, we have had weeks of wheelchair-conducive weather. It's been really easy for me to get out, walk Liggy and get on with stuff. It looks like we might now be in for some wet days but I have to remember that half empty reservoir that we hiked round in October. We really need to fill them up, so I won't moan about getting wet.

I remember when I first brought Liggy home, it was fun and she was helpful, but it was seriously hard work! I'm so glad we stuck at it though, because now I cannot imagine my world without her. She has worked so hard and learned so many tasks in a relatively short space of time. And one thing that I hadn't really noticed until people at work keep mentioning it... she is so attentive. She watches me all the time and is just waiting for me to tell her what to do, where to do, or just that she's a good girl!