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Friday, 23 April 2021

Rievaulx Abbey

Our final day out of this mini-break was to Rievaulx Abbey. This was always going to be an interesting one, as the website was a little vague around wheelchair access. I kind of assumed it was going to be similar to Fountain's Abbey but on a slope, and I wasn't far wrong. The main path is gravel and most of the ruins are on grass. Grass can make it harder going in my mountain trike, but it hasn't rained now for weeks, and the ground is nice and hard, which makes it much easier. 

Anyway, again, Covid measures were pretty good, and we felt safe there. The main toilets are out in the car park, and you have to go out through the same route as coming in, so I was glad they weren't for me. The accessible toilet is in the main building. It was pretty good. Like most of them, it wasn't really big enough for me to go in with my trike, so I left it, and Liggy, outside with Neil... my 'essential companion'. I thought that was a nicer description than carer. Well done English Heritage!

The photos from today's visit don't tell a story... they are just nice piccies of the Abbey, many in monochrome, because I love monochrome photography. So I'll just interperse them in no particular way.

Monocrome photo of the monks' eating place, though you wouldn't recognise it as such. It's really just an old stone hall with beautiful arched windows.

The site, as you will see, is built into quite a steep hillside. We decided to start at the top and work down. Actually, the top area was most of the ruins and took a while to get round. It was well worth it though. The main path is gravel and was relatively easy to climb, though I went quite slowly. That goes up to a small museum, though at the moment, it is closed. Later in the day, Neil went for a nosey round the back of it and discovered a massive swarm of bees on a window. I hadn't been bothered by them though all day, and decided I was happy to take his word for it, and that I would be better not to go and have a look. 

A fairly flat grass area with large ruins on the right but lots of small walls on the ground that indicate where rooms once were.

The photo above shows a section that I thought should feature as an accessible maze. For anyone else, walking around could get you anywhere. Most of the walls were small enough to step over, but for me it was a fun game, working out where I could get to and how to get out again. 

At the bottom of the hill, is a row of trees, going across the grass. Apparently, that is where the River Rye used to run but the monks re-routed it. We sat in the picnic area by those trees to have our lunch and it was strange to think we were sitting where the river used to be. We also had yet another lunch time of contemplating whether another membership would be excessive... but in the end, decided to go for it. These places are fab days out but also are causes worth supporting. Like all charities, they have had a tough year and they do a really good job of both maintaining our heritage and providing education to people in a relaxed and fun way.

Monochrome photo of the main building at the top of the site. Two walls remain with lots of arched windows.

There were several areas of flat lawn, which were lovely for stopping, resting and just taking in the views. It's hard to describe the magnificence of the ruins, but there were birds at the top, which we could only just see with the naked eye. We were trying to decide whether it was just pigeons and crows or something more exciting. Fortunately, I had my grandad's old binoculars with me, so we got them out and had a better look. It was nothing exciting but it was also interesting to use them to look up to another building, right at the top of the hill - Rievaulx Terrace - which is owned by the National Trust and only opens one Saturday per month. 

Neil and Liggy (black lab) are sitting together on a large stone, part of a ruin. Neil's face is partly hidden behind Liggy's as he is gently nuzzling her face.

Although this was a very interesting visit, and the weather was glorious, there isn't much to acually do, other than wander around the ruins. For us, that was perfect. I think, even with most children, they could run around, make up stories and be imaginative, and have a good day out. We easily spent four hours there, and only really left because it was getting really hot and Liggy had been a little bit sick when we arrived. She didn't show any signs of being really poorly but just a little tired and although she was happy and seemed to be enjoying the outdoors, when it got hot, she seemed ready to call it a day. Plus, we knew we had things to do back at the campsite.

Monochrome photo of a large wall over a big square lawn. The sun is casting shadows around the left and bottom edge.

Before leaving though, we had a look around the shop. It's always nice to support these places and get a few reminders of the day. The previous night had been quite cold... down to -2oC - and Neil, who is normally fine with just his duvet, added an old travel rug that we keep in the car, to keep him warm. But we do intend to use Zerubbabel all year round, so he suggested buying a new wool blanket to keep in the motorhome, so we've always got something to wrap us up if it's a bit chilly. We also spotted some jars of yummy stuff and bought some toffee apple curd (no idea, but it sounds delicious!) and some horseradish and mustard something or other. 

Monochrome photo, looking up at the main ruin from a courtyard below. The sky and the shadows make it look quite atmospheric and eerie.

Inevitably, there were quite a few areas that I couldn't get to. We expected this. There were also a few narrow spots. We always go prepared for different Liggy situations. She spent part of the day attached to the lead arm on my trike and part just on a normal lead with Neil. She often went around the bits I couldn't do, walking with Neil but she always shows little signs of being concerned about whether I'm okay without her. Eventually, Neil usually finds a way back that puts me in sight but at a distance. This is where she always makes my heart do a little happy dance. We check that there's nobody around and no distractions. and then Neil just lets go and I call her. She runs soooo fast to get back to me. It's the best recall practice because it gives as near to 100% success rate as is possible. 

Me in my mountain trike at the bottom of a flight of wooden steps. There is no way I could possibly climb them but I'm pointing up with a cheeky grin, as though I might give it a try.

I wouldn't call this the best of accessible visits. If you were using a normal manual chair, it might be just too difficult. I wouldn't want to do it without my trike. That said, there were several people with walking sticks and crutches, and there are seats a-plenty, so it depends what you can do and what you want from a day out. Some of the grass banks were quite steep but it gave me chance to learn a bit more about what I can and can't do. Sometimes, I surprise myself by managing something that looks difficult. Other times, I just let Neil go off for a while and I find a nice spot, usually in the shade, to rest and enjoy the views. For me, as long as there's an accessible toilet, and not too many nettles, not too many bees, and preferably no wasps... I'm a happy camper!

Monochrome photo of the main ruins from well back. The grass and smaller ruins are in the foreground.

Castle Howard

Growing up in Scarborough, you would have thought that I would have been to Castle Howard many times. I only remember going there once, and that was in 1998 ( I found out by Googling cannon accidents) for one of the evening concerts... a Last Night of the Proms with fireworks. I remember enjoying it but for no reason at all, we've never been back there and have never visited the house, gardens or estate. And I remembering hearing in the news, the next day that someone got injured by one of the Cannons.

Well, as we are staying in the Howardian Hills, which take their name from Castle Howard, it seemed like a visit there was in order. 

The road in is narrow, mainly straight and has grandiose arches, some that are very narrow. We were glad we were in the car and that Zerubbabel was safely on the campsite, though I believe there is an alternative route for big beasts, like her. Parking was easy... accessible parking is right at the front. The lines are faded to almost nothing though, so it was a bit of a guessing game. 

As with everywhere else, they've got all the Covid measures in place. We felt particularly safe here. Nowhere felt really busy, but then it is midweek. Weekends will be busier, I'm sure. So we showed our prebooked ticket, picked up a map of the estate and headed off to see the Atlas Fountains, which I was very much looking forward to. We took a bit of a long route to get in, only to find they are currently out of action, being maintained... which was rather disappointing. 

The upside of the fountain maintenance was that there was a gigantic hose pipe attached to a tap along the path. Where it had leaked it formed a crystal clear pool of water, where Liggy had a big drink. Not only that, she remembered it, and was clearly excited to get back there later. It's funny, she doesn't normally drink much but she loved this water! 

It was shortly after her first drink that I decided to try out the portaloo accessible toilet, which looked like a good option to avoid going all the way back to the main courtyard every time I needed a wee. Neil checked it out first and pointed out a large (but fast asleep) bumble bee on the side of the toilet. I agreed that it was probably too cold for it to wake up and that I was safe to ignore it... so I took courage and sat down for a wee. Just as I was about to go, I pulled some toilet paper, so I'd have it ready... as you do... and as I pulled it down, there on the paper, was another massive bumble bee. This time, I wasn't expecting it and it nearly gave me a heart attack! Like its friend, it was asleep, but right by my face and so sudden and unexpected, adrenalin kicked in and for a moment, I just panicked. I didn't even pull my pants up... just got out quick!!! It didn't take long for me to sort my clothing and for Neil to remove my new friend... and I continued quickly and decided that the courtyard toilets would be fine for next time.

Castle Howard in the distance, Neil and Liggy (black lab) are standing at the side of a gravel path with an expanse of lawn behind them.

Next stop, was the Rose Gardens, which were vast and very pleasant. We just wandered back and forth, looking at the various plants and watching the gardeners at work. There were some statues too... many statues... but we decided to take a break from our usual statue photography. There was just too much to fit in. We'll come back another day and focus on statue work. 

What we did find, which is becoming a theme this week, was this beautiful peacock. Liggy was a little more excited by it than yesterday, so we didn't make her lie around for too long, but long enough to get some photos.

A male peacock, lying full length on the lawn, showing how long his tail feathers are.

We took our lunch to the picnic area near the big play area - Skelf Island. It looked seriously cool! The sort of place that makes you wish you were a kid again, or there with small children that need supervising. 

The path down to the lake and play area was quite steep and windy. It was hard work keeping my trike under control. I love my trike but having the steering on the back wheel means that when going downhill, you have a tendency to tip forward, taking the steering wheel off the ground, which makes controlling it rather difficult. I've found the answer is to go very slowly. The brakes are good, though extremely noisy so Neil and Liggy left me to it and disappeared off on their own. Charming!

After lunch, we had planned a walk around the edge of Ray Wood towards the other lake. The website said that Ray Wood is unsuitable for wheelchairs due to uneven ground. We clarified this at the ticket office, checking whether it was just uneven ground or steps, stiles, etc as well. Just uneven ground... well, we always like a challenge! You don't spend that much money on a mountain trike to stay on concrete paths, do you?

Path through the woods. It is wide and a hard mud surface but the tree roots and rocks make it uneven.

Unfortunately, soon after taking this photo, there was a path closure with a diversion. Tree cutting was happening and you could see a large tree blocking the path. Sadly, the diversion included steps. They were shallow steps and Neil did say, "I think we could manage this between us," which (thinking back to Sandringham) rang alarm bells that we almost certainly were about to attempt the impossible. So we took a different route, where we chatted with a couple of ladies who were walking the same way. Eventually, the grass path headed steeply uphill and they walked on, and we paced ourselves (went very slowly at my pace). 

At the top of the hill (and a couple more hills) we reached a monument of some kind, which we should probably have paid some attention to, but the views around were exceedingly spectacular, so we gazed into the distance instead and ignored the monument. In the distance was a stone bridge. Our ladies were still there and one of them said she could imagine horses and chariots coming in over that bridge. It certainly was a scene that could tell stories - real and fictional.

Traditional Yorkshire countryside with rolling green hills, trees and a magnificent stone bridge.

While we were up there, we also had a rest and a bit of a treat time for Liggy. She had been very well behaved today! She can be a bit overexcited in new places like this, but today, she was the perfect angel... which really earned her some trout mousse.

Me sitting in my mountain trike with Liggy lying next to me, sunbathing. We are looking lovingly into each other's eyes. One of the two ladies is in the background taking photos of the view.

Liggy has her paws up on my lap and I'm feeding her trout mousse from a small plastic travel tube, intended for shampoo.

From the viewing point, we headed down to the small lake. We had seen a mowed path around and decided it would make a good walk. Getting down to it was interesting though. Far too steep in places for me to manage but that's where teamwork makes the dreamwork! Neil gets into all these attractions for free, as my carer, so it was time to earn his keep and hold on to the back of my chair and stop me from catapulting down the embankments. 

The walk round the lake was peaceful and very pretty with the Hall in the distance. There was what looked like a shallow area at one end, so we let Liggy have a paddle, but it was a bit deeper than it looked and she wasn't keen. She preferred to eat the vast amounts of duck poo on the grass instead. So we picked up our pace a bit until duck poo was less in her face.

View across a small lake with Castle Howard in the distance.

The climb back up to the main paths was quite steep and again on grass. I got part of the way up and there was a kind of rough area of grass that looked perfect to stop and play with Liggy and a frisbee. We always try to find somewhere like this if she has been good. After food, it's her favourite reward. 

Liggy with a red frisbee in her mouth. She is running back to me with it, quite fast, and her ears and tail are bouncing all over the place.

By the end of the day, we had decided that this was a fantastic place for all of us to enjoy being outdoors together. It has many different kinds of walks, things to see and do... and it was very friendly and pleasant. So we decided to become silver friends, which means we can come back when we like for free. I would like to visit again, when the house reopens, and have a look around. 

Final stop, before going back to the campsite, was the farm shop. We had planned meals for everyday except today. The plan for today was to buy a treat from the farm shop. We ended up getting a lamb and mint burger and an Angus beefburger (which we had half each of) and I also bought some fudge, some honey and mustard salad dressing and some garlic infused oil. 

The burgers were absolutely delicious!!!

Nunnington Hall (National Trust)

This was the first of three days out, which I planned and booked. Because of Covid, almost all days out have to be booked in advance now. In some ways, I quite like it, as it makes you plan in more detail and days don't get wasted, deciding what to do. On the other hand, it means you can't have a few options and then see what the weather is like.

We're National Trust members, so this is usually our first port of call for days out. We're staying not far from Beningbrough Hall and Gardens. We've been there before and liked it, so it was tempting to go back. However, it's always good to try somewhere new, and the site webpage recommended Nunnington Hall, so that's where we went.

It was pretty easy to find and is in the Howardian Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). As we drove there, it was easy to see how that got designated! Like most National Trust places, once we got near, it was well signposted. The car park had a good accessible parking area, though the ground there, and in the gardens, would have been tricky in my normal chair. I had done my homework though, and brought my mountain trike, so I was fine.

Entry into the grounds is over a beautiful footbridge over the River Rye. 

Wooden footbridge over a river, surrounded by trees.

As always, our first stop was toilets. I have to say, this was possibly the weirdest layout of an accessible toilet I have ever seen! The room was a funny shape and the toilet was kind of trapped in a narrow bit down one end. The grab rail then blocked off the rest of the room and was way too far from the toilet. On the plus side, if you have a disabled child, the toilet seat had a kiddy seat built in, like an extra fold down device. Also good was hot water, decent soap and hand towels (as the hand dryer didn't work).

At the moment, because of Covid restrictions, the actual hall is closed but the gardens are open. I sort of expected the gardens to be more like grounds... They're not, it's just gardens. They were beautiful and really interesting but we didn't get the kind of walk we'd hoped for. There was some interesting information though and it was quite quirky. I was quite tickled by this sign, which for a wheelchair user, or any small person, sort of blocked the photo opportunity. I was happy to have it in the pic though.

A large blackboard easel on a lawn with large lettering saying: this is a great photo opportunity.

Photo of Nunnington Hall with the blackboard sign in the foreground.

At first, it felt a bit wrong walking on the grass. Usually these sorts of places have paths that you have to stick to. This was all grass and the paths were mowed rather than meadowy. It was actually really nice and felt more natural, though would have been a nightmare in my other chair. There were natural ramps in most areas, though some steps to reach the top part. Neil went and explored that on his own while Liggy and I took a training opportunity on the main lawn, doing some nice zigzag walking.

Then, I decided to do a spot of mountain trike training (Neil keeps telling me to 'trust my kit', which is easier said than done) and went zooming down the main slope, in manner of small child, and had lots of fun... several times.

Side view of me zooming down the hill, with my mouth wide open, shouting AAAGGGGHHHHH!

Me in my mountain trike with Liggy, my black labrador sitting by my side. We're on the big lawn with the Halls in the background.

We generally try to support the National Trust by using their cafe or buying something from their shop. Nunnington Hall didn't have a shop but we had a cuppa in the back outdoor cafe area. It was well set out with picnic tables, about half having a seat missing for wheelchairs. They were spaced out and had parasols up, which was great, as it was really sunny and warm. 

The highlight (and another training opportunity for Liggy) was a huge peacock that was strutting around the area. It was so tame! Liggy is gun dog bred, and has inherited a serious chase instinct. Usually it is leaves, which she has learnt to leave over time... but big birds, which are less common around us than leaves, are still a challenge. She's yet to learn that picking a fight with a goose or a swan will probably end worse for her than the bird. So I was ready for battle! I needn't have worried though. She must have decided this bird was out of her league, as she was calmer than usual. Either that, or she was just heat exhausted.

Close up photo of a male peacock with a dazzling blue neck and magnificent tail feathers, which he unfortunately didn't display fully.

At lunchtime, I continued my determination to get braver about eating outdoors, and we sat at a picnic table by the river and enjoyed our lunch there. I'd baked bread rolls on Monday morning, before we left... a new recipe... and they were delicious! Liggy was very happy to lie on her bed and sunbathe whilst we ate.

Liggy, my black labrador, lying on a blue mat next to my trike. Her tongue is out, panting, as it is really sunny and hot.

It was a pleasant enough morning and interesting to see a new NT property in such a lovely area... but it didn't exactly fill the day, so we then went for a drive and visited a few other towns and villages.

Monochrome photo of Nunnington Hall with large bushes in front and a large gravel courtyard.

First camping holiday of 2021

We've both had this week booked for a holiday since last year. We were planning a full week BritStop tour of North Yorkshire and Northumberland. Then lockdown v3.0 happened and it became unlikely that we would be able to stay at all the places we'd chosen... so we've postponed that until later in the year and this week, we're spending a few nights on a Camping and Caravanning Club Site. 

The Site

Sheriff Hutton is about 7 miles north-east of York and the club site was easy to get to - about an hour's drive for us. Because it is so close, we decided to take the car and the motorhome (named Zerubbabel... it's a Zefiro, so an alliterative name...) so that we could leave Zerubbabel on site and just take the car for days out. 

We booked a hard standing with electric hook-up. Originally, I was hoping to book a full week, but once 12th April (Covid stage 2) was announced, weekends everywhere booked up completely, and I could only get a mid-week break. As it happens, that is probably good, as we can get some jobs done at home over the weekends.

The site is well spaced out and very clean and tidy, so feels pretty Covid-safe. The facilities - toilets, showers, etc are all closed until 17th May, but we generally use our own anyway. That was one of the reasons we chose Zerubbabel - I liked the shower room. I expected it to be busy but when I arrived, we were offered a choice of many pitches. The warden even told me which way is sunrise and sunset, to inform our choice. 

Pitching up

I'm a checklist kind of person. I've always liked following a procedure that works but a while ago, I watched a TED talk about checklists. The people who use them are not people with memory problems, or the unintelligent... but surgeons, pilots... people who are intelligent but recognise that forgetting something in the stress of the moment would be pretty bad. Well, getting it wrong when pitching a motorhome would probably not risk life but it could be expensive, so it's a sensible thing to use a checklist.

Water and grey waste are usually first, but we'd already sorted that at home.

I like to start with Zerubbabel level, and we have a dandy little gadget - a mini spirit level that does both ways. Pop it on the table, put chocks in and level up. I love it!

Photo of a motorhome with awning up and a car in front.

Ventilation is always important but it was quite hot (in the sun) when we arrived, too hot to leave Liggy in the car, so I opened all the roof vents (3 of them) and put her inside. She's always extremely excited on arrival, so it's better to just keep her inside whilst we get organised. We have bought another gadget though, a big corkscrew type thing that screws into the grass and you attach a dog lead to it. It means Liggy can be outside with us but not actually attached to my chair, which is handy. 

So then we turned on the gas and connected to the electric hook-up... all sorted! 

For the first time, we used the awning. It is quite easy to put up - one of the canopy style ones. We may invest in some wind breaks eventually but for now, it is nice just to have some shelter outside. Neil put up the table and got chairs out. It's easiest for me to use my Mountain Trike on site, as the pitch is pebble, surrounded by grass. 


It was my turn to cook, and I'd planned a one pot chicken and rice dish, loosely based on my mum's paella recipe. I'd prepped the spices at home and put them in a tiny plastic pot. Neil sat outside, chopping veg, looking every bit the seasoned camper, and I did the actual cooking. 

Photo of dinner cooking in a pan

The Zefiro has the standard RollerTeam 3-burner hob, which I have to say, is really good. It runs off the gas, which for us is Gaslow LPG. We filled up the gas bottles last September, when we got her, and both cylinders are still showing as nearly full. Not sure those gauges are accurate... time will tell. Asda in York is our nearest filling point, which isn't that far, so if we run out, that's where we'll be headed.

Having cooked dinner, I did something quite unusual for me... we sat outside to eat. It was still nice and warm in the sun and Neil had set up a soft bed for Liggy... and it was actually very pleasant. 


Zerubbabel's heating is a Webasto system. It runs on diesel, from the fuel tank and is supposed to be one of the more economical ways to heat the motorhome. I've seen reviews online about it being too noisy but we haven't noticed that. It blows hot air through vents around the habitation area. My only criticism of it, is that it uses a lot of electricity each time it starts up... not a problem if you're on a hook-up but if you're on battery, it drains it very quickly! It really means that we can only choose sites with a hook-up for winter camping, especially as the solar panel is what charges the battery, so less daylight, combined with high night-time usage is a bit stressful!

Anyway, it was another cold night... close to zero... but I was plenty warm enough. I prefer it cool to sleep anyway, but I was fine on my many night time loo visits. 

I'll be posting all of these posts when we get home (don't want people to know we're away until we get back) but hopefully we'll be having some fab days out in the Howardian Hills. 

Photo of the back of the motorhome with the awning up and a table and chair underneathPhoto of the back of the motorhome with the awning up and a table and chair underneathPhoto of the back of the motorhome with the awning up and a table and chair underneath