A Bouncing Bumblebee

Just a short post but wanted to share some photos of a new adventure Emily persuaded us to let her have yesterday, and to encourage you to get your little one to have a go no matter what their level of ability (and your level of courage in letting them go for it!!!).

If you have a fearless, risk-seeking, wobbly 6 year old life can certainly be tiring some days; so at Cheshire Oaks yesterday it was lovely to let Emily channel her inner adrenaline-junkie into having a go on the Bungee Trampolining.

We were a little wary, obviously balance/mobility difficulties may not interact well with a trampoline/bungee rope combination which ensures you go as high as possible. From a sensory point of view we were unsure how Emily would like the harness, and if she’d remember to hold on to the ropes.

Emily was hopping up and down with excitement so we thought we should put our own doubts to one side and go for it……..eek.

The guy working on the Bungee Trampoline was great and couldn’t have been more understanding. We had to lift Emily onto the trampoline as she couldn’t use the ladder, and help her to keep steady while the harness went on. All good so far.

Suffice to say it went way better than we could have hoped, and is proof that you should never put limits on yours or anyone else’s life, and should always just ‘go for it’ if a new adventure presents itself. People will show kindness and understanding when you may not expect them to, and do everything they can to make sure this adventure is as exciting as possible!

Despite our initial reservations, the bungee trampoline was actually way better than a ‘normal’ trampoline, as there was no way Emily could lose her balance or have to bounce sitting down. This way she had all the fun but without any risk of falling!

Emily loved it, the guy trialled different heights with the ropes until we found just the right height for her to be able to gently bounce (good physio – need to work on bending knees when landing!). He then lifted her quite high (heart in mouth moment) into the air and lowered it up and down a few times, so she really got to experience the sensation of jumping up and down.

A bouncing success (please point me to the nearest store where we can purchase one for our garden…..).

Shropshire Sunshine (and a touch of Royal Romance)

A weekend trip to Shropshire this time and a search challenge looking for accommodation for 4 adults and 4 children, taking into account the needs of our troublesome family of 4! This meant the usual trawling of websites, rental sites and facebook. (Top tip – I’ve recently started using facebook searches, just enter your holiday search, i.e. ‘farm cottages Shropshire’ in the search box and you’ll be surprised at how many results and cottage pages will pop up. You can then directly message and pay owners).

There are lots of lovely cottages in the Shropshire area, both in rural areas and pretty towns and villages. We were lucky to find Sambrook Manor Cottages in the village of Sambrook near Newport, where 2 of the 3 cottages have been designed and renovated with a great deal of thought given to accessibility needs.

 

I booked directly with the owner Sarah, she was really helpful and took the trouble to take photos of the internal steps in The Old Shippon to help us decide whether Emily would be able to manage them. In the end we opted for 2 cottages – Churn Cottage and The Old Stables, which both have ground floor bedrooms and wetrooms.

We stayed in Churn Cottage which is a 2 bedroomed spacious cottage on one level with a large wetroom style bathroom, lounge and kitchen diner. The patio doors lead from the lounge onto a terrace and grassed lawn, which leads down to the fence where you can meet the neighbours (including Woolly and Jumper the orphan lambs).

 

The cottage is absolutely lovely – very airy, clean and spacious; but it also retains it’s original features such as exposed stone walls and (very!) high ceilings with wooden beams.

The beds are really comfy and we all slept well in the peaceful countryside (didn’t stop Emily from her usual 5.30am start unfortunately…). The bedding and towels are high quality, and the décor is lovely. Lots of extras such as loo roll, soap, shower gel and even shower caps!

The kitchen is really well equipped and of a high standard, and here too were lots of well-appreciated extras like kitchen roll, cleaning products, tea and coffee. I know I’m being really boring here pointing this stuff out but these things matter when you have a littlie with lots of extra needs who likes to make a bit of a mess!

We were incredibly lucky to have a fabulous weekend of weather (and a Royal Wedding thrown in too) so we were able to make the most of the fantastic terrace, garden and view. This was the best garden we have found for us as a family, there was lots of space for our ball game addict, and it was completely accessible and manageable for Emily. There is a gentle slope on the lawn but it’s a very well maintained lawn with no trip hazards.

Toys and books are provided inside the cottage and a large storage box in the garden has more outdoor toys plus charcoal for the BBQ.

Sambrook Manor Cottages are in the pretty and very quiet village of Sambrook, and are within walking distance of a local pub which had many local recommendations. We took our own food but there are supermarkets and local convenience stores in nearby towns.

The cottages are obviously set in beautiful countryside, and we took a lovely walk through the leafy lanes, past the water mill and on towards the hamlet of Ellerton.

 

Access-wise Churn Cottage is great internally -wide doorways, big bedrooms and a large, adapted bathroom.

The front door and patio doors have a fairly large lip on them to step over, Emily was ok with help, but Sarah has ramps if needed.

Sambrook Manor Cottages are in a lovely spot, and are exactly what you need if you’re looking for a touch of luxury in peaceful and scenic surroundings. They are also close to villages and towns, and there is lots to see and do in the local area. Booking was straightforward and Sarah is really responsive to any questions. We also thought the cottages were really well-priced.

Sarah and her family are very welcoming, and the children loved meeting the farm dogs and bottle-feeding Woolly and Jumper!

 

We can’t believe we haven’t discovered this lovely area sooner, particularly as it is just over an hour away! We’ll Be Back (to quote a famous movie – sort of).

 

Gelateria Domingo the Llama – Wales!

On a mission to search for ice-cream on a sunny bank holiday, we headed into the hills above Mold courtesy of Google and Sat Nav. I’ll admit I was sceptical about finding an ice cream shop the further into the countryside we ventured, so what a fantastic surprise to stumble upon Gelateria Domingo the Llama at Glan Llyn Farm, a colourful and peaceful spot to stop for a cooling drink or ice cream and sample a taste of the Mediterranean (only 4 miles from Mold!).

I was very happy to discover that Gelateria Domingo is completely accessible so that I could share some lovely pictures and info on here! The car park is next to the little café, and access is via a gently sloping paved path. The area around the tables and lawned area/football area (!) is level (just a few small edges). Access to see the chickens is also level.

The owners Richard and Paola came out to welcome us, and Paola served up some delicious treats and complimentary water. Paola is Italian, and has definitely created a little corner of Italy in Wales.

There is level access to a children’s play area at the back of the farm, and you can wander round and spot the horses and the famous Domingo himself.

Glan Llyn Farm is also an e-bike hire centre and has holiday accommodation on site, including a caravan, cottage and 3 en-suite bedrooms in the farmhouse. www.guestinourhouse.co.uk.

Richard offered to show me the cottage (which was beautiful) and I took a few cheeky pictures to give you an idea of accessibility, although obviously we haven’t stayed here.

Access to the cottage is down a smooth paved path with level entry in through the front door. The interior is all on one level, and has 2 double rooms, each with TV and ensuite wetroom. The open plan living area has a kitchen, lounge area with woodburner and a door onto the patio to take in the countryside view – there is 1 step down onto the patio.

Glan Llyn Farm and Gelateria Domingo the Llama is a special place to relax, enjoy the stunning views and enjoy some Italian style treats in Mediterranean surroundings. It is also ideal for entertaining the small people in the family with meeting the animals, enjoying the play area or having a game of football. And luckily for us – it’s all on one level and very well-maintained so really accessible.

Divertiti!

A Flying Bumblebee chat with…….Premier Cottages

As part of my new interview series come and join me for a chat with Beth Bailey, Chair and Marketing Executive at Premier Cottages! As you will know from previous posts, it can be mind-bogglingly difficult to narrow cottages down to ones which can meet all your access requirements. One website which is a great example of ways to make the search a bit smoother is www.premiercottages.co.uk which has an Accessible Cottages page and works in collaboration with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme (NAS) providing all the right info.

Beth kindly agreed to answer some questions and give some extra hints and tips to those of us on the search for the next great getaway! This is a great read, and you will be amazed at the facilities some of these luxury cottages can offer (such as help with medical supplies or specialist equipment).

Can you tell me a little bit about your company or organisation, and your current role within this setting?

Premier Cottages is not an agency, but is a “book-direct” marketing cooperative of 250 owners of independent luxury self-catering cottages around the UK, with nearly 1000 cottages between us (many members have multiple cottages at one site). All properties are graded 4* or 5* by their national tourist board (VisitEngland, VisitWales etc), and most are professional self-caterers (not second home owners). The Board are all cottage owners and members too.

I can see you work closely with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme (NAS)? What inspired you to become involved with the NAS?

As well as being Chair of Premier Cottages, I am also a member, with my own cottages in Cornwall. We wanted to build a fully wheelchair-accessible cottage at our own cottages in 2007. Rather than just guess what people might need, I did some research, and found that VisitEngland had a scheme which gives guidance on each level of accessibility. We used this as the basis for our conversion. I was also at the time Marketing Director of Premier Cottages, so we decided to adopt the NAS scheme at Premier Cottages. It can be stressful for anyone with access needs to go somewhere they don’t know, as they often cannot be certain that it will meet their needs, and self-description isn’t reliable. Properties can be all on the ground floor, but if the owner forgets to mention there is a step into the only bathroom, that can leave it unusable to a wheelchair user. The beauty of the NAS scheme is that it guarantees that the property will do what it says on the tin, so you won’t get any nasty surprises on arrival. They have three schemes, for mobility, visual and hearing impairments.

Do you visit or inspect properties individually?

All of our members have to be graded 4* or 5* by their national Tourist Board, and are inspected regularly. New members are always visited before they join by an existing member or a board member, so we know that the property exists, and will fit into our portfolio of luxury properties. We like to ensure that we have 5* owners, as well as top quality properties – owners who really care about the experience of their guests, and will embrace the Premier Cottages ethos.

 Are your cottages inspected by the NAS if the owners have opted to become members?

Yes – you cannot get an NAS grading without being inspected by a specialised NAS grader. You have to be revisited periodically too. This means that visitors can guarantee that the property will meet all of the requirements laid down in the guidance for the level of access provision for each grading, which is great peace of mind for the traveller with access needs.

Are there any other organisations you feel have been able to offer constructive advice on identifying suitable properties and promoting these to individuals or families with accessibility needs / disabled travellers?

Do you have many families with children with a disability making enquiries?

We do, although at the Premier Cottages level, I wouldn’t always see the specifics of who was booking what. For my own cottages, I have a number of regular guests who have children with disabilities. A holiday is usually a really important time for the family to have a chance to relax together, so we try to make it easy. For example, I’ve just added a high powered liquidiser to the accessible cottage, as we have recently had several visiting children who are tube-fed – it’s a little thing, but it means it isn’t the end of the world if Mum forgets to pack theirs! Also I have provided access notes for every single visitor attraction, pub, restaurant, etc – it makes planning days out so much easier for guests if they don’t have to do the research and legwork themselves, and they can easily find out whether the places they are thinking of visiting have accessible facilities

Can prospective customers contact owners directly with any questions they may have?

Absolutely. I think it is really important. It won’t be a relaxing holiday if the property doesn’t work for you, so make sure that you are comfortable that it will meet your requirements. A lot of our members also have 3D tours on their web pages or websites. These are a fantastic tool, as you can do a virtual “walk-through” of every inch of the cottage, to see if it will work. Photos can sometimes be a bit misleading, and make rooms look bigger than they are, so I find that my wheelchair-using guests find this a really useful tool. For an example, see www.kernockcottages.com/cottages-in-cornwall/heather-barn/#3Dtour.

The owner will be the only person who can answer any other questions you might have, and saves you time hunting for things on their website or booking form (for example, I provide lots of optional extras, that aren’t on the booking form, such as elephant’s feet for raising the bed/chair heights, footstools, shower chairs, bed grab rails and soft bed rails). This can save you lots of room in the car!

Do you think it’s possible to define ‘accessible’ in 1 sentence?!

Hahaha… that’s a tough one. It certainly is NOT all about wheelchairs, as everyone’s access needs are different, and there are many invisible disabilities that have their own challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all in accessibility, but broadly it would be thinking about how to make a space easy to use for people with the broadest possible spectrum of requirements.

Which features do you think are searched for the most (i.e. ground floor facilities/wetrooms/widened doorways)?

Ground floor facilities is a really popular search. The population is ageing, as we all live longer these days, and that means that there are a lot more people with mobility issues. Many of them wouldn’t remotely consider themselves to be disabled, but older joints don’t always cope well with stairs. We also recommend to our members with ground floor facilities that they try to offer temporary aids that can be used if needed, such as shower chairs for wetrooms, and suction grab rails for showers… very little investment is required, but for an elderly guest it can mean the difference between being able to use the shower safely and not.

The NAS Accessible Logos provide a high standard of detail for visitors with a much wider range of disabilities. Do you find that some owners limit their accessibility statements to physical disabilities only?

I think it is true that most people automatically think “wheelchair” when they think about disability, whereas in fact wheelchair users are only a very small part of the population with access needs – VisitEngland estimates only 6% of visitors with disabilities are wheelchair users. There is a much larger population with other needs – 47% have long term illness, which would include things like people who take oxygen to help them breathe, for example, or have a stoma. 25% have a mobility impairment that does not require a wheelchair (but they may use a stick or frame). 24% suffer from a hearing impairment or hearing loss, 9% from learning difficulties (for example autism), and 8% from a visual impairment. The NAS has schemes for visual and hearing impairments, as well as one for mobility. Some of our members under the Visual scheme have gadgets like talking microwaves and talking kitchen scales in their cottages!

Can you offer any hints or tips for customers searching for accessible properties?

Where possible, use a property which is graded under the National Accessible Scheme, as you know that it will do what it says on the tin! All properties should have an Access Statement on their website for every cottage, so have a look and make sure the property will suit your needs. Speak to the owner, as they can often offer reassurance and help (for example they may be able to arrange oxygen deliveries, or mobility equipment hire), and will have local information which will make your holiday more relaxing and enjoyable.

Thank you Beth for providing such an interesting read and opening my eyes to just how detailed information on accessible properties can be! Let’s hope this filters out to other cottage companies who can also become involved with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme to provide the information and detail that is essential for holidaymakers searching for accessible cottages. It would also be great to see this filter out to other areas in the UK!

Visit www.premiercottages.co.uk/accessibility to view the accessible cottages page and choose from the fantastic range of luxury properties.

Happy Holidays!

 

Sand, Surf, Sun…..

(Ok maybe not surf). After months of snow, rain, low temperatures and grey skies; a sunny day meant rushing to a lovely sandy beach, which led us to Llanddwyn Beach, Newborough. Just one of many beautiful beaches on the Isle of Anglesey, but with the added bonus of plenty of disabled parking spaces, disabled toilet facilities, an accessible viewpoint and a lovely forest with level tarmac walkways.

It’s a lovely drive down to the beach at Newborough, it’s £5 as you drive in, or free with a blue badge. There are disabled spaces dotted about, but loads of new and very spacious ones close to the accessible viewpoint walkway entrance.

The first part of the walkway is boarded, but the last section is just sand which may be difficult for wheelchair or scooter users. (We were told by a local resident that part of the walkway had been badly damaged in storms on the island).

If you are able to walk to the end of the viewpoint the view is amazing – Llanddwyn Island and it’s little church to the right, and Snowdonia range to the left.

Although this is an accessible viewpoint with a view well worth the walk (and seats to take a rest on), it’s definitely not an accessible route to the beach. There are 3 large wooden steps down to the sand, and quite a sharp incline on the sand down to the beach, Emily could not manage this independently at all and it needed 2 of us to take her down.

There are alternative and more accessible routes onto the beach, but sand dunes do tend to cause a big problem mobility wise. Beaches you can drive onto are always a bonus for us!

However, a beautiful and very popular beach with good disabled facilities and an accessible viewpoint with an outstanding view of the unbeatable Welsh coastline (I’m biased I admit)….

 

The Great House Hunt

So I thought I would share a few of our experiences when searching for  perfect holiday accommodation for a trip abroad, staycation or mini-break. The need for us to think about accessibility has increased over the past few years, which often makes that search more complicated.

The accessible tourism market is worth a massive £12bn in the UK (www.visitbritain.org) so it is very much in tourism operators interests to find out what holidaymakers may need and require, and include this in their property information. At the moment that’s not always the case so finding a suitable property can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I am one of those strange people who actually likes searching and looking at lots of lovely holiday properties, but even I sometimes become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and choice….

I appreciate that not only all people who have mobility difficulties have differing needs and requirements; so too do families when having to take into account the ages/hobbies/likes/dislikes of everyone in the family.

It’s really important for us to remember that we are a family first, but the add-on is checking out how suitable a property will be access wise (to prevent the need to be googling local minor injuries units and jumping out of our seats every 2 minutes to make sure Emily doesn’t miss a surprise internal step….)

Very subtle things can create a problem for us, such as very narrow stairs in older houses, random internal steps into various rooms, poorly maintained paths or driveways that cause a trip hazard, or stairs that cannot accommodate stair gates.

Gardens can often be a problem as French doors often have a lip on them followed by 1 or 2 (often poor quality) steps down onto a nice hard crazy paving patio with plenty of trip hazards to keep you busy. More and more houses are beginning to add good quality garden photos on to their descriptions which does help.

The holiday rentals market in the UK alone is overwhelmingly massive, and the options when filtering are usually ‘ground-floor facilities’ or ‘disabled access’; often meaning adapted bathrooms, hoists, etc. Some agencies have really good levels of additional filters such as whether the property has internal steps, how easy access is to the garden, etc; others may have more limited information.

I have found that many cottage companies can be very accommodating if you email them directly with your specific requirements and the area you want; and may send recommendations for properties which most closely match these.

This isn’t always possible with the rentals websites which link you to the owners, but again I have found the (majority) of owners to be very accommodating when you send them a set of random questions. Direct contact with an owner is more likely to guarantee you the exact information you need, as an agency may not always have the detailed knowledge around the interior of a property.

We are visiting a cottage complex later this month, and when I emailed the owner about a set of steps I spotted in the corner of a small photo, she was good enough to take a photo and email it to me. Another cottage owner took additional photos and added them to her cottage description, so people can be really keen to help.

Some holiday properties have brilliant accessibility guides which answer all your questions without you having to write endless emails; but others will have very few photos and limited descriptions.

Sometimes properties will have 40-50 photos and despite squinting at them for hours, you can sometimes arrive at a property to be greeted by a real problem (like 3 large external steps and no handrail, a large step halfway across the terrace or loads of hidden internal steps – these have all happened to us).

Virtual tours are great in terms of giving you a real flavour of the dimensions and potential problems of a property, but tend to be few and far between.

There are some ‘disabled holiday’ websites which you can access and which can be really helpful, but again you may not always have the same requirements as others with mobility or access needs.

If you enjoy staying in static caravans, they can be a great way to ensure that you will definitely have no internal steps! Fully adapted caravans have verandah/ramp access, widened doorways, hoists and large wetrooms.

If your requirements aren’t as specific as this, most websites have the option to refine your search to include criteria like a ramp and enclosed verandah. Static caravans which are not specifically adapted tend to have smaller bathrooms and the doorways can sometimes be narrow; so again it would depend on your own needs. Sofas and dining areas are usually fixed so may not be suitable if you would struggle to sit at a table without freestanding chairs.

I suppose a summary of our experiences, and the advice I could give (and I’m still learning!) would be to apply as many filters as you can (if there is a good selection); read the description and look at the photos closely; and read reviews from others.

This isn’t really the most groundbreaking advice I could offer as you would be doing all that anyway. The extra bits I would say may be helpful are:

  • Explain your requirements to agencies and ask them to help you narrow down the choices. Be specific about your needs, what you don’t need can be just as important to know as they may presume you need a wet room, hoists, ramps, etc; which may limit your choices. Let them know if you need things like level access to a garden or a large bathroom.
  • If dealing with an owner directly ask them detailed questions by email, they are usually really happy to help.
  • Don’t depend too much on the photos to give you the detail you need, ask the questions too.
  • Virtual tours are always helpful and if you’re really lucky the property might have a good accessibility guide.
  • Once you have chosen your holiday, www.disabledgo.com is a good website for planning local places to visit, and has really detailed access guides.

Finally – enjoy your holiday and be sure to write a review for the rest of us searching for the elusive perfect holiday property!