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Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Lake District in a wheelchair

Recently I visited the Lake District for the second time and decided I would share my experience to help others who may like to visit this beautiful part of the country. Both occasions that we have visited the Lake District we have stayed in a Premier Inn. I would much rather feel like I was giving money to a local B&B but sadly too few are accessible enough for myself to stay comfortably in. With a Premier Inn hotel you know what you are getting and many are newer buildings which means they have to adhere to certain guidelines which gives the person staying peace of mind that their needs will be met. The staff were very friendly and helpful, speaking to me rather than my husband who I was with. This made me feel welcome and safe that I had made the right decision about staying here again.

Although Kendal is not in the heart of the lakes the hotel was positioned well, near to key amenities and as we had our own car we were able to freely drive around. We did not go too far a field at night and found ourselves spending time in the local Wetherspoons. I have the same feelings about this as I do the Premier Inn that we stayed in. I feel happier when we are providing local business with trade but unfortunately I get drawn to chains because I know that what they have to offer is standardised providing me with the facilities that I needed. When speaking about facilities I refer mainly to level access, as well as access to a disabled toilet and a lift if needed. Many individual businesses especially those in old buildings do not have these facilities as 'reasonable adjustment is not enforced if it is seen too difficult to implement. In Wetherspoons the disabled toilet is on the ground floor however they have installed a lift so wheelchair users can get up to the second floor where most of the seating is. The lift doubles up for staff use to collect glasses but if they know you will need the lift they are pretty good at keeping it clear.

One thing we found really useful when in the lakes was a publication by the Lake District National Park Authority called "Miles without Stiles" an online link is here. It details over 40 walks around the National Park and tells you the surface, and gradients of the routes so you can plan ahead. There may be gates on the routes but, as the title suggests, there are no styles. It is not only handy for wheelchair users but also those bringing small children in buggies. One route we did was around Tarn Hows (route 13), we did the circular walk which it says is a "route for many", the route for all is a very short walk to a view point and back again (no thank you). The circular walk is well worth doing and there is some beautiful scenery around there however if you are a manual wheelchair user you will likely struggle to do this route on your own. This is mainly due to the surface of the path, the guide describes it as " smooth, compact stone and dust, and provides a smooth ride for wheelchair and pushchair users" the "smooth compact stone" isn't that smooth and often your wheels dig into the path and you find yourself sliding a lot especially when going downhill and then going uphill you struggle to get enough grip to push yourself properly up the hill. If you were in an electric chair this is unlikely to be a problem but I needed my husband to give me a hand to get around. There are loose stones which your front casters can get caught on so be careful! It would be unreasonable to expect it to be tarmacked as it wouldn't be in character but just be aware. Parking is across the road and you do have to pay as a Blue Badge holder, the National trust advertise a separate disabled car park but this is for the "route for all" and not for the walk around the Tarn. I understand the National Trust now has an all terrain mobility scooter that can be hired (see here) but we did not use this facility. It is well worth a visit but just be aware that it isn't quite as easy as they make out!

Down the valley into the Village of Coniston, a very picturesque Lake District village with the main attraction being Coniston Water. We parked in the village car park outside Tourist Information and made our own way down to the lake, however there is a car park with disabled bays (I can't remember if charges apply or not). Conniston Boating Centre have a Wheelchair accessible electric motor boat which can be driven by a wheelchair user or an able bodied person. They describe it as perfect for the Wheelchair Angler however we didn't do any fishing just cruising around the lake. Details of the boat can be found here, it isn't cheap (£20 an hour ,£90 for the day) however it is well worth it. The faster you go the more battery you use up but we managed to get to the far shore of the lake, back to the other shore and back to the jetty with battery life to spare (we weren't always going that slowly!). The details say it can accommodate up to 3 wheelchair users, it was just my husband and I (so one wheelchair) and there was plenty of space. I can fully recommend this.

We visited the Beatrix Potter Experience which is a must see if you are a fan. All of the experience was accessible apart from a small part of garden. It is good value for money as the carer get in free (my husband on this occasion). There is only a small amount of disabled parking and so they ask that you ring in advance to ensure a space is reserved. There is a fairly steep slope down to the entrance with a handle rail for those with mobility issues to steady themselves. If you are using a manual wheelchair like myself than the I would advise that you get someone to hold onto you as you go down the slope.

We also visited Dove Cottage, due to the nature of this being an old building there are limitations of what can be done to make it accessible. There was free parking and so no problems with getting to the cottage. The lower ground was fully accessible and to ensure that wheelchair users were able to experience the upstairs as much as possible there was a very detailed virtual tour that I could access. A carer gets in free and is able to access the whole of the cottage while I go through the virtual tour, which by all accounts I would say was more detailed than some of the information that my husband received!

We went to a lovely Chinese meal in a local restaurant in Kendal called the Silver Fortune. The access was good with a level entrance but unfortunately there was no disabled toilet. The service was good and the food was really good. In all a lovely meal out and would highly recommend the Chinese Restaurant.

We also went for a meal at Paulo Gianni's Italian Restaurant. When we first arrived there was a level of what I feel was unnecessary panic as it became apparent that not all tables were accessible and they did not have a disabled toilet. Once we reassured them that it was alright that there wasn't a disabled toilet and they found us a suitable table to sit at the evening was very good. The food was really nice and all staff were friendly and helpful. I would highly recommend the restaurant, but would suggest mentioning your requirements in advance to to prevent any unnecessary embarrassment for both yourself and them.

All in all the experience in the Lake District was a good one, with people being helpful ensuring we had an enjoyable visit. It is definitely someone that I would like to visit again and do some more exploring. Next time it would be nice to do some more walks from the 'Miles without Stiles' pack as there is definitely much more to see.

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