Disability and travel: accessibility in Hampshire and the South Downs

Disability and travel: accessibility in Hampshire and the South Downs

Experienced traveller, Martyn Sibley, Co-founder of Disability Horizons, tells us about his recent trip to Hampshire, and stay in an accessible cottage. But, even the most seasoned traveller can come up against issues…

As much as I love winter warmth abroad, I do love a British cottage. To come back to a warm room from a crisp country st/roll is a beautiful feeling. So when the guys at Wallops Wood in Hampshire invited us to stay this November, there was no hesitation.

After packing the suitcase and food, we headed off on the three hour drive from Cambridgeshire. Darkness fell before arriving, but the narrow windy country roads were exhilarating. Sat nav directed us straight to the destination – the very helpful team had prepped us on the correct postcode to use.

The gravel car park was broken by a fully accessible pathway. The key fob on the front door opened with the correct pin number, and the door swung open to reveal a glorious open-plan cottage, named Teal.

It had three bedrooms and a large lounge and dining area, leading into the kitchen. The accessible bedroom had space under the bed for the hoist, with good amount of room for manoeuvring my wheelchair. This lead onto the accessible bathroom, which had both a bath and wetroom – fantastic.

Despite knowing that loads of mobility equipment was available, I brought my own shower chair and hoist with me. I find other shower chairs uncomfortable, and the hoist was at an extra cost. So my molift hoist, with its fancy soft travel case, always does the job.

However, we came across a snag. I was sure everything had been packed, although there is always so much to remember. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten the battery and hand control for the molift. Meaning there was no way to operate it.

At 7.30pm it was too late to rent the one nearby. In the meantime, my fiancee Kasia managed to take the armrest off my wheelchair and slide me onto the bed to sleep. Thank God I’d already showered and been on the toilet.

In the morning, we rang local mobility shop Solent Mobility. At 8.30am it called back to say it could help, and 10.30pm all was ok and I had a hoist for the stay 🙂

What’s near Wallops Wood?

Once I was up and ready, we had a delicious breakfast overlooking the beautiful scenery. The view stretched to the South coast. Apparently the Isle of White is visible on a clear day.

As much as the cottage was awesome, we needed some fresh air. Not wanting to go in the car, we asked Liz, who works at the cottages, if there was an accessible route. Happily, there was one that would take 45 minutes or so. Coat and gloves on – off we went.

The route was very accessible. It was more of a narrow road than a footpath, so there were few cars. But those that appeared were slow and cautious. Even the rain didn’t stop us having a good time – taking photos, chatting and relaxing in the fresh air.

The South Downs

On our second and last full day, we took the car out. We knew that the stunning New Forest and fun South coast were only 30/40 minutes away. But as we’d been to both recently and discovered that the South Downs was even closer, we decided to head there.

We parked at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the lady at the visitor centre showed us a map and the route. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, the route was tougher than we expected. It was a bit bumpy in places and hard to follow. Also, when I get cold I struggle to balance and drive, which made it even harder. On top of that, we took a wrong turn! Luckily, we found out from a kind BMXer and avoided a total disaster of getting lost.

Despite the less accessible route, I’m glad we did it. There was a fresh, crisp type of cold in the air and the scenery over the downs was breathtaking. Plus, that feeling of achievement when we returned was like no other.

Afterwards, we ate a nearby pub recommended by the centre. The warm cup of tea, and fish and chips was a just reward.

If you’re thinking of visiting the neck of the woods, I thoroughly recommend the cottages. They’re even building an accessible swimming pool at the moment. So it’s only going to get better.

If you like breaks in the UK, want to have friends and family join you, and explore this part of the world, Wallops Wood is the perfect choice. We really enjoyed the views and walks. But most of all, we loved the comfort and relaxation of the cottage. We even tore through three of the Harry Potter box set – one per evening – which was great with dinner and a wind-down.

Let me know if you have any questions and do check out the Wallops Wood Cottages website anytime.

By Martyn Sibley

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