Monday morning, we were on our way to Bristol by nine thirty this morning, to collect Amanda and James (plus wheelchair) to drive up to North Wales to spend a few days at the Trigonos centre in Dyffryn Nantlle. It's nearly three years since we stayed there last. We took the motorway as far as Shrewsbury, then made our way into Snowdonia via Llangollen, Capel Curig and Porthmadog. The roads weren't too busy with Bank Holiday traffic, and the delight of spring blossom and many leaf colours on such a fine day made the six hour journey pass with ease, arriving in time for tea and Bara Brith.
Amanda was assigned one of the new rooms designed with disabled access in mind, and as the first such user was asked to give feedback on the kind of improvements to the facility which you'd have to be in a wheelchair to understand the need for. An interesting exercise for all of us. After a superb supper, were were all on our way to bed by ten, tired by travelling, exhilarated by the fresh air, the peace and the birdsong.
Tuesday, we drove to Caernarvon for liunch and visited the Castle - an interesting experience with a wheelchair user. The only wheelchair lift on the site had broken down, and the internal rooms not really visitable because of steps and narrow entrances. At least there is a rather stylish modern looking ramp crossing to moat to access the main entrance, with reduced entry fees for us oldies as well as a disabled person with carer. There are limits to the modifications allowable by CADW to a prestigious ancient building, and that means limits to its user friendliness for those in wheelchairs.
To have a conservation policy that effectively preserves a historic monument in the state it was acquired and its structure made safe for public visitors may seem fine, but a building is a living thing to which people relate, not a snapshot of its former glory, a relic to be preserved. Disabled access policy makes difficult challenges to everyone's assumptions, but it empowers and enables a significant section of the public to do things from which they would otherwise be excluded. It is a triumph of contemporary humanitarian thinking from which all may benefit once we have made the adjustments needed.
If ancient stones need shifting, arches widened and ramps installed to enable all visitors to move more freely and safely, there is no sane reason why this shouldn't be done, given that we have such superb designers and architects to work on the issue. It is all part of the life of an ancient building which has already changed and changed again many times during its life in days before the dictatorship of bureaucracy took hold.
Wednesday morning, I took James for a walk around the old Dorothea slate quarry and work places. Then we all headed out of the seaside for lunch and a sunny afternoon of the beach at Criccieth. Glad to report the existence of a long ramp right down to the sand. Amanda managed a walk on crutches down to the water for a paddle, and we exchanged beach photos via Clare's phone with Kath, holidaying in Spain. We couldn't do that last time we were here - none of us could then afford to use a phone that sends photos.
Thursday, we took a trip to the National Slate Museum in Llanberis, stopping in Beddgelert to visit Gelert's grave and to eat a picnic lunch on the river bank. The Welsh Highland Railway is now running all the way from Caernarvon to Porthmadog, and I photographed steam trains running in both directions while we were there. It's an impressive and attractive enterprise which, along with Snowdonia's other mountain railways benefits the local economy significantly. It's also an example of how conservation of steam locomotives has led to real development, and not just preservation of old dead artifacts. The slate museum is impressive and easily accessible, with a working lift to take people to a viewing platform next to the giant waterwheel, still working, and able to provide power to machinery in the workshops that once supported slate making.
Friday - Royal Wedding Day, but for us the journey home right through the heart of Wales on deserted, but slow roads. The trip took seven hours plus two hours of stops en route - lunch in Machynlleth, tea in Tintern. As FM reception is poor in mountainous regions, listening to the big event live wasn't possible, but we had another feast of scenery and leisurely motoring to enjoy.
Finding wheelchair user friendly places to stop for refreshment or comfort breaks could have been worse, but there is obviously much room for improvement, and in such a time of recession, sadly, this doesn't always get the priority it deserves. All credit to those companies and individual owners who do make the effort.