Written by Debs and Mark; most of the Tripility team!
As the sun is shinning (hoorah), I have been thinking back to the things Mark and I got up to last summer (enough to cheer me right up), so I thought I would share our experiences of our first music festival. Now, let me just put you on the right track straight away, this was a one day music festival; no tent, no lack of showering and no over-flowing portaloos, I am not that brave! This was a very civilised one day affair at the Olympic Park, to see Mumford and Sons. We decided to turn this into a mini holiday to London and (because we are so kind), we have jotted down our access views from our trip, hope you enjoy…
Needs and requirements: Step free wheelchair access to room, however, I can climb a few steps. Assisted wheelchair user for distances more than around 100 metres; use of crutches for short distances.
We started off our journey at Mirfield station, this station has no disabled access to the platform for trains to London, so a piggy back up the (two flights of) stairs was required. Mirfield station cannot be recommended for anyone that wouldn’t be able to get themselves up the stairs and as it is an unmanned station, its either use the stairs, or don’t use this station. Harsh, I know. So, once on the train (we didn’t book any assistance as we stubbornly like to do things ourselves. It does always bug me that you have to book train assistance at least 24 hours before, sometimes I don’t want to be that organised!), with the wheelchair nicely folded up and stored in the luggage rack, we made our way to Kings Cross.
Kings Cross Station is all on one level, so getting out of the station was easily achieved. The Travelodge we were staying in was in Covent Garden, a good 25 minute walk away; we decided to meander there on foot (and wheels), rather than take a taxi. The pavements from the station to the hotel were quite well maintained, there were a few issues with inappropriate dropped curbs and gaps in the paving, causing the wheels to get stuck on occasion, not a journey to take with a wheelchair and bags unless you are feeling exceptionally patient!
Access to the hotel was by a side entrance (see the handy hotel access hints at the bottom…), the path to the entrance was quite narrow and uneven and ran for approximately 20 metres. Access from the path was up a slope which was not too steep. To get into the hotel, an intercom system was in place on a gate, the reception were generally quite quick to respond. Once in the hotel access was step free, doors were not automatic, so that required someone with you to open them. The reception area was narrow, but staff were always on hand to assist with any requirements, check in was quite swift. We did not request a wheelchair adapted room so our room was a standard double bedroom suite. There was enough space to put the wheelchair in the entrance, whilst leaving room to move around.
On our first night we headed to the Fire and Stone pizza restaurant which was close by. Access is via a lift, which we have had previous experience with (as in we have been stuck inside it…), luckily this time the lift behaved and we were shown to a table. There was enough space between tables ensuring simple access for the wheelchair. All toilets were on the same level, so once on the right floor, everything else is plain sailing. After having some food, we headed for St Martins Theatre to see Mouse Trap, we had made reservations to see this whilst we were on the train down to London. The good thing about accessible seating is that it is offered at the lowest possible price, no matter where you end up sitting (ring the theatre for details). Access to the theatre was up a removable ramp in the main entrance; the ramp was relatively steep but short and theatre staff were on hand to assist. We were shown to our seats and the wheelchair was taken care of, toilets were accessed down the ramp off the reception.
On the second day, we were going to the Olympic Park in the evening to see Mumford and Sons. During the day we visited a couple of nearby attractions; Covent garden and Leicester Square. The weather was hot which meant there was a lot of people outdoors, making moving around a bit more difficult. Covent garden has a vast area of independent shops and national chains, the buildings are not particularly accessible though. There are no lifts to the upper or lower floors and there is plenty of cobbled paving, making wheelchair travel particularly difficult.
Leicester square is well known for its film premiers and selection of bars and restaurants, we met some friends and had a drink at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, it was pretty busy but we managed to squeeze ourselves into a table outside. The hotel has a lift down to the toilets, which offer accessible WC’s, so all very practical (if a tad expensive). Leicester Square is always a busy place, so it can be very difficult to maneuver around with a wheelchair, you need a hefty dose of patients and perhaps an air horn…
We ate at Cafe Mode, a small cafe close to the hotel offering a pleasant selection of Italian based foods at a reasonable price. We did eat outside so I can’t say how accessible it was inside or if they provide disabled toilets, useless, I know.
In the evening, we went to the Olympic Park to see Mumford and Sons, this was one of the biggest tests of the weekend, as we had to rely on public transport via the tube network. We went from Holborn tube station, which meant using the escalators; at this point, I had to get out of the chair and Mark carried the wheelchair, whilst a load of passengers waited patiently (I imagine) behind. Once down the escalator, it was step free all the way to the platform (or was there 4 steps down?). At the Olympic Park Station access was all step free, so we were expecting an easy ride from there…Unfortunately, we were directed by a steward along a footpath with no dropped curbs and a stretch of road with no pavement and cars driving quite fast around corners, at this point I did not think we would make it to the Olympic Park! We finally managed to find the right route and followed a line of other wheelchair users to the accessible entrance, again this is where we thought things would improve, but were let down by lack of direction to the accessible seating and poor signage. We were merely pointed in the direction of the arena, which left us rather bewildered and lost on a stony and hard to maneuver surface. Eventually, we found someone to help who took us along to the seating area, this was well thought out with ample space between the seating and walkway and plenty of seating for all. It would have been nice if the viewing area was slightly closer to the stage, but overall we were happy with the setup once we were there. There was an area to charge wheelchair batteries, plus there was plenty of attendant controlled wheelchair accessible portaloos (lots of other people were trying to use them so it was quite welcome to see). There was also a selection of food outlets relatively near, although busy most of the time. I think the hardest thing about the arena was travelling around on the gravel surface, unless you have an all terrain wheelchair, it really wasn’t easy. At the end of the show we were offered a bus back to the tube station, but there was a very long wait, in the end we gave up and walked back with the crowds which took about 15 minutes. In some areas there was a wheelchair only walkway; this made the journey so much easier, without having to worry about people walking into the chair and us accidentally going into the back of people – easy to do in such a large and slightly tipsy crowd! All in all it was quite hard work, better signage and information, with a cover over the gravel to the accessible seating, would have made a huge difference to the experience. It was a brilliant evening, but not one I would be rushing to repeat, due to the sheer hard work of getting around. If you are going to attempt a venue like this, be prepared for it to be quite physically demanding!
A bit of shopping, drinking and a spot of eating summed up our penultimate day. After a tiring day previously, we decided to have a more laid back day. We spent some time perusing shops around Covent Garden and for the rest of the afternoon had a picnic at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Park with my sister and brother-in-law. During the evening, we met up with a couple of other friends and decided that we should try Sushi for the first time (we’re a bit behind the times), so we headed off to China Town. There is so much choice in this area, that it will be hard to find something that you don’t like. The restaurant we used did have a small set of steps (<5) and would not have been doable if you could not get out of the wheelchair. I would love to tell you the name, but unfortunately, my brain refuses to remember it! However, there were other restaurants in this area that were step free (on the food front, sushi was a winner, sashimi, not so much).
The last day was mainly spend relaxing, we decided on using the underground to get back to Kings Cross. We had used the national access register underground guide and decided that Holborn station would be doable, it did have around 20 steps, but I thought it would be manageable. The issue was that we had assumed that the stairs went down, they actually went up to the platform (it even said on the guide, woops!), which was a lot harder work for me, although a very pleasant fellow passenger helped us with the stairs which made life much easier: wheelchair+ bags+stairs+person that can’t easily get up stairs=slightly difficult! Getting off the tube and into Kings Cross was a lot easier, if only all stations were like this.
Overall, our trip to London was brilliant, made better by the warm weather, but also made a lot harder by some of the travel options and poor information. We do love going to London, but getting around is not the easiest when in a wheelchair (one that I can’t self-propel anyway). The hotel is in a great spot for visiting the theaters, Covent Garden and Leicester Square, so you won’t be stuck with things to do in the vicinity. The nearest wheelchair accessible tube station was Westminster which was about 15 minutes walk away.
- Train to London Kings Cross (via Grand Central)
- Walk from London Kings Cross to Hotel (being pushed in a wheelchair)
- Tube to/from Olympic Park
- Tube from hotel back to London Kings Cross
- Money spent on travel whilst in London; £5 (using an Oyster Card with a Disabled Adult pass)
Travelodge Covent Garden
10 Drury Ln, London,WC2B 5RE
Accessible features based on assisted wheelchair (it may also be suited for other types of user):
- Appropriate signage
- Clear routes
- Even lighting
- No lowered reception desk
- No assistance offered with luggage
- Facilities not explained
- Handrails next to stairs
- Handrails next to ramps
- Ramps suitable gradient for assisted wheelchair user
- Even lighting
- Routes free from obstacles
- Doors easy to open
- Clutter free and no trip hazards
- Suitable signage
- No automatic doors
- Working lifts
- Wait time was short
- Not enough space to turn
- No braille buttons
- Both wheelchair adapted and standard rooms available
- Doors were of suitable width for manual wheelchair
- Clutter and trip free
- Bed suitable height
- Mirrors were of suitable height
- Bathroom was suitable for needs
- Available but not used
- Accessible for wheelchair
- Covent Garden
- St Martins Theatre
- London Olympic Park
- China Town
- Leicester Square
- Fire and Stone
- Café Mode
- Japanese Restaurant Chinatown