My motivation and inspiration doesn’t get much higher than on a ski trip to the Alps. On behalf of Crystal Ski Holidays, I visited Niederau in Austria to take part in a Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) holiday. Thanks to both Crystal and DSUK, I had a fantastic time and my enthusiasm for skiing went through the roof again.
Skiing had been a passion of mine for the last 15 years. I learned to ski as an adult on Hillend dry ski slope, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It took me a very long time to find my balance on skis, much longer than the average person I suspect. I fell over many times in the early days and, on the dry slope matting, I really hurt myself. However, it wasn’t enough to stop me. I was absolutely determined to be able to ski and be able to move myself around the mountains. After many lessons, and spending hours on Hillend with a close friend, I began to find my balance. Since that time I am fortunate enough to have made several trips to the French Alps.
This trip however was to be my first time back on snow for a long time. It was also my first holiday on a trip organised by DSUK. I had a brilliant experience and, most of all, I had lots of fun. DSUK are an exemplary organisation when it comes to inclusion and they should be very proud of what they do. There is no disability that prevents anyone from taking part in Snow Sport. Whether a skier has full paralysis, or a learning disability, DSUK bring out the best skier in them. They have their own highly trained instructors as well as a large team of helpers on hand. All their ski instructors have to undertake additional training in Adaptive Skiing.
Using a range of equipment DSUK can support anyone skiing either sitting down or standing up. There are several disciplines that come under the name of Adaptive Skiing. A skier with poor mobility might use a bi-ski or at mono-ski where they can sit down to ski. Others, for example amputees, might use what’s called a three track, a single ski but with out riggers on their poles. A visually impaired person might use tethers on their skis. Learning disability is another category all together and DSUK and very skilled at bringing out the best in anyone.
The groups that take part are totally inclusive. There is no distinction between disabled skier, instructor and helper. They are just a group of people going skiing and having fun together irrespective of anybodies ability or not. Personally, it was an absolute joy for me to be in that sort of community for seven days. It had been a very long time since I had been in a group situation where I felt so accepted and welcome.
In everyday life there can be, for disabled people, pressure to present as able or as mainstream as possible. It felt special to be in such an inclusive group for a week. Most of, I just met some lovely people, had lots of fun and I am really thankful for that. One of the great benefits of Adaptive Skiing is that it breaks down barriers of disabilities. When I get on my skis I suddenly feel equal to everyone else because I can ski as well as the next person, able-bodied or not. I am aware that other disabled people feel the same way when they ski which can, for many, be a real liberating experience.
Taking part in a DSUK holiday has really given me the bug to ski again. I have to be honest and say I might not return to Niederau because I prefer a slightly larger skiing area. I would love to go on another DSUK holiday. I am very grateful to Crystal Holidays for the opportunity and I hope to travel with them again. I have plans to Ski in Scotland in February but I would love to make another trip back to the Alps before the end of the season.
Motivation and inspiration doesn’t get much higher than on a snowy Scottish mountain below a clear blue sky. On a picture postcard day myself and a friend set out to climb two mountains in Glenshee and what a day it turned out to be. The two Munros, Cairn an Turic and Cairn of Claise can easily be reached for from the Glenshee road. A convenient car park, just north of the ski station was the start of the walk.
The path passed over a footbridge and gently undulated along the floor of the valley. After a kilometre or so, the path started to rise. Walking through the heather and grasses was relatively easy as we gradually gained hight.
The walk between the two tops self fantastic. Walking was fairly easy as the snow wasn’t deep and the wide open spaces provided amazing views. We were soon at the top of Cairn of Claise.
We had quite a long walk back down from there and I was beginning to feel pain in my joints. I popped a couple of pain killers which helped a little. The walk back was magical though, a long wide shoulder and the sun beginning to fade provided some wonderful views.
We got back to the car just before dark and the afternoon sun was just catching the tops of the hills. I was in a fair amount of pain by this time but it wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits on a truly fantastic mountain day.
Cairngorm Mountain is home to Scotland’s only Funicular Railway. Opened in 2001 the line takes thousands of visitors up and down Cairngorm Mountain to the highest cafe in the UK, the Ptarmigan Restaurant, which sits at over 3,500ft about sea level. Cairngorm is a hive of activity at all times of year with thousands of skiers in the winter time, and many visitors over the summer months experiencing the wonders of the mountain.
The funicular railway was, from its very inception, shrouded in controversy and to this day still somewhat divides opinion. From the moment it was first proposed it was vehemently opposed by sections of the environmental lobby on the grounds of its lasting impact on a very special and already very fragile site of scientific interest. First proposed as far back as the 1950’s, and then spoken of again in the 60s, only in 2001 did this project reach its completion because of all the challenges. When the railway finally opened in December 2001, many thought of it as the greatest Christmas present the Highlands had ever seen. Jobs on the mountain, and the increase in visitor numbers would bring long needed prosperity and investment for the tourist industry in the surrounding area. Others however mourned for what they saw as an environmental disaster.
Cairngorm itself is one of the biggest mountains in the UK. At over 4000 feet it is the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom and gives its name to the whole range of mountains. The name Cairngorm translates as ‘Blue Mountain’ and from a distance it is easy to appreciate why it got this name. Ironically however, anyone walking on the mountain will notice the geology of a very red type of stone so historically Cairngorm was know as the ‘Red Mountain’. Red or Blue, this mountain is very special for many different reasons and hundreds of thousands of people flock to experience its riches every year.
Being one of the highest peaks, and giving its name to the range, it is on many walkers ‘to do’ list. Mountaineers scale it at all times of the year either walking or climbing. I had wanted to experience the summit of Cairngorm for a long time so I took the opportunity and made use of the funicular railway to reach the top. One of my motivations was to see and experience the spectacular Cairngorm Plateau. I wanted to see for myself this great expanse of mountain which joins several peaks including Cairngorm and Ben Macdui. Infamous for its exposure, it attracts thousands of mountaineers each year in all weathers. Sadly, many have lost their lives there as a result of the changing weather and exposure to the elements.
We booked onto a guided walk which is the only way to the summit of Cairngorm while using the funicular railway. In order to satisfy the environmentalists, one of the conditions of building the railway was to minimise the impact of visitors. One of the ways this is achieved is by containing people and not letting them wander onto the mountain unless with a guide. Of course, if you walk up the mountain from ground level you are free to wander but, using the funicular railway you must book onto a tour. This makes sense to me, given how many people venture into the mountains without the necessary equipment or experience. Many lives could be put at risk by allowing ill clad, tourists in sand shoes to wander out onto the mountain. I was delighted to reach the Ptarmigan stop and have the opportunity to reach the top with the Ranger.
It’s a relatively short walk up to the summit from the Ptarmigan restaurant with only about 500 metres of ascent. The well constructed paths are sectioned off, again to contain people and minimise environmental damage. We were very lucky to be joined by our guide Gerry, who gave us a real insight into the geology and history of the mountain.
I was hoping to see, or at least hear a Ptarmigan. Very shy but very beautiful birds they spend most of the time on the ground and only fly if they have to. A grey brown colour in the summer they, like the mountain hare, change their coat in the winter and go all white. This gives them protection from predators from above. We did however see some beautiful reindeer. Although theses are wild animals, they were very tame indeed and allowed us to get very close to them. They live up there all year round and are a native species to Norway.
As we approached the summit, views were just spectacular as weather conditions were near perfect. Looking over Cairngorm Plateau was just amazing. This vast wilderness is inspiring. We could see many mountains in all directions and it was good to name many of them. It was a fantastic experience and it has left me with an enthusiasm for more.
I got the feeling that the funicular railway, far from being an environmental disaster, is a wonderful resource for many different reasons. As well as the enormous economic prosperity it brings to the area, it enables people of all abilities to experience the mountains. I don’t think mountains should be sacred places reserved only for the fit and able. The experience of being up a mountain is so motivating and inspiring I don’t think its fair to deny the experience to anyone who seeks it. Being able to use the funicular like this so that anybody can experience the pleasure of being up a mountain is a truly great thing. I felt very much at peace with the impact on the environment. It is very contained and only really impacts on one side of a mountain in a vast area. The ski area was there long before the train. Ski areas in the summer time never look pretty. The mountain organisation ‘Natural Retreats ‘do a fantastic job managing and containing its impact as well as keeping people safe.
I hope to return to Cairngorm and use the railway again in the near future. I would like to go further afield and even camp out on the Cairngorm Plateau. This would be a truly wonderful experience and one that I would treasure. I feel really hungry to experience the mountains. Unfortunately my walking ability has not enabled me to venture far recently without substantial amounts of pain, or indeed more than I’m prepared to tolerate. I will be looking into ways of making this dream possible soon and hope that I can report back on what a wonderful experience it is.
It is always a pleasure to review holiday accommodation and last weeks stay in Killin was no exception. Fern Cottage is a two bedroom property right in the heart of the village of Killin, providing a great location to enjoy the delights of outdoor activities in the beautiful surrounding environment. ‘Cooper Cottages’ have a number of holiday properties throughout the Trossachs and Loch Lomond and I went to experience a short stay in Fern Cottage.
As soon as I entered the property it felt very homely and presented to a very high standard. The cottage was very well furnished and contained good quality furniture and soft furnishings. All bed linen and towels were provided and were of a good quality. I quickly settled in and felt very welcome thanks to small touches such as fresh milk in the fridge and the provision of tea and coffee.
This property is very comfortable indeed and has two bedrooms, a double and a twin, as well as a luxury bathroom and fitted kitchen. The living room is very comfortable with a television, a DVD and a wood burning fire. The cottage actually has a TV/DVD in both bedrooms and dining room, and has WiFi throughout. The kitchen is fitted and includes a dishwasher and microwave. It is well stocked with suitable utensils for cooking. There is a separate dining room with a table that seats four comfortably.
Killin is a great location for exploring Perthshire and for pursuing Outdoor Activities. Surrounded by beautiful scenery there are spectacular mountains as well as Loch Tay on the doorstep. This makes it an ideal location for Munro bagging, shorter walks or water sports on the loch. Mountain biking is very popular as well as fishing and country sports. Easily reached from Edinburgh or Glasgow, Killin is an ideal location for a break away.
A few Comments
This cottage is generally suitable for a disabled person although one or two points should be mentioned here. There is a slight difference in the floor level in the hall leaving a slight step up to the bathroom and one to the sitting room. The step to the bathroom is obvious and easily seen, the change in floor height to the living room is not. I tripped and fell on this twice. This could be made a lot safer by something simple to draw attention to the change in floor height.
On the subject of accessibility, there are steps from the back door into the garden. Someone with mobility issues can reach the garden through the front door and down a gravel path. The steps would be fine but the only banister is a chain that is flexible. This is really not useful for someone like myself who’s balance is not great. It wouldn’t cost much to put up a proper banister. The cottage was perfectly suitable for me in light of my mobility difficulties. I don’t think it is suitable for a wheelchair user however.
I would definitely recommend ‘Cooper Cottages ‘ accommodation after my experience staying at Fern Cottage. Everything was spotlessly clean and of a suitable quality. Killin is a fantastic location from which to explore some spectacular places and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Knoydart is a very special place. A peninsula on the west coast of Scotland accessed only by boat, it has all the feelings of a remote Scottish island. Staying in the village of Inverie, I went there recently to explore Scotland’s last true wilderness.
Standing on the pier at Mallaig, I couldn’t believe how many bags we had. The pier was strewn with luggage, not just ours of course, but several families worth of bags. Everyone taking enough to survive the week. There are no grocery stores as such on Knoydart so it is essential to take provisions with you. There are, however, a couple of places you can pick up basic supplies. The post office sells a few household goods and provisions. The Knoydart Foundation has its own shop in the village and it has a freezer full of excellent venison and a small Off Licence for important stocks of booze.
You really get the feeling you are going somewhere off the beaten track particularly when you scan your eyes round the harbour. The boat to Knoydart doesn’t leave from the larger ferry terminal for the Caledonian McBrayne services sailing to the Hebrides. Surrounded by fishing boats a small vessel with a cabin big enough for a dozen or so people appears round the corner and docks discretely alongside the harbour steps. Men throw ropes to tie up, while others help passengers step over the side of the vessel and up the steps onto the shore on their return to Mallaig from Inverie.
We get the signal to board and before long a human chain had formed the length of the harbour steps. Bags of all shapes and sizes were passed from one pair of hands to another. There was something really lovely about how naturally a human chain formed between strangers and everybody helped out to put all the luggage on board. Bags, canoes and even a didgeridoo passed through peoples’ hands as the boat slowly loaded up. Once on the boat, the goods were covered with a thick tarpaulin to prevent them becoming wet from any spray that might come over the bow during the short forty minute crossing. The boat sailed to the right from the harbour and conversations began between people from several nationalities speaking in different languages.
The sail up Loch Nevis and into Inverie felt just magical. Surrounded by the most beautiful of Scottish Highland scenery, the whitewashed cottages that line the front of the village came closer into view. How lucky I felt, that this picturesque location was going to be my home for the next week. I couldn’t wait to explore the forests and rugged coastline that stretched into the distance. Bags were unloaded into the back of Landrovers that arrived onto the pier to meet the boat. After being a hive of activity, the pier was soon empty and deserted again as visitors were taken to their accommodation.
We were staying in a traditional style cottage called Tigh Na Feidh, in the village of Inverie. This had once been a crofter’s cottage and boasted magnificent views over Loch Nevis and to the hills beyond. It was very comfortably furnished inside in a very charming traditional manner. It wasn’t long before we settled in and looked forward to evening drinks in the sitting room around the wood burning fire.
Knoydart is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. Whether its canoeing, mountain biking, walking or fishing, this is wonderful environment to be in. Many people go to Knoydart for its wilderness experience and enjoy the isolation in some spectacular scenery. We spent the first morning walking to explore the village and its immediate surroundings. Some beautiful woodlands line the road that takes you along towards the Kilchoan Estate.
I had forgetten how much I enjoyed sea fishing and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to fish again. When I was child I loved fishing with my father from his small boat. We would launch it off Dunbar on the East Lothian coast and often come back with lots of fish. Unfortunately, fishing is one of the few things I can’t do on my own due to the dexterity required to tie lines. So, I took advantage of having some help this week and spent a few evenings fishing off the pier. The mackerel I caught made a tasty supper one evening.
One of the things I most wanted to do was to climb Ladhar Bienne, the highest Munro on the peninsula. We planned to hire a Landrover to take us into the valley to the foot of the mountain so as to shorten the route. Unfortunately, I have been finding walking very difficult at the moment so climbing a Munro was not a option for me. People who follow my blog will have seen a recent post about the difficulties I am experiencing in walking. However, I discovered a new interest which I never knew could be so much fun, and that was driving the dirt tracks with a Landrover.
Of course, not having many roads suitable for a vehicle on Knoydart, there isn’t very far you can go. In an easterly direction from Inverie there are two roads, or should I say dirt tracks. One of them leads to a small cove called Airor. What a wonderful journey it was past the headland with some magnificent views over to the islands of Rhum and Skye. At the end of the road was the most remote of little cafes with a lovely selection of food and beautiful home baking. Situated in a lovely bay it had fantastic views over the beach and across to Skye.
The other road from Inverie leads six miles to a farm at a place called Inverguserin. A really beautiful journey through the wilderness takes you into the valley where walkers might begin the ascent of Ladhar Bienne. This was truly beautiful and felt very wild indeed. To add to the atmosphere we came across a stalker who was saddling up two ponies to go up and take the deer off the hill. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go stalking, I find it a nice thing to do. I’m hoping to get the opportunity to do this someday. Although climbing the Munro wasn’t possible for me this time, the experience of being there was really wonderful.
I’ve visited many parts of Scotland over recent years and had some amazing experiences. I have to say however that Knoydart is a very special place and already I am longing to go back there. The isolation, the peace, and the feeling of true wilderness make it just magical There are no ferries arriving each day bringing hundreds of tourists. The majority of people there are those who live there. Although this is part of the Scottish mainland, it really feels like island life. Just things like the old cars, and the lack of road signs make it feel very isolated. There is a lovely farm shop on the Kilchoan Estate selling some nice things that has an honesty box for people to leave their money. Doors are seldom locked and keys are left in cars giving a beautiful feel of community and trust.
There are those who would like ferry companies such as Caledonian Macbrayne to begin running a scheduled service to the peninsula. This would indeed bring many people and money into the community. There would however be a price to pay for this. More infrastructure would be required to support a greater number of visitors and this would change the feel of the place. Before long Knoydart would require more amenities, shops and cafes. One can’t help feeling that something special would then be lost forever. I hope Knoydart remains a true wilderness and the already fragile community there survives for many generations to come.
I have been lucky enough to visit Orkney lately and I had a really interesting time. My trip was to carry out detailed research. Funded by the John Muir Trust Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant, I went to Orkney to investigate disability access across the archaeological sites. The idea for this investigation came after the discovery that some tour operators specifically say their tours are not suitable for disabled people. I wanted to discover for myself and, thanks to the John Muir Trust Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant, that is exactly what I did.
Accessing the Past
Orkney is a wonderful place rich in archaeological sites. There have been many television documentaries and books written about them. Most people who know anything about Orkney have heard of Maes Howe, Scara Brae and the Ring of Brodger. Although these sites are very well known, there are many more sites both on mainland Orkney and the surrounding islands.
Historic Scotland are a national agency whose remit is to protect the ancient relics and natural environment of Scotland. Members, like myself, obtain unlimited access to all the ancient sites of castles and monuments. Membership money allows Historic Scotland to protect the sites. They also make the places accessible by providing visitors centres and laying on events.
Being able to access and see for yourself the sites of ancient civilisations is really important for all of us. I feel that it changes outlooks on our lives and what we value about our society. However, these prestigious locations are a lot more difficult for disabled people to see. The preservation is very important, but can we strike a balance between preservation and access for all.
The sites are managed by Historic Scotland and I wanted to see for myself just how disabled people might access them.
On the Ground
Over the course of the week I visited as many of the archaeological sites as possible. It was a truly amazing experience. Below I have given a short description of a few of the sites and commented on the accessibility.
|Stones of Stenness||Collection of three large standing stones.||Accessible over a grassy field but only a short distance from the roadside. The magnitude of these stones can easily be seen from the road.|
|Barnhouse at Stenness||Remains of 4 or 5 small Barnhouses.||A further walk past Stones of Stenness over grass. Once there, access into the houses is narrow although is possible to have a good over view from the outside edge.|
|Scara Brae||A neolithic village very well preserved, a truly amazing site.||This is the most accessible of all. HS have gone to a lot of trouble to build an accessible walk way. A wheelchair user could get a really good view and experience on this site.|
|Maes Howe||The best preserved burial tomb.||Not accessible. See my notes further on.|
|Ring of Brodger.||The most amazing stone circle||Accessible over a field with grassy covering. Once at the stones a rather narrow and tricky path surrounds it.|
While discussing access to the archaeological sites, it is important first to recognise the importance of maintaining and preserving the integrity of the site. These sites date back 5000 years and really ought to be left exactly how they were found. Many of the sites therefore could not be made accessible without damaging them. Maes Howe for example, as well as the other burial tombs, could not be made accessible. One has crawl into them with a torch and even the most able of us might find this difficult.
Although it is important to maintain the archaeological sites exactly as they are, this may be an excuse for Historic Scotland to overlook disability. There is an excellent visitor centre at Scara Brae that is fully accessible, and a good path around most of the site. Apart from this, one can’t help feeling that disability has been overlooked.
There are numerous sites that could easily be made more accessible for small amounts of money. For example, it would be so easy to create some walkways that would enable a wheelchair user to see The Ring of Brodger, Stones of Stenness or the Broch of Gurness. Gates could be made much wider and ramps could be built at places such as Birsay. All these changes would not in any way destroy the integrity of the site and make them much easier for people to see. This would benefit both disabled people and non disabled. Where sites are completely inaccessible perhaps modern technology could be utilised more to create a better visitor experience for less able people.
I think Historic Scotland need to take a look at all of their key sites and ask themselves what could be done to make them more accessible for all. One fails to see why this has been so badly neglected. It is so important for everyone, able-bodied or not, to be able to have a window into the past. I hope groups might start to put gentle pressure onto Historic Scotland to encourage them to consider increasing accessibility to other important places and not just Skara Brae.
I have just returned home after an inspirational trip to Orkney. Funded by the John Muir Trust (Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant), I set out to investigate and report on disability access to the archaeological areas of Orkney. I spent the week looking at historical sites and remains from as far back as the neolithic age and experienced the wonders of times long ago. As well as visiting Historic Scotland locations, I experienced a breathtaking array of scenery, colours and wildlife and I have had an amazing trip.
Earlier this year I applied to the John Muir Trust (Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant) for a small grant to enable me to visit Orkney. The idea came after looking at guided tours on Orkney that specifically said that disabled people are not catered for. Feeling somewhat frustrated I decided I wanted to go there and see for myself and so that is exactly what I did.
Leaving Edinburgh at 6am we had a long journey ahead of us. Due to sailing from Gills Bay at 4pm we decided to leave in plenty of time so that we were not under pressure. We made good progress up the A9, that notoriously slow road, and stopped just south of Aviemore, for breakfast. The Ralia Cafe by Newtonmore provided a delicious bacon sandwich and a well needed break. Once we passed Inverness, the next stage of the journey was all new to me. I hadn’t been up the far north east coast since I was a child. We passed through some quaint coastal towns. The further we got to the north coast, the flatter the landscape became but the rolling moorland scenery made for a very nice journey. Before I knew it we were approaching John O’Groats, a place I have wanted to experience for sometime. An experience it was ! Full of tacky tourist shops and not a lot else. We made our stop there brief and travelled further to catch the ferry at Gills Bay a few miles west along the coast.
Arriving on Orkney
After a smooth ferry crossing we arrived at St Margaret’s Hope around 5pm and had about a 40 minute drive to our accommodation. It was a fine, dry evening after some late afternoon showers and it gave us our first taste of the wonderful scenery and sites that were to come. Approaching our accommodation, I caught my first glimpse of the Ring of Brodger, something I had been looking forward to seeing for such a long time. There it was in open moorland slightly elevated above Loch Stenness. I was so excited. This was just the first taste of what was to come in a week packed with the most magnificent sites.
Our cottage, which would be our base for the next week was lovely. Not far from Stenness we sat looking out over the hills of Hoy feeling an enormous sense of gratitude. As the evening progressed and we settled in we were very conscious of the difference in daylight hours between Orkney and Edinburgh. Towards 11pm it began to get dim, although I would not describe it as dark, we could still see clearly outside.
Having settled we began to plan. There was so much to see and only a week to do it in. I’ve been to many of the Scottish Islands but I have never arrived on one with so much I wanted to see. We were both exhausted after the long journey and finally got to bed sometime towards midnight. I still wouldn’t describe it as dark outside.