Last weekend was a big deal for me, it was been exciting, stressful, panic inducing, wonderful and simply fantastic.
I have always been nervous about travelling alone since I have been disabled. This is because as much as I don’t like to think it and don’t feel it, I am vulnerable. Many more things can and are more likely to happen if you’re in a wheelchair, from innocent things like a lack of dropped curbs or accessible toilets to things like being more vulnerable to crime. I have had more bad experiences when travelling than good. So, since using a wheelchair I have never travelled somewhere, stayed in a hotel on my own and got back on my own, that is, until the weekend!
On Friday afternoon I was dropped off at Peterborough train station for a weekend away, alone. I had pre-booked assistance using the ‘Passenger Assist’ app so everything should be in place and it should be easy, in theory.
My first train was one of the new (to me) LNER from Peterborough to Grantham and was absolutely thrilled to learn that the wheelchair accessible seating was in first class. I know it sounds silly, but I was so excited because I was dreading having to sit next to the toilets with suitcases and bikes round me like normal. I was even asked by a member of train staff if I would like a drink, somehow being asked if I wanted some water made me feel warm and fuzzy and special.
We arrived at Grantham Station and the guy was already there on the platform waiting for me with the ramp. It was only when I saw him that I realised I was holding my breath because I was so nervous no one would turn up and I would be stuck on the train!I got off fine with the ramp and had a 20 minute wait before my next train so got a hot drink. 5 minutes before the train arrived the bloke came over with a ramp and took me to where we needed to wait. The train pulled up and it looked pretty full, and I was 98% sure from looking at it that I would be in my normal circumstances for a train, outside the toilet surrounded by bags. Yay.
When we were approaching Nottingham, I again started to get nervous about if a ramp would turn up or not, it did! I was gob smacked. For the first time since being disabled the journey had gone exactly to plan! It was such a shocking situation to be in.
Thanks to Google maps I easily found my Travelodge hotel and went to book in. Again, I was nervous, I’ve stayed in several Travelodge hotels ‘accessible rooms’ where it was a shower over a bath and not a wet room. As I was staying alone, I definitely needed a wet room as it wouldn’t be safe for me to get in and out of a bath unsupervised. The lady at reception was absolutely incredible and she even did a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan) on me and showed me how I could get in contact with the reception if needed in an emergency. She even offered to me and help me get to my room, but I managed to find my room myself, although the doors were a bit tricky because most of them were pull doors. I got to my room and was thrilled it was on the quiet floor and it was a fully accessible room with a decent sized wet room too!
I managed to get to my swim race on Saturday morning using my TriRide, won my race and got back to the hotel too! You can read more about it here.
On Sunday I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for several years and it was absolutely lovely and reminded me of how many people being scared of getting trains had cut me off from. After having lunch with my friend I went to the train station to attempt my journey home. There were strikes or works on the line meaning I would have to go home via Leicester rather than Grantham. It made me nervous as it was yet another train station I haven’t been to before and I couldn’t be sure assistance would turn up.
I some how managed to wrangle my way into First Class again on the train from Nottingham to Leicester but when the train arrived in Leicester there was no assistance waiting for me with a ramp on the platform. When the doors on the train opened I was sitting there with no way off the train, in the end I had to shout to another passenger who was waiting on the platform and get them to find someone to ask them for help!
Thankfully they found someone who got a ramp and he helped me off the train. I decided to ask the man which platform my train to Peterborough was on and he told me but then paused and told me the lift was broken, my response “please tell me you’re joking”, sadly he wasn’t. I could get off the platform and into the main station but I couldn’t get down onto the platform where my train was going to be. I had left myself plenty of time so had a 30min change over, the assistant told me to stay on the current platform and he would find out what was going on.
Five minutes later the assistant came back and informed me that the engineer was now onsite but didn’t know how long it would take to fix the lift but they hoped they would be able to fix it before my train arrived/left. It got to 5 minutes before my train and the assistant still hadn’t come back so I decided to go up to the main concourse to ask what I was meant to do; I tried the lift on the way past and it still didn’t work. I went and spoke to the office and they asked which train I was supposed to get, by which time my train was in the station. The response from the customer assistant – “s**t”. I had missed my train and didn’t know when I would be able to get onto the platform, my anxiety was increasing by the second. I had no clue what I was meant to do, eventually the customer assistant came back to me and told me I could wait for the next train which was in an hour or they might be able to get a taxi for me. I said I wasn’t waiting around for an hour to then find out the lift is still broken so I wanted a taxi. They then decided to inform me that I would have to wait an hour for my taxi, when I asked why; they told me because I am confined to a wheelchair I can’t go in a normal car (whatever that is). I thought I had misheard them so asked the woman to repeat what she said but I was wrong, she really had just told me that “because I am confined to a wheelchair I can’t get in a normal car”. Some how I managed to stay calm and polite, despite the urge to put her in her place. I simply informed/showed her that I am not confined to my wheelchair by standing up – her face was brilliant! She phoned the taxi company back and told me the car would be outside in 10 minutes, and it was. I ended up being driven from Leicester Station to Peterborough Station!
So the journey there was amazing and better than I ever expected but the journey back was a little more eventful, however, I still managed to get back. I managed to deal with the situation without completely panicking and I still managed to get home on my own.
Going to Nottingham has given me a pretty big confidence boost and it has made me a little happier and less anxious about the fact I have to travel all the way to Kendal in November via trains so that I can attend my first speaking event at the Kendal Mountain Festival; you can buy tickets here –
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