What would a perfect day out in Yorkshire be to World, European and Paralympic Champion Hannah Cockroft MBE? We joined the world record holder on a rare day out to look at accessibility as well as relaxation before Rio 2016.
A spa, some good food and most definitely a trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park would be my ideal way to relax away from the tracks. Even better would be for me to enjoy those with my mum.
We don’t get much time to spend together these days. Life is pretty busy and a lot of this year will be spent preparing for Rio 2016 in August. I’ll start the year with a month in Australia, then it’s onto Lanzarote and then Italy for the IPC Athletics European Championships in June. Training can be 30 minutes to three hour sessions, once or twice a day, followed by appointments with doctors, physios and nutritionists in between.
When I’m not competing or training, I’m doing appearances or speeches or conferences for sponsors as well as school visits so I don’t get much time to rest. At weekends I try and take time out but I never get the chance to spend time just me and mum relaxing. I do have to consider how accessible places are, and for me Wentbridge House Hotel has something quite unique. Both of their disabled bedrooms have two toilets; one for disabled guests and the other for an able bodied carer. Sometimes able bodied people can be put off by having to use a disabled bathroom so having both options in the bedroom is a brilliant idea.
You can see why the hotel has won awards for its customer service (it has won Outstanding Customer Service awards for two years running in the White Rose Awards) as the staff are absolutely lovely. They had really thought ahead of our visit to try and overcome any potential issues. For example they gave mum a spare key to my room in case I couldn’t reach the lock for the bedroom door from my wheelchair. A nice touch.
The food was amazing and we went to have a hot drink by the fire in the bar afterwards and nearly fell asleep. We couldn’t even eat the cakes they had served and the staff were so thoughtful they gave us freshones boxed up to take away.
Access around the hotel is easy, there’s a disabled parking space right next to the entrance, there’s plenty of space to manoeuvre and although the disabled bedrooms are accessed via a ramp into the new part of the building, it is easy to negotiate. You get ramps and slopes wherever you go, this is never a problem for me.
The hotel is a great base for the journey down the A1 to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park – somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit but never had the chance. I absolutely loved it. Feeding the giraffes, the lemurs and the wallabies was such an amazing experience.
The park is very easy to navigate and the views of the animals that are enclosed are as good as those for able bodied people. There are no obstructions at eye height like bars or gates as sometimes I have to get mum to take a photo of what she can see to show me. At the wildlife park there is none of that, it is very accessible. And to see the polar bears, I could have watched them for hours they are so mesmerising.
It is also incredible to see all these animals that you can get so close to, they are all happy and have so much space around them. All this – just 40 minutes from home. There was no need for me to go all the way to Australia to feed the wallabies, I could have done it right here! Areas also have wheelchair washes to get rid of the mud from wheels which is a nice touch. It’s such a simple but brilliant idea as you are always carrying wipes and gloves to stop your hands getting dirty. It was also great to hear that they will be investing in the pathways around the park which shows how accessibility is at the forefront of their mind. As a really nice contrast to the wildlife park, the Titanic Spa near Huddersfield was a perfect wind down (the spa was last year named Best UK Day Spa among five awards won in the national Spa Traveller Awards).
Wide corridors and doorways, height adjusting treatment beds and parking right outside the ramp to the main entrance of the building made for an easy end to the day. With all of the spa facilities on one level, including access to the swimming pool with the use of a hoist, there was no area of isolation for a wheelchair user. With the option of a separate disabled changing facility or the use of a larger, adapted shower cubicle in the main changing area, the choices allowed me to be comfortable in the environment and to choose whether to stay close with my group or get ready in a different space.
We were treated to a back and shoulder massage, amazing after a day of pushing around the wildlife park! The therapists were skilled and conscious to work around my disability, discussing what I wanted doing beforehand and what they needed to be mindful of avoiding in case of discomfort or pain. But it was such a relaxing and wonderful experience, that I would quite happily have laid there for the rest of the night, whilst soft panpipe music filled the air and sent me into a daze of peacefulness.
After a few hours at the spa it was time to head home to Halifax where I will shortly be getting back into training. My coach keeps telling me to try and find a long flat road but getting up steep hills is what keeps me strong and I say to her, have you ever been to Yorkshire? There are no long flat roads!
When I go out, I always have to have a cyclist with me as my chair is so close to the floor I can’t be seen by drivers. Everyone at home knows me and if I’m back, they know I will be out on a Sunday and will give me a beep and a wave.
I love Yorkshire. It’s such a friendly place to be. Here people catch your eye and say hello. You don’t get that anywhere else. Everyone will help you – not in a degrading way – but if they see you struggling they will see if you need a hand. I always love coming home.
Usually I will go shopping when I get some free time, shopping centres are best for wheelchair access and I like going to gigs at the first direct arena in Leeds. They are really good there for accessibility. I’ve been to see McFly, Paloma Faith, Bryan Adams and Fleetwood Mac. My music taste could be described as eclectic! I also try and go to the cinema and I absolutely love Hebden Bridge Picture House. There’s loads of room and you can watch a film with hot chocolate in a mug. It is an old building but it’s still accessible.
I’ve not got much time left to be enjoying these things as I’ve got such a busy year ahead. It’s going to be tough. We fly to the Paralympics three weeks before the games begin in August. I had a short break in training last year when I had just got back from America, I had travelled loads and all I wanted to do was have a break close to home. So my boyfriend and I went to Scarborough. We visited Whitby and went into a pie and mash restaurant called Humble Pie. My boyfriend said you would never get this anywhere else and that sums home up to me. It’s unique, it’s eccentric but that’s why I love Yorkshire!