My name is Steven Jack, I am 42 years old and I am a wheelchair user as I was born with Spina Bifida. I am also a double amputee. I had my first leg amputated in 2009 and the other in 2012.
I have never really been away on holiday or for any length of time, apart from the odd day here and there since before my health issues so now my health is improving so much this year I decided I was going away. So I planned on doing the NC500, Scotlands version of Route 66. This tells of my route and the accessibility of the hotels and places that I visited on my trip round my route.
So it’s Tuesday night and the car was packed ready for the next morning. On the Wednesday morning after doing a few things around the house I locked up and got in the car and went to fill up with fuel and started my journey to Inverness with a detour to Culloden Battlefield on the way.
Culloden Battlefield is very accessible to wheelchair users like myself, the disabled parking is near the front door of the visitor centre. I paid a concessions price for my ticket which got me around the visitor centre looking at all the exhibits and then out onto the Battlefield which was mainly flat but a little rough in places on the tracks around. The tracks can be a little muddy in wet weather but easy to get around on if you are competent in a wheelchair or have someone pushing you, you can also go up the ramp to the rooftop to look out over the Battlefield but I did not do that. After my look around the Battlefield I went back inside the visitor centre and into the gift shop which was quite large and easy to move around then it was back on the road to Inverness.
Once at Inverness I was booked into a travelodge, where I had booked a wheelchair accessible room which you can do on their website, something that I found useful as most hotels don’t do this you actually have to call them to check if they have any wheelchair accessible rooms. It was also room only as they do not have a restaurant on site for meals, you could purchase a little cereal box and drink for a few pounds extra for breakfast, but I decided not to as I had purchased the 24 hour WiFi access for a few pounds.
Once into the room it was a good size and clean with a double bed and a single camp bed. I guess the idea of the camp bed is for a child if you have one or maybe a carer if you need one which is quite a good idea but I’ll go into that later. The bathroom was also a good size and clean with hand rails and emergency call. The only downside for me was it had a bath with shower over which would of been better with just a wheel in shower with a shower seat.
The next morning I handed in my room key and left as I had paid at the time of booking so it was a quick check out and back on the road. Having a look around Inverness as I passed through on my way to my next stop over.
So the start of day two. The weather was nice when I left but it was a bit changeable on the road. I saw some nice little towns and villages stopping to look at some of the views. Looking over at one of the oil or gas fields outside a place called Jemimaville which I have to admit made me laugh. It was on the Cromarty Firth.
When I was back on the road I stopped at Dunrobin Castle near Golspie which is a really nice castle which has disabled parking spaces but it has no dedicated wheelchair access so if you are like myself and cannot walk you won’t get in if you are alone as it has two or three steps at the front door and stairs all around in the castle, although you can arrange a visit to the castle gardens, but I did not do this. I just got a couple of photos of the outside of the castle and left.
Then I drove on to Tain to visit the Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery, while there i decided to book myself onto one of the distillery visitor tours, one of which was starting about 20 minutes after I got there. I had a look around the shop and paid the £7 for my ticket which I thought was very cheap, then just after I paid one of the managers came into the shop and was told that I was doing the tour and she told the girl who served me to refund my money as there was no access to two parts of the tour disabled people got the tour free. I think the girl who served me was maybe quite new as she didn’t know about the tour being free to wheelchair users although she had explained that there was a couple of bits I wouldn’t be able to do on the tour but she explained in detail about those parts and what happened in them. I did tell them not to bother refunding me as i didn’t want to cause them bother as it was only £7 but they insisted. Not long after the tour started, with myself, some American tourists and a Japanese guy from Tokyo. After the first part of the tour the girl taking the tour told me to head into the visitor centre and watch the 10-12 minute video and then go back to the shop and she would meet me there for the next part of the tour into the warehouse. Soon after being back in the shop I saw the group coming out ready to go to the warehouse and I headed out to meet them and continue the tour, which I would recommend even though you miss a couple of things the video in the visitor centre shows what happens in the parts you miss. After the warehouse we went back to the shop and into the tasting room where everyone was poured a dram of 10 year old Glenmorangie and told of the best way to enjoy it. I had mine put in a little bottle to enjoy later in my hotel room as I was driving.
After our tasting session I bought a few gifts in the shop and got back on the road to continue my journey, driving some great roads through some nice little towns and villages before I arrived at John O’Groats.
Once I arrived at John O’Groats my hotel was easy to find. The Seaview Hotel was easily accessed by a small ramp up to the door. I got to reception and rang the bell on the wall for attention. Some people may have a little difficulty reaching the bell from their wheelchair but if they have someone with them it’s not a problem. After checking in the receptionist showed me to my room which was actually back out the hotel and across the road in a separate building they have with more rooms. Once in the room it was large and spacious making it easy to move around on my wheelchair and very clean. It also had a double bed and a single bed. The bathroom was wet room style and was large and clean with hand rails in all the places you would need them and a wheel in shower with a shower seat.
After having a cup of tea from the things provided in the room and a freshen up and watching a bit tv I left the room and went over to the main part of the hotel for a meal. I ordered a pint of cider and a starter of soup of the day (which was lentil) and a main course of steak and Orkney ale pie with potatoes and vegetables. The portions were a good size I actually couldn’t finish the main course but I decided to try and squeeze in a mint choc chip sundae which was on the specials board as well as the dessert menu. The food was very good and the portions were very good and reasonably priced too. I had the bill put on the main bill to make it a little easier as I just had to pay everything before checking out the next morning.
After my meal I went back over the road to my room and watched some tv I think being in a separate building it was more peaceful, no noise from the bar.
The next morning after a shower i got myself ready and packed my bag and locked the room crossing the road to the hotel I put my bag in the car and went inside for breakfast which was okay but I have had better but also worse. Finishing the breakfast I sat for a few more minutes and then went to check out paying for the room and the meal from the night before.
Starting day three. I went down to the main area of John O’Groats to get the obligatory photo of the sign and a few other things then looking in the little gift shop, which is a bit packed with gifts and can be a little difficult to manoeuvre around in a wheelchair but the staff are very friendly and helpful and told me if I had a problem getting around to let them know and they will move things. I managed to get around but obviously not all wheelchairs are the same size so some people may find it more difficult. I bought a few gifts then it was time to go.
After leaving John O’Groats I was heading for my next stop at Durness. On the way I stopped at Dunnet Head Lighthouse which is the most northerly point of mainland Britain. The car park is large and flat there is also some dedicated parking for disabled but they are actually further away from the lighthouse than the main car park and also on a bit of a hill so I just parked in the main car park as I wasn’t staying long.
I was soon back on the road and seeing some beautiful scenery and also passing Dounreay power station as I drove towards Durness. When I arrived at Durness it was really bad weather as there was a storm forecast for the whole of Scotland, it was blowing galeforce winds. I was earlier than expected arriving so I had a look around the area finding the sign for SmooCave a place I would love to visit but it is impossible for wheelchair users as it is down lots and lots of steps. Then I went to the Cocoa Mountain chocolate factory which is very easy access and spacious inside to move a wheelchair around the shop. While there i bought a selection of chocolates as a gift and I ordered a hot chocolate which was perfect for the day being so wild outside. After ordering one of the girls behind the counter said she’d bring it over and I found a table to sit at. The hot chocolate there was amazing and I’d highly recommend it if you visit.
After finishing I put my gifts in the car and drove to find my hotel which wasn’t too far away from the Cocoa Mountain factory and shop. I was staying at SmooCave Hotel. I got myself out the car with my bag struggling a little because of the bad weather and then went into the hotel bar, which had a few people in I think some were tourists staying and a few were locals as they seemed to know each other pretty well. After telling the barmaid I had a room booked, she got me to fill in a form with my details and then showed me to my room and asked if I would like to book a table for my dinner that evening. I told her I would and she organised that for me after she left me to do what I wanted in the room.
The room was nice and clean but a lot smaller than the other rooms I had stayed in. It had a single bed against one wall and a double bed against the wall opposite and a chest of drawers against the wall next to the double bed with just enough space to get a wheelchair between the chest of drawers and the double bed. I had to get on the single bed to close one of the curtains on the window then back on my wheelchair and move to the double bed and onto it to close the other curtain. If I was the owner of that room I would have removed the single bed and moved the chest of drawers to that side of the room giving more space in the room. That would also give more space next to the double bed or I would take out the double bed and move the single bed there and put in another single bed beside it with the chest of drawers against the wall where the original single bed was. The bathroom was a nice size though and clean but again like the first room at the travelodge it had a shower over the bath which is a problem for me but it did have hand rails around the bathroom.
After I freshened up and settled in I watched tv for a while before going to the dining room for dinner. That night I had a starter of soup again (broccoli or asparagus I think as I didn’t ask what kind before ordering) it was a nice bowl full seemed to be endless. Then I had grilled salmon and potatoes and vegetables followed by hot chocolate fudge cake and ice cream all washed down with a pint of cider. The food was delicious and a nice selection on the menu and all reasonably priced again and again I had the bill added to the main bill to pay on check out.
After a good night sleep considering the weather and the fact my room was at the front of the hotel next to the road I woke and got ready for breakfast. I packed my bag and locked the room before I went to the dining room for breakfast, taking my bag with me as I was checking out straight after breakfast. As I got to the dining room the door was closed and cause I was carrying my bag I struggled a little opening it and pushing myself through. A nice German woman who had been in the dining room the night before was sitting having breakfast when she saw I was struggling a little and came over to hold the door until I was through. I had a nice full cooked breakfast after being shown to a table by the waitress. After my breakfast I checked out and got back on the road for day four.
Starting day four I had a long drive from Durness to Plockton, the longest drive of my trip since leaving home to drive to Inverness. On my way to Plockton I stopped at the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum at Loch Ewe a place I decided I really wanted to visit when I was at the stage of planning my holiday. When I arrived I got out the car and was talking to a man who worked there and told me that he would get another member of staff to help him get me into the building as it had quite a large step at the door and no other access. Once inside the staff told me that they had not been in that building long after moving from another building and unfortunately they were only renting it and the owner did not want to make any alterations to the property so they were looking at buying the property but currently did not have the funds but hope to have them by next year. Then they will be adding a ramp.
Once I paid for my ticket they asked if I was warm enough as they only had a little gas heater as heating in the building another thing they would like to improve once they had purchased the property. I started looking around and they told me that if there was anything I couldn’t see properly in the cases on the units to tell them and they would actually be happy to open the cases and take the items out to show me them. Although I thanked them for their offer I told them that I would be fine. I still thought it was a very nice thing to offer to do since sitting in a wheelchair some people might not be able to see in the cases properly as they are laying down on tables and shelves.
After a good look around and taking a lot of photos I asked for help back out and started back on my journey. On the road again I stopped for fuel at a little petrol station and I was filling the car when the guy working came out and stood watching but he did not speak I looked at him and got the feeling he wanted to ask if I needed help but was maybe afraid he offended me. I started a conversation with him to break the ice a little and we started having a good chat about my journey and the route I was taking, then he held the door open for me as I went inside to pay as there was a small but quite steep ramp into the petrol station. I bought a drink and my fuel and spoke for another minute or two and then went back to the car and he followed, watching me get my wheelchair into the car he said to me I was a hardy fella for doing the route I was doing and especially doing it alone with my disability. I thanked him and started back on my journey. On the way to Plockton I went via Applecross as I wanted to drive over the Bealach Na Bá and I have got to say it was an amazing thing to do the road is amazing and so high. I actually drove it one way and turned round and drove it back the other way too. Then it was back on my journey to Plockton.
Arriving at Plockton it was a beautiful little village with cabbage trees (they look like palm trees) they grow because of the mild climate from the North Atlantic Drift. My hotel for the night was The Plockton Hotel on the main street facing Loch Carron which was across the road from my hotel. I couldn’t get parked outside the hotel but there is a public car park just along the road from the hotel which wasn’t really too far away. I got my bag, locked my car and went along to the hotel. Going in the hotel front door the bar area was very busy. I was actually surprised at how busy it was for the size of the village. After a few minutes I spoke to the owner who was working behind the bar and got checked in and shown to my room. As I was being shown to the room the owner told me that there was another door a little further along from the one I used and it brought you straight in to the reception desk and was told it would be easier to use as it was quieter. I was shown to the room after this and the room was very nice I would say it was actually the nicest room so far and spotlessly clean. This room was the first one with only one bed a nice metal frame double bed. I placed my bag down on a chair and had a look at the bathroom which again was very clean and wet room style with a wheel in shower and shower seat. The bathroom was spacious with plenty of handrails if needed.
I spent some time in the room freshening up from driving all day and watched a bit of tv before going through to the dining room for dinner. I had been told that they were quite quiet and I wouldn’t need to book a table just to go before 21.00. When I went through I was shown to a table and ordered a pint of cider then the owner came to take my meal order. The menu was quite small but the food on offer was great. I had a starter of Talisker whisky pate with toast and homemade chutney and a small side salad, served on a wooden board instead of a plate. The pate was very very nice. Then I had a main course of venison and potatoes and vegetables. Although it was very nice I would of cooked my venison a little longer. I did not have a dessert that night.
I got the bill put on my room bill and went back to my room for the night laying on the bed watching tv for a while before I had another great night of sleep. The next morning I woke and had a great shower before getting ready and going to the dining room for breakfast. I was shown to the same table as the night before.
The breakfast menu was very nice and I placed my order with the waitress she brought me toast and a pot of tea, telling me my breakfast would not be long. It soon arrived, I had ordered smoked salmon and scrambled egg. There was three big generous strips of smoked salmon and a good amount of scrambled eggs that tasted just perfect. After finishing I went back to the room and packed my bag before going to reception and checking out. The guy on reception spoke for a while and then opened the other door as it was bolted top and bottom it was a set of double doors and one side is too narrow for a wheelchair so you need both sides open. Then before I left I crossed the road to the Loch and got a few photos of my hotel and a bit further along the village showing some of the nice houses. Then it was along the road to the car park ready for my next part of my journey a short drive from Plockton to Kyle of Lochalsh and over the bridge to the Isle of Skye.
So day five was a short drive only about an hour and a half from Plockton to the Kyle of Lochalsh and over the bridge to the Isle of Skye travelling around the Isle of Skye to Portree. Before going to Portree I drove around more of the island and went to the Talisker whisky distillery but because it was Sunday it was closed and the gift shop was closed too. I had a look around the area then went on to Portree and drove down to the harbour for a few minutes looking around then up to my hotel for the night The Royal Hotel. I was lucky enough to get a parking space right out the front of the hotel. I noticed even for a Sunday in October that there was a lot of tourists around, I think there was a few coach tours in, there seemed to be a lot of people in groups. I decided to go for a look around the local shops as I had a few hours before I could check in.
I was not sure what would be open as it was a Sunday but a lot of the gift shops were open and easily accessible to wheelchairs one or two had a small step in the door but most of them were on the level and once inside easily manoeuvrable. I spent a lot of time looking around and buying gifts before going to the car and putting them in and collecting my bag to go in the hotel to check in.
Once I checked in the guy in reception showed me to my room which was just around the corner from the reception and helped with my bag. I opened the door and went inside to an absolutely huge room. It had an old fashioned fireplace with a big tv on the wall above it and some old style high back armchairs with a glass topped coffee table and a wardrobe and huge double bed. It was quite basic furniture but it was all very good condition and very clean. The bathroom was very clean and very big and bright with a wet room wheel in shower with shower seat and again hand rails where you need them. It also had an emergency buzzer cord.
I settled in and had a cup of tea and shortbread and then went to reception to ask about booking a table for an evening meal and was told that it was a quiet night and just to go when I was ready. After an hour or so watching tv I decided to go for a meal and I got a table near the bar.
The waitress got me a drink, a pint of cider as usual and took my order. My starter was a huge bowl of lovely lentil soup as I had ordered soup of the day but I didn’t ask what kind it was. Then for main course I had steak and kidney pie with chips and vegetables. I didn’t get a choice of chips or potatoes and it was actually fries not proper chips although the meal was nice but the pie was very salty.
I didn’t have a dessert there either. I finished my drink and went to the bar to pay for my meal. Once I paid I went back to my room and sat watching tv for few hours before I went to bed. The next morning I had my shower and got ready for breakfast having a full Scottish breakfast before collecting my bag from the room and checking out.
So it was the start of day six and I had another long drive from Portree on the Isle of Skye back to the mainland on my way to my final night in Inveraray with a little detour to Eilean Donan castle.
Once I arrived at Eilean Donan castle. I got out the car for a few photos and went on to the bridge that goes over to the castle but I did not cross the bridge as I had done some research and knew that the castle wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users. Although they do offer free access onto the island for any Registered Disabled visitors. This permits those visitors to at least cross the bridge and explore the exterior areas of the castle. However some of those areas are gravelled and can be difficult to manoeuvre if you are not competent in a wheelchair or don’t have anyone with you to help push if needed.
In addition they have also created a touch-screen computer based “Virtual Tour” which is available on request in the visitor centre. Again, there is no charge for this and it does offer glimpses of areas within the castle that the visiting public don’t normally have access to which is a little bonus. The visitor centre has been specifically designed for easy access for all. Dedicated disabled parking is close to the building main entrance. Going from the car park to the visitor centre is all on the same level, with no stairs or ramps to negotiate and no gravel. All doors to and within the visitor centre, including the gift shop and coffee shop, are wider than regular doors to ease wheelchair access, and there is two disabled toilets in two separate parts of the building. Both toilets have twist locks, transfer space and grab rails, and emergency alarm cords.
After my photos I went inside to the gift shop and purchased a few things. The gift shop was easy to manoeuvre around and also the cafe as I went in for a sandwich and drink to take away. Then going back to the car I started on my journey to Inveraray again, again driving along some great roads and seeing some amazing scenery. I had thought of detouring through Glen Etive (the road in James Bond Skyfall) but it was an extra hour on my journey which was already a four and a half hour drive from Portree on the Isle of Skye to Inveraray not including the detour to Eilean Donan castle. So I decided just to go my original route through Glencoe and I must say that route has some amazing views but the road was busier than I thought and I drove through all weathers on my way.
Once I reached Inveraray I had a quick look around as I drove through the town on the way to my hotel which was directly opposite Loch Fyne. I was staying the night at the Loch Fyne Hotel and Spa. Just as I was about to get out the car the skies opened and there was a downpour so I sat in the car for a few minutes until it eased off. I had parked in a dedicated disabled parking space out the front of the hotel. Once I was inside I checked in and was given my room key and a key to the lift and told that they only had one key for the lift so I was obviously the only wheelchair user in the hotel that night. I was shown to a little lift like the ones used in minibuses and wheelchair accessible vehicles that took you up the first flight of stairs then I was shown along the corridor to a proper lift to go to my room on the second floor. The room I had booked was just a little single room for my final night but it was clean and tidy and easily manoeuvrable. The bathroom was spacious and clean and wet room style again with a wheel in shower and shower seat.
I got myself settled and watched some tv before going downstairs for an evening meal but I chose not to eat in the restaurant dining room but just the bar and I only had a main course and pint of cider as I had been eating well all week I thought I would have a change. After going back to the room the weather outside was a bit wild and windy again but it was pretty quiet in the room and the view was a bit of a change being on the second floor for a change.
The next morning after my shower I had a cup of tea in the room and then packed up and went down to check out, I decided not to go for breakfast that morning. Once leaving I decided to visit Inveraray Castle as the last time I was in Inveraray was in 1976 or 1977 with my parents over 40 years ago when I was just a year and a half old and the castle was in the process of being rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1975.
I got to the ticket booth and opened my car window and asked the woman in the booth what the castle was like for wheelchair access. She told me that the car park may be difficult as it was gravel and there was quite a steep ramp on the steps at the front entrance but there was a guide at the front entrance who would help me with the ramp if needed. I told her that I should manage but it’s good to know that someone is there to help if needed. She printed my ticket and told me it’s free to disabled people as they can only get around the ground floor rooms but they are still very nice to see and to check the armoury room as she said it was stunning and definitely worth a visit and she was not wrong. I thanked her and drove to the front of the Castle to the signed disabled parking and got out.
The gravel car park was the hardest I’ve ever had to push over it was pretty difficult the wheelchair just seemed to sink into the gravel then the ramp was a lot steeper than I thought but I managed but some people would definitely need help. Once inside the rooms on the ground floor are easily accessible and manoeuvrable. The armoury room is absolutely stunning and you simply have to have a look for yourself if you go. After I finished looking around the castle it was the final couple of hours drive home.
So to sum things up in my opinion. I know some places just don’t have the money to make changes but I have gave my opinion on what changes would help. I realise some peoples opinions will be different but this is just my opinions on the accessibility.
The travelodge in Inverness:
It was good and easily accessible and a good size room. The only thing that I would change is that I would remove the bath and make the bathroom a wet room with wheel in shower and shower seat.
The Seaview Hotel John O’Groats:
I would move the ring for attention bell at reception from the wall onto the reception desk it is still a bit high but would make it a lot easier to reach and the separate building had a little lip at the front door I would smooth that down as sometimes your wheel hits it and doesn’t go over it. The bathroom maybe add an emergency pull cord as I don’t think it had one (can’t honestly remember) and with some rooms being in a separate building from the hotel would be good in case of emergency.
SmooCave Hotel Durness:
Remove the single bed and move the chest of drawers to where the single bed is or remove the double bed replace with another single bed so it’s just two single beds side by side and put the chest of drawers against the wall the where the original single bed was. Remove the bath from the bathroom and change to a wet room wheel in shower with a shower seat.
The Plockton Hotel:
The room was perfect, the bathroom had everything needed. The only change I would maybe make is put a disabled call button on the second front door at reception as it is a double door and you need to have both sides opened to get through it as not wide enough just one side but if they don’t know you are there they can’t help so a buzzer would help to let them know someone needs both sides of the door open.
The Royal Hotel Portree:
Easy access, huge room wet room wheel in shower with shower seat and emergency cord in bathroom. Restaurant dining room easily accessible. Nothing I would change.
Loch Fyne Hotel and Spa Inveraray:
Maybe a ground floor room or two as the room I had was on the second floor not exactly a good thing if there was a fire, as you can’t use lifts in the event of a fire and more than one lift key would be better. The room itself was fine and the bathroom too, maybe an emergency call cord as I can’t honestly remember if it had one. Everything else was easily accessible.
The rooms with the extra beds.
The travelodge Inverness:
Had a double bed and a single camp bed. A good idea if you have a child with you. I understand that some disabled people have a carer but if you have a partner with you sometimes you just want to be alone with them and having a carer in your room on camp bed could be a bit awkward. Maybe the carer can have a separate room as if you are with a partner then they will know your needs and disabilities and can help with most things and if they need the help of your carer they can call them to come to the room.
The Seaview Hotel John O’Groats:
Had a double bed and a singlebed. Like the travelodge above. A good idea if you have a child with you. I understand that some disabled people have a carer but if you have a partner with you sometimes you just want to be alone with them and having a carer in your room sharing could be a bit awkward. Maybe the carer can have a separate room as if you are with a partner then they will know your needs and disabilities and can help with most things and if they need the help of your carer they can call them to come to the room.
SmooCave Hotel Durness:
The room is not really big enough for a double bed and a single like it had so maybe remove the single and if it’s for a carer they can get a room of their own and your partner can call them to come to help if they really need help with your disability. Or if it’s a single person and a carer and the carer has to stay in the same room remove the double bed and replace with another single bed making it a twin room.
Loch Fyne Hotel and Spa. This was a single room but they do have a room with an adjoining room for a carer if you need one
Please remember that this is just my opinion and ideas and some people will have other opinions. I understand money is an issue with making the changes.