What’s in a name?…….and the name is “accessible”……..

Accessible, Well, we all know what that means now, don’t we? Read on…..

Accessible? A few weeks ago my partner and I were feeling a little stir crazy and thought we deserved a weekend away, so that’s what we planned.
(Ironically this was the weekend just prior to hearing Government advice not to travel unless totally necessary. So, we had a lovely three days of gorgeous villages, artisan markets, great weather, excellent meals and too much to drink, to return to a different world. If we thought we were stir crazy then….?)

Anyway, back to the break. I followed my tried and tested routine – First, I checked the hotel booking websites which have a “disabled facilities” filter, and found the Solberge Hotel in North Yorkshire which seemed to offer everything we were looking for. Being experienced at this game, and knowing that the hotels self-assess for the booking sites, I then rang the hotel to check before making a final decision to book.

My first line is always along the lines of “Hello, do you have accessible rooms? I’m a wheelchair user who cannot walk at all”. The response was very positive, I was assured they had several accessible rooms with the facilities I needed, I proceeded to book, and the next morning off we went.

Entrance to the hotel

On arrival the hotel looked gorgeous – lovely extensive grounds, imposing buildings, great location – we were off to a good start.

As we pulled up it was obvious we couldn’t negotiate the main entrance without a ramp but disabled parking was signed so we knew there would be another entrance somewhere. We parked up in the properly marked spaces and looked around. There was a courtyard with several doors but no signage at all as to which we should use as guests (especially disabled ones). My partner had to walk around to the front entrance to ask. A lovely Receptionist then came around to indicate which door we should use. There was nothing at all to indicate this was for guests not staff.

Finally arriving at the desk, I signed in and then the Receptionist realised the room previously allocated was not going to be appropriate at all! I explained my conversation and she shook her head, made a phone call then said to my partner “Follow me”.

Aeriel Image of the Sondberge Hotel from the front

She was led out by the back entrance, across the courtyard to be shown the newly selected room. My partner realised it was large and luxurious but not properly appointed. She also knew there was no alternative available, we were already here, and I was resourceful, so she accepted it.

Across the courtyard we went with our luggage. The first door into a corridor area had a small step. This was negotiable but very awkward when you have to hold the door open whilst you pull yourself up. Sharp turn then leads to the door of our room(s). Another small step on entry?! You had to turn and hold the key whilst turning the knob whilst negotiating the step! Accessible room?

Finally inside, I explored our domain. We had a massive room, access through to another even bigger room, and a large bathroom with bath and separate shower.

But what we hadn’t got was any accessible feature at all. Plenty of space but not a single aid. We both knew we could manage for two nights (we’ve been doing this a long time!) and I also knew from my research that the hotel had wedding and conference facilities. This was where I expected to find any accessible facilities I might need.

Image of Solberge Hall Hotel Wedding Facilities

I’ll go into some specifics but bear in mind two competent people in the hotel have dealt with my booking. Both knew I was a wheelchair user who couldn’t walk, and both said they had an accessible room.

So, remember the lack of signage, the step out of the main building, the step into our section and the step into the room itself.

The main rooms themselves were brilliant because they were spacious – the problems were (as always) in the bathroom. The sink was fine, knee space, lever taps, decent height, space to put products.

The toilet was too low and with no grab rail or drop-down rail. Couldn’t transfer at all, or at least I could get on but I’d never get off!

The Bath looked great, but it was one of those free-standing affairs that didn’t touch the walls on any side. No support rails at all. Very deep, so if I fell in, I’d never, ever get out again! There was a shower fitted but all controls were at the far side of the bath so I couldn’t even have a wash by leaning over the side.

So, all hopes were on the separate shower. But, on inspection there was a huge step up into it (more than 20cms) and no support rails at all. No shower seat either. My only hope here would be to sit on the floor if necessary (which I’ve done many times in the past in my younger days, but I’m above all that now!)

Further exploration of the hotel revealed the conference and wedding wing. This was in a much newer part of the hotel, and, as I expected had a full suite of modern facilities. Here was the properly appointed accessible toilet. Not perfect, but enough basics for me to use it successfully – problem solved.

Now this always intrigues me – if the management knew they needed these facilities for disabled guests in this wing, how did they think those same guests could manage without any of those facilities in the residential part of the hotel?

Now, please don’t read this as a complaint – it’s not. It’s written more from a sense of bewilderment. It’s a lovely place and we had a great time. We would visit again in the future. All the staff were superb. But I keep thinking how two (senior) staff could think that they were offering “accessible” facilities, and advertising themselves as such on websites? I’m currently in touch with the managing company. There has to be room for someone like me to advise them on how to improve their offering.

Watch this space!

And please, when you’re booking a hotel, ring them in person and ask specific questions that relate to your needs. Asking if they have accessible facilities may not be enough!

Keep safe,