Britain on a Budget!
By Lisa Elaine White © 2002

Lisa Elaine White and her partner, Aaron, traveled from Perth, Australia to Singapore and Great Britain. Their journey, which was challenging at times,  proved to be both affordable and doable. Come along as they cover the map of Britain.

As a bilateral lower limb amputee, I have prosthetic legs and a wheelchair. Due to volume problems with my stumps, I chose to avoid blisters by wearing my legs only when required on our holiday to Britain. At times, my legs made life a lot easier and were almost essential. This set the tone for our trip, where my legs helped me up and down stairs, and my wheelchair got me places. We took the bare minimum luggage, and fitted all our possessions into one backpack, which my partner carried. I fly in my wheelchair, due to volume changes. I found Singapore Airlines helpful, although I did compete with babies for the bulkhead seats and had to assert myself with their repeated seating errors. 

Lisa's traveling partner, Aaron on the London Eye.

During our stop-over in Singapore, we stayed with friends, who lived in Yishun, on the 10th floor, with the lift down one flight, so I needed my legs. Cabs in Singapore are not accessible, unless you have a fold-up wheelchair. The train system is the main mode of transport, and it is elevated above the city. We tackled the escalators with my legs, and Aaron lifted my wheelchair up behind me. The officials were most disconcerted by our independence! Some stations did have elevators, so it is worth asking for help. The centre of Singapore is relatively friendly, apart from the constant work being done to the pavements, forcing you out onto the road. If you enjoy shopping, a few of the malls are completely accessible, with toilets on every level, and in contrast others are utterly inaccessible.

Chinatown was hard going, with high curbs, and Little India even more so--not for the faint hearted! We visited Haw Paw Villa, a theme park of Chinese legends. It is one of the best sights in Singapore, but 50% is riddled with stairs. It is free to get in and still worthwhile. The Chinese Gardens are a lovely, largely accessible day trip.

A friend picked us up in London (although there is a wheelie-friendly shuttle bus around the centre of London from Heathrow). We spent 2 nights in a hotel in Euston, which was wheelchair friendly, but the room (booked by a friend) was not, so I crawled into the floor of the shower and needed help with the taps. 

Central London
is full of sloped curbs and pedestrian crossings, so apart from the distances my partner, Aaron (left on the London Rye), pushed me, it was easy travelling. Brave persons can try the 'wheelchair accessible' buses, but you definitely need a manual chair and help, as most drivers do not even flip the ramp down, and you have to compete with pushchairs (caused a few embarrassing moments). 

The tube also now has a wheelchair access guide, but the lifts seem to be frequently broken down, so we stuck to the buses. London has the best wheelchair friendly cabs in the world, the Black Cabs, however, we chose to save money and put my manual chair in the back of minicabs when we needed one. My wheelchair saved us a lot of money, often my partner got in for free. Highly recommended for accessibility in London are the London Eye and the new Tate Modern Gallery with its pedestrianised bridge. The British Museum has a small lift up the huge front stairs, but it was broken, so I shocked onlookers by walking up the steps in my prosthetics, while Aaron carried my chair up!

Lisa at Balloch, Loch Lomond, Scotland Aaron & Lisa at 
Loch Lomond, Scotland

We headed up to Scotland to attend a wedding in Loch Lomond. We'd pre-booked the trains, on the Great Northern Railways, and these were not accessible. I stepped up the large narrow step into the train and walked to my seat, while Aaron folded my wheelchair and put it into the luggage compartment. 

Once in Glasgow, we caught a train to Balloch (Loch Lomond). We had a very helpful staff with ramps, a wheelchair friendly train, and a wheelchair friendly bus to Gatocharn, to our B & B, the Old Schoolhouse. We could have stayed at a number of Glasgow hotels but we decided on the Old Schoolhouse because this B & B had ramps, and the bathroom with toilet included, but the shower required me to get on the floor. The owner was extremely helpful, and even took us to the wedding!


The wedding was at the Ross Priory, a Heritage Listed building. My legs were essential to get me up the stairs. However, there were plenty of seats so I sat for most of the night, and we caught a local cab home.

Aaron gives Lisa a lift to view the waterfall at Burn O'Vat.

Our next destination was Aberdeen, via Glasgow on the train, to visit a friend. He lived up a flight of stairs, so my legs were very important for the next 5 days.

The blessing of the UK is that most people have baths with hand-held showers. I became adept at climbing in and out of them. Our friend had a car, so he drove us to the local sights. We visited the stunning Dunnotar Castle, which involved two massive flights of rocky stairs that not even our friends attempted. The view was nevertheless stunning from our vantage point. We went to the coastal town of Stonehaven for fish & chips. Our friend took us to a tiny waterfall called Burn O'Vat, where Aaron carried me in between & over some precarious stones.

Balmoral castle was closed to visitors, but the grounds were open. The Maritime Museum in Aberdeen was accessible, as were many of the bars/pubs. The best pub was the Revolution Bar, which sold a vast array of vodka and had a very cool wooden lift, which blended in totally with the surrounds. In Aberdeen we picked up our pre-arranged hire car. The company in the UK that provides cars with hand controls charged £40 per day, so for half the price, Aaron drove for the next 2 weeks. We got a free upgrade, and the Vectra fitted my chair in the boot nicely and made life easier for Aaron. The car meant we could drive right up to the place we needed to be. Australian ACROD stickers are not acceptable over there. Parking permits are available through individual councils. However, many places simply did not have disabled parking.

The sun shone as we drove through Carlisle on our way to the Lake District. We hoped to visit Carlisle Castle, however the lift to the high overpass taking us over the very busy main road was out of action. There seemed no other way to cross the road, so we had to foresake this opportunity.

We drove to Egremont, a tiny town where a good friend's mother lives. She was very hospitable, and gave us details on the best places to go during our short stay in the Lakes. Another beautiful day graced us, and we drove in a circle around the Lakes, beginning at Whitehaven, famous for its tall ships. The Rum Story traced the area's history in the slave and rum trade. Accessible & fun. 

We saw Castlerigg, a circle of 48 stones, believed to be 3000 years old, in the middle of a paddock of sheep. Apart from dodging sheep dung, this site is very accessible, and not too far to walk either. Cockermouth is home to the Jenning's Brewery. Tours were semi-accessible and take 1.5hrs. Great spot for cheap pub lunches. 

Ambelside
was purely charming, but very touristed in summer. Grasmere was equally so, but the parking makes accessibility difficult, and the only accessible toilets in the town were in a café, as the Tourist Information was on strike!
Nevertheless, it is still worth a wander about. 

We gleaned directions in the café about the specific road to take to access Hard Knots Pass. First we had to find Wynose Pass. These steep, winding, narrow roads led us back across to the other side of the mountains, to the Cumbrian coastline where we were staying. This was by far one of my most memorable experiences. The steep rises required a good gearbox, and the drops were terrifying. The scenery is worth every minute. It is however, very easy to get lost when finding Wynose Pass, so get some firm directions. Once on the other side, we visited the Sellarfield Power Plant, excellently accessible, who had a thought-provoking museum on the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

Farewelling our friend, we headed to Wales, and stopped in Chester, which was filled with Victorian style houses. As with many of the towns, we found parking just out of the main city and wheeled it in. We went to a Roman ruins museum called Dewa Roman Experience, and were told to come back later as it was very busy and with the wheelchair may be crowded. This museum had made fabulous efforts in accessibility, with only a small area not accessible, however they did not provide a discount. The museum was complete with smells, sounds and moving figures and finished with some open excavations displaying the way the city had been built up through different periods, including Roman, Saxon, Medieval and modern day, which I found very interesting. We also went down to the waterfront, and found further Roman ruins in the form of an amphitheatre. 

Wales was challenging at times. We stayed at a youth hostel in Tremadog, near Porthmadog, called Snowdon Backpackers. The ownership had changed since I had booked the accommodation, and the outside 'barn-style' room with a toilet and shower was no longer used for backpackers, but by the new owners as their living quarters. However, the new owners kindly moved back into the main hostel, which was also the birthplace of Lawrence of Arabia. The bedrooms in the main hostel were up a flight of stairs, which is why the previous owners had planned to accommodate us in the outside barn. 

The new owners put a bunk bed in the end of the large room, and curtained it off, leaving us access to the shower (sit on the floor again required) and toilet (accessible up a tiny stair). The ground floor of the main hostel was accessible up a large step, leading to a bar and through to a kitchen via a narrow door, which I could only just squeeze my small wheelchair through. Tremadog was a tiny little town, and we checked out one of the local pubs for dinner. 

We headed to Llanberis the next day, at the base of Mt Snowdon. The cable car railway took us 1085m up the summit, and required me to vacate my wheelchair and abandon it forlornly at the station. I needed my legs to get me on the train, and at the top, they provided me with a chair. It was futile, however, as the rolling mist was so heavy, any hopes of sprawling views were dashed. Aaron managed to scramble to the rocky peak and have an atmospheric photo taken, while I huddled in the café. We did have the luxury of sitting at the front with the driver, who was a lovely local lad. We visited the Welsh Slate Museum in Llanberis, highly commended for its lift taking you up to observe the massive water wheel.

Dinner that night was in Porthmadog, which is a 15-minute walk from Tremadog along a flat path. It rained on the way, so we were quite wet by the time we found a restaurant to enjoy a Welsh roast. We followed this with a visit to the 'Australia Pub', so named after a group of Australians whose ship visited the town in the 1800's. We thought it apt, as we live in Australia.

We were keen to travel to our next destination, which was near Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire coast. I made an orientation error, and we found ourselves in Haverfordwest, a tiny, bright town seemingly built down the side of a dramatic slope. We parked the car with the intention of having a look, but quickly found the sheer slopes a veritable wheelie nightmare, so we retreated and pushed on to our accommodation. The youth hostel, called Caherfod Lodge, was family run, and located between Fishguard and St David's, right on the coast. The most stunning view could be enjoyed from the small garden outside the well planned kitchen. We shared the hostel with twenty British teenagers, on a school kayaking camp. Consequently, the owners kindly spared a 4-bedded room for our personal use. Apart from the huge step to enter the room, the toilet and shower was accessible heaven, complete with shower chair. All for £9 a night! On recommendations, we went to a tiny seaside village nearby, Porthgain, for dinner at the Sloop Inn. Tiny tug boats dotted the miniature harbor, which was overlooked by some old ivy-covered slate work buildings. The sunset from the coastal path was spectacular, but the journey up there, along a rocky uneven path, limited how far I could go, both on foot and in the chair. 

In Fishguard we went to the town hall to see the famous tapestry commemorating the last invasion of Britain, . Sadly, the hall was under repair, so we stopped for a greasy breakfast instead. 

St David's, on the bottom corner of the Pembroke coast, was so named for the massive church, which lies almost hidden in a valley in the town. The knave in St David's church was accessible for a wheelchair user; however, to reach the upper chapels, a door around the back of the huge building must be entered. Despite the confusion caused by the girl in the shop, who claimed we could simply open the door, although the brochure stated we must ask for assistance, this part of the church was worth the effort. Aaron ended up going back through the church and unlatching the door form the inside to let me in.

Next to the church is the Bishop's Palace, crumbling remains of a bishop's residence from the 1300's. This is not fully accessible, and in acknowledgement I was let in for free, where I was able to see the entire ground floor and stone walled rooms, complete with some excellent interpretive displays showing what the palace must have once looked like.

Lisa at Petre llfan, a 4,500-year-old Neolithic cromlech (burial chamber).

I wanted to see the Castell Henlys Iron Age Settlement, a reconstruction of the circular huts the inhabitants of Iron Age Wales were thought to use. We arrived at the front entrance, where we paid full price, and the attendant asked Aaron if he was 'fit and healthy.' We should have heard alarm bells, but we dismissed his comment. What he failed to tell us was the incline on the slopes was a nightmare, blue-stone chip paths, and extremely dusty. My trousers were in a constant state of grubbiness due to the dust rising up from these paths common to Wales. By the time we made our way up to the village, I no longer wished to see it! The interior of the huts were well-presented, and archeological digs were under way for children. However, my recommendation for wheelies and mobility limited individuals is don't bother. Petre Ilfan is a 4,500 year old Neolithic cromlech (burial chamber), located near Castell Henlys

We also stopped at a tiny village called Nevern, which is famous for its tiny Church of St Brynach, boasting some incredibly old gravestones inscribed in both Latin and ancient Celt language called Ogham. Idyllic setting.
This night we saved our pennies and Aaron cooked a meal. 

On the way to Dorchester the next day, we stopped in at the St. Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life, just outside of Cardiff. We chose to skip Cardiff, as we had both been there before. St Fagan's was a very touristed attraction, and the paths were all accessible. Interestingly, an award winning design for the house of the future contained a wheelchair lift up to the second story, but sadly the bathrooms were not accessible! The trek down to the castle at the far end of the outdoor museum is not worth the amount of effort involved in getting back up the steep inclines, and certainly the best part of the massive museum was an area off to the left, designed as an 18th-century Welsh village. The cobbled street featured terrace houses, a photography shop, sweet shop, and deli typical of those times. Although we found out too late that a wheelchair accessible bus ran down to the castle area, I would have simply saved both our energies and headed straight for the village if we had known!

Dorchester is a beautiful spot on the south coast, and there we visited a friend, who lived in some old miners' residences. Her lovely flat had rooms upstairs, perfect bathroom down and was too small for a wheelchair, so my legs were essential. 

We had a lovely time visiting Weymouth the following day while she was at work, where we saw the beachfront and ate fish and chips. We found Weymouth a lovely spot, despite the cool weather, which lent a comical air to the fairground style attractions common to British beaches.

After our stay in Dorchester, we drove to Cornwall, to a hostel in Newquay which claimed to be wheelchair accessible. Having been to Exeter before, we only made quick stop to appreciate the stunning Exeter Cathedral church of St Mary and St Peter, which has been a church site since 932.

Newquay was terribly overcast when we arrived, and the hostel, which I had been led to believe was 'new', simply was an old hotel converted into a hostel under new management. When I e-mailed to find out about accessibility, the owners had simply looked at the lift and decided it was. We had booked a 'bed and breakfast' style room, for which they were charged an exorbitant £22 a night, for an ensuite, mismatched linen and threadbare towels. It made the Old Schoolhouse look like paradise! 

We arrived at the base of a flight of stairs up to the entrance, and laughed. Aaron went indoors to find out if there was another access, as I did not have my legs on. They were dumbfounded. They hadn't thought of the stairs. However. the fire exit had a large step which was mountable by the wheelchair, so this became our access during the stay. 

The pathway is only available at low tide, and the stairs on the island were even more challenging, according to Aaron. It was a great chance to catch up on postcards!

St. Ives is a tiny picturesque town, filled with quaint cobbled streets and art galleries. The streets were gorgeous, and although I was becoming tired of bumpy cobbled pavements, it was worth the effort to appreciate the quaint feel of the seaside town. We visited the Barbara Hepworth museum, for which I needed my legs and Aaron lifted my wheelchair up the steps. We also intended on visiting the Tate St Ives, which was extremely wheelchair friendly, however we ran out of time.

We took the time to visit some of the most bizarre museums in Britain while in Cornwall, including Magical Musical Machines. This collection of organs, including Wurlitzers and Theatre Pipe Organs, is displayed by the rather eccentric owner Paul Corin, who takes you through every machine with a passion. 

Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosity
is a slightly nauseating taxidermists dream. A Victorian museum featuring an large array of stuffed animals, bizarrely dressed up in different poses. Of special note are the kitten’s tea party, wedding, and the rabbits in the schoolhouse. Only the lower level is accessible, however they let me in for free, and I scaled the upper floor in my legs, such was my morbid fascination!

Tintagel, home to King Authur’s Castle on Tintagel Head, is totally inaccessible, buy it is a very pretty little town still worth a visit. It features a 14th- century house-cum-post office, also not accessible, but gorgeous all the same. A local informed me the track leading to the castle could be accessed by a wheelchair, but it didn’t look very safe to me! 

Charlestown
on a sunny day is the quintessential port town, known for its Shipwreck and Heritage Centre, which deserves a thumbs up for accessibility. It is costly however, so an interest in shipwrecks is necessary!  

Newquay is filled with young girls with bare midriffs and lads toting surfboards. The 'Walkabout' nightclub has wheelchair access, and the nearby Koola, but both charge, and all have very long queues. The pub near our hostel, the Red Lion, was accessible, and we found a more mature, relaxed crowd in there. 

Our best find was internet access down near the laundromat, on one of the back streets, in a local college for £2 an hour. It was fully accessible, unlike may of the shops and cafes along the streets of Newquay. The large pedestrianised area in the center is very easy to get about however.

The Eden Project

We were keen to see the Eden Project, in Cornwall, which consists of two huge bio-domes containing a large variety of flora from all over the globe, grown and cared for in an environmentally friendly manner. The Project was opened in 2001 and gets a thumbs up for disability friendliness. There is an accessible bus going down to the domes, and toilets on both levels. Aaron got in for free, as he was my 'helper', and only a few spots had stairs within the domes, with plenty of warning so you don't find yourself stuck. Although it is £10 to get in, it's a worthwhile day trip. 

The Minnack Theatre

Another day in Cornwall was spent heading out to Lands End, a spectacular area. We had dinner at the "First and Last Pub in England,",also accessible but not toilets, and headed to the Minnack Theatre for an evening show. The Minnack Theatre is a truly unforgettable experience, located on the Cliffs of Treen, and built entirely by a local woman 100 years ago. The wheelchair access takes you to the uppermost deck, looking out over the stage below, and the amazing sea and cliffs. The tickets were again discounted, and there were disabled toilets. 

We visited a church in St Just, called St Just in Roseland, which was known to be the most beautiful churchyard in Britain, complete with Celtic crosses. A word of warning-the toilet is not accessible for wheelchairs!

A quick whip through Penzance and Mousehole the next day precluded our visit to St Michael's Mont. I sat in the pub facing the famous monastery nursing a pint, while Aaron made the journey down a flight of steps, across the bumpy stone path from the mainland to the island on which the Mont is located.

From Cornwall our holiday was coming to an end. We sadly drove back to London, stopping on the way at Castle Combe, a tiny, English village with a meandering stream and medieval stone cottages. St Andrew’s Church contains a monument to 13th century Walter de Dunstananville. Take you own lunch-the pubs are hideously over priced! A fairy tale village well worth a visit.

This was the first time I’d revisited many  places since my illness, and I was surprised at how much easier it was than I’d imagined. The best times were seeing all our friends again. Without Aaron, it could have been more expensive and a lot more hard work. But not impossible!

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