Lovely London
by Maye Brosnan © 1999

Maye Brosnan visited an old friend in London and found that British city’s access lovely.  

When my high school buddy, Joy Willis, invited me to hop the pond and stay in her accessible flat for a week last spring, I immediately booked a flight to London. She and I met in my 10th grade English class shortly after my spinal cord injury. Joy had polio as a child and used Canadian crutches. We were the only disabled kids in a large suburban school and became friends fast. A few years after graduation, she returned to her home in London, but we’ve kept in touch over the years.

I flew from Cincinnati  to London on Delta Airlines. The restrooms (as usual) were too small to use. Anticipating this, I curbed my liquids before and during the flight.

I use a manual chair and was relieved that it survived the luggage compartment intact. Upon arrival, an airline worker delivered it to the cabin door where I transferred from the narrow skychair.

Our plane arrived at Gatwick Airport and its accessible restroom was a welcome sight! Since Gatwick is outside of London, I took an express train from the terminal to London’s Victoria Station. Access to the train was step-free and a staff member escorted me to a wheelchair space.

Joy was waiting for me at Victoria Station, where she had scheduled one of London’s big black taxis, complete with wheelchair ramps. The cab was easy for me to board, but Joy found it awkward to climb inside with her crutches.

After we reached her flat in Knightsbridge, she and I visited a nearby pub. We snacked on fish and chips and beer, and talked for hours. By the end of the evening I was ready to collapse. Jet lag was setting in.

I slept in late the next day, and after a leisurely breakfast at Joy’s, we headed for Harrod’s, the famous department a few blocks away. I found the sidewalks smooth and curb cuts were plentiful en route to this dazzling store. The first floor was filled with lovely art objects far beyond my budget, but it was still fun to tour this megalith of shopping.

Their Food Hall offers an astounding variety of cuisines. Where else can one find 350 types of cheese or 150 types of bread? Visitors can also choose from an amazing variety of fish, homemade pasta, sushi, and ethnic foods, not to mention an ample array of exotic fruits and veggies. The bakeries and candy departments are equally dazzling, but I bet that even the air has calories there.

Since I’m a history nut, Joy’s friend, Kate, offered to drive us over to see Westminster Abbey, the burial place of kings, queens, and writers for centuries. The abbey is located right across from Parliament Square, and Big Ben is also nearby.

By entering the north doors of the abbey, we avoided the steps. There is also a portable ramp at the west door for exiting the abbey. A good deal of the building is viewable in a wheelchair, but some chapels had steps that blocked my entry.

Joy had to work the rest of the week, so I had to figure out my own tourist schedule during the daytime. The tube’s (subway) inaccessibility, was out of the question, so if I couldn’t roll somewhere under my own power, I used the taxis with ramps.

I chose to spend the next day, which was quite chilly with rain, in the British Museum on Great Russell St. Fortunately, I brought my hooded rain poncho, which I wore over a warm jacket.. I arrived by taxi and would have felt intimidated by the many steps leading up to the stately building, if Joy hadn’t assured me that there was an outside lift to the left of the stairs at the main entrance. I rang the bell for assistance, and a guard appeared. Soon I was rolling through an enormous gallery filled with massive Egyptian stone carvings.

This museum is largely a repository of treasures captured from those days when the sun never set on the British Empire. The treasures included the Elgin marbles from Greece, Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta stone, Roman statues, along with many Medieval and Renaissance treasures. The list is endless. Prehistoric artifacts, Shakespeare folios, and even a handwritten Lennon and McCartney song were all handsomely displayed. I spent the entire day wandering through the many galleries. Then I went a bit crazy shopping in their bookshop, but what’s a credit card for? Accessible restrooms are located by the restaurant at the end of Room 2.

British Museum Access

As you can see, I crammed a lot of sightseeing into that week. Here are some access notes on other places I visited.

The National Gallery at Trafalger Square has a tremendous European painting collection that includes Rembrandt, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. Wheelchair entrances are available at the Salisbury Wing and Orange Street. The free floor map shows where the lifts are located. The first floor has an accessible unisex restroom and snack bar.

Since the Tower of London’s buildings are hundreds of years old, I wasn’t expecting a great deal of access. The cobblestone paths there were jarring to say the least, but a look at the famous Crown Jewels (viewed from an accessible moving walkway) was worth the effort. An accessible restroom is on the premises.

The Changing of the Guards occurs at 11:10 a.m. in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. As the crowd was quite large, I found viewing this event in a wheelchair extremely difficult.

London is a bibliophile’s dream—especially the stretch of road from Trafalgar Square to the Tottenham Court Road. Old and new, expensive and cheap, they’re all here. The access to many of these shops was flat or with only one step. Unfortunately, the upper and lower floors could only be reached by stairs.

My last evening in London, Joy and I went to see the musical “Cats.” Since many of London’s theaters are quite old, it’s good to check access before buying tickets. That was easy to do. Joy contacted Artsline London’s Information & Advice Service for Disabled People on Arts & Entertainment. They have a large database describing access to cinemas theaters, museums, etc.

"Cats" was playing at the New London Theatre on Drury Lane, WC2 Box Office Tel: 0171 405 0072

They had a wheelchair space and an accompanying seat for Joy available, and we were instructed to arrive 30 minutes before the performance. Our excellent seats were very close to the stage (four rows back).

Although I covered a great deal of London in seven short days, I am far from satiated. Whoever said, “If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life” had it absolutely right.

Resources

Tripscope, the Courtyard, Evelyn Road, Chiswick W45JL (Tel: O181-994-9294) provides free info and advice on how to reach a particular destination.

Dial-A-Cab (Tel: 0171 253-5000) is a good source to book cabs with ramps.

Holiday Care Service, 2nd Floor, Imperial Buildings, Victoria Road, Horley, Surrey, England RH6 7PZ is a good source for accessible hotel info. 

Web Sites

Access in London 
Excellent guidebook for London and its environs.

RADAR (The Royal Association for Disability And Rehabilitation) 
Offers travel guides for the UK and Europe.

Everybody's Hotel Directory
Lists over 2,000 accessible hotels in the U.K.

Editor's note: For another view of London, see Norman Cooper's excellent London article in our Travel Archives section.

Top of Page

Global Access News Index
Back to Travel Archives
clearpath@cox.net

Copyright © Global Access News 2006, 1996-2010 "All Rights Reserved"