… to the Edinburgh Fringe

Fed up with bleating that we’d just never got around to visiting Edinburgh for the annual comedy festival, we decided to give it a go. We requested a brochure online and the hefty document told us all we needed to know. Based on the accessibility of each venue we booked around 10 shows to visit over three days – a mixture of household names, Fringe stalwarts and some that sounded good, like for instance A Play, a Pie and a Pint. We had no idea what to expect.

We took he train north as the programme was getting into gear, but before the hotels hiked their prices, and checked into the Bruntsfield, run by Best Western. It has friendly staff and an excellent accessible basement room.

We immediately fell in love with the spirit of the Fringe and the good nature of the people who make it happen; most visibly the hundreds of students whose sole job was to hand out flyers. Each of them showed an interest in us and were happy to talk about ‘their’ act and, if they were able to, the features of the venue. The audience members we encountered in various bars were extremely pleasant and several of them bought us drinks, which was kind since the queues were long and the beer dear. We never encountered anyone who wasn’t having a great time.

While we stuck to the pre-paid plan, we also allowed ourselves to be hauled off the street into one free show by its eager promoter. This made us feel supportive.

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There’s a Blue Badge button on the railing!

Each venue delivered the promised access, bar one. The le Monde at 16 George Street is perfectly accessible, once you have negotiated the five steps up from the street. The management thought that the staff they had available to manhandle one up and down made it qualify as wheelchair friendly. Indeed, inside it featured lifts to all floors and an impressive bathroom. I took some time to explain this flaw in their otherwise impeccable strategy and I’m still not sure they got it. But the moral is, the Fringe Society doesn’t have the resources to check every venue.

The other issue is the labyrinth of steep lanes, some I swear occupying three or four dimensions, and cobbled courtyards in the very centre of the action that you will be unable to avoid. Bring a friend and a Freewheel.

… to Royal Windsor Races

We met up with old friends at this elegant old course in the shadow of Windsor Castle. It runs a race night on most summer Monday evenings and while there is no dress code, it was great to see a good proportion of ladies had dressed for the occasion, fascinators an’all. Our table was in the Blues & Royals enclosure which, next to the finish line, was a perfect location from which to view the course, graze and and drink Pimms. You also rate a Tote assistant who will make bets and pay any winnings for you.

For the first two events on the seven-race programme we bet off the card (I trust I sound like I know what I’m talking about) but soon gravitated towards track-side. A small disabled enclosure separates one from the hoi-polloi by a velvet rope, my first-ever. Emboldened by a small win (the nag’s name, Castellation, sounds a bit like “castration” and we just had the dog done) we inspected the runners for the next race in the parade ring. Quite small horses but beautifully muscled and with some lovely details shaved into their flanks. You don’t see that on Sky Sports.

Windsor races

£2.40, if I recall

The racing was exciting and the finishes were close. Access throughout posed no problems. While nearest to the action, our own table was some distance away from the enclosure’s entrance so we inspected the catering area (if you want to make a fuss, bear in mind you will be coming and going all evening). A jazz band played after the final race but we had to get home.

Weather clearly plays a big part in the success of an event like this, but we had a ball. Thoroughly recommended.

 

… to the Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch, Arizona

This accessible ranch lies within 360,000 acres of government land at the foot of the Mojave and Hualapai mountains, some 200 miles south-east of Las Vegas.

A guest or dude ranch sits at the more relaxing end of the cowboy experience market; you just turn up at the corral wearing long trousers and sensible shoes. Johnny and Juanita had bought some duds in Vegas.

A ramp and platform help you scramble into the comfortable Western saddle. Riding instructions were limited to how to start, aim and stop the docile Amigo and before long, behind a wrangler, we headed into the desert.

L-R Liddy, Linda, Jock & Andy

The Rough Riders

Twice each day our posse took well-trodden trails through the sand, up and down stony ridges past cactus and sagebrush. Joshua Trees grew everywhere and chest-high bushes were green from summer rains. We spied a tarantula, the odd deer and, now and again, one of the dogs put up a jack-rabbit.

At night we heard the eerie sound of coyotes and, later, you could tell they had been in the ranch.

Our rides are taken at the walk but, if you’re all up for it, the ponies are too. It’s the trotting that hurts, mate.

Three times a day the bell outside the canteen clanged and guests and staff gather for hearty Western fare, including breakfast pancakes and evening steak. After dinner JP, the ranch owner, proudly doles out slabs of home-made pie.

The guest-rooms are spacious – our group shared a two-bedroom cabin with a communal lounge – and all of them are adapted to strict ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. That means wet-rooms or tubs with handrails, and a step-free environment throughout. The small swimming pool features a hoist and a rail into the hot-tub.

One day we rode for two hours into the foothills of the Mohave mountains, following dry washes past  Saguaro cactuses, over and around the stony slopes. We stopped in a gully for a sandwich lunch and I dismounted by collapsing into friendly arms. Later I was manhandled back on board much like a set of saddlebags.

We took a 400-mile side-trip to the Grand Canyon. Nearer to the ranch is the Western Rim, where the glass-bottomed SkyWalk enables you to venture above the yawning void. However several people at the ranch recommended the Southern rim for more spectacular views. It was also considered less busy – especially at weekends.

As a disabled driver – our rented SUV was fitted with hand-controls – Johnny was allowed to drive and park along the rim, rather than scramble on and off the tour buses. To take advantage of this valuable concession, talk to the Park Ranger at the ticket booth.

At the end of our last day, the still-Rough Riders rode out as the sun eased down over the mountains. In his cowboy rig, Johnny knew that 30 hours later at Gatwick we would look ridiculous. But a man’s gotta do.