Lockdown has been a tough time for blind and visually impaired people. New layouts, extra signage and social distancing can be difficult when you can’t see. We can’t sort the pandemic, but there is something we can do to help blind or visually impaired people in our local area (including John).
We have been using our local exercise during lockdown to check that pedestrian crossings have been working properly and as they should. Together as a team we can check all elements both sides of a crossing (button, lights and the tactile spinner underneath). If it doesn’t work we report it using an app and website called FixMyStreet where you can pinpoint the problem, share a photo and a report is sent to the council.
The issues we have reported using the app have been fixed within days. We have been impressed! We would love it if you could give any crossing boxes a little check when you next pass one. It could really help somebody. A whole host of issues can be reported including broken/missing signage, fly tipping and problems with bus shelters so it’s a pretty useful app. Most of the buttons are screen reader accessible but pinpointing the location on a map can be difficult. TIP: If the app is closed and you open it when you are in the right location the location pin should automatically be in your current position.
This lockdown seems harder than all of the others. We have less to do and at times we have found it tough (like many I am sure). While the colder weather has meant it has been easier to spend time inside this time around we’d still much prefer the canal towpaths we’re in slightly better condition so we could get back out on the tandem!
Today we have been blessed with lots and lots of snow! We hit the park with Guide Dog Daisy and had a blast: Building snowmen, throwing snowballs and all that kind of stuff. Great fun!
Take a look at our video from our trip to Cornwall, where John became the first blind person to climb commando ridge.
Graded a V-diff, it’s well within our capabilities but some routes are more blind friendly than others. Bosigran ridge is firmly on the less-than-friendly side with out-of-sight belays and lots of gaps and boulders to hop across.
On the 4th July, as lockdown restrictions eased, we found ourselves at the Bear Grylls Adventure, close to Birmingham. Probably like many other people at the moment, we found ourselves torn between being totally excited to do more of the things we love and a bit nervous. What will the new normal look like at an adventure park?
Our minds were soon put at ease by the welcoming staff members who greeted us (and checked our temperatures) upon arrival.
First up, climbing! For us, climbing is something we do plenty of, but with limited opportunities to train over the past few months, we couldn’t wait to spend some time ‘flying up’ some routes. There are some pretty challenging climbs there, so it’s worth a visit no matter your ability. It’s the closest thing to climbing outside, inside. Compared to our last visit, we felt pretty good on the rock, probably thanks to losing a few pounds, a bit of home training and our recent practice outside on real rock. We had a great time!
Lauren climbing some of the ‘limestone’ pockets.
The session wasn’t that much different to before. We went in and out in slightly different places and had zones to boulder and climb in, but we did just as much as before. There are less people on the sessions, plenty of hand sanitiser and they like you to wear a face covering if possible.
Next up was iFly. Again, the experience was just the same as before lockdown. We got kitted up and waited our turn in a different (bigger) area to before. You actually get a slightly better view from the new position so it’s no bad thing. We know having a blind person on a session isn’t too easy, especially for the first time, but we worked together with the instructor and it worked as well as ever with taps and tactile signals as before. The high fly was a real buzz too!
John is looking at the camera while skydiving. He is wearing an orange and grey jumpsuit, goggles and a helmet. An instructor named Harry is holding his shoulder and leg to keep him steady (for the camera!)
Last but not least, the obstacle course. To do this you have to wear a face covering, which can get a little hot, but it seems like a fair compromise to keep everybody safe. We also saw the area and obstacles being wiped down on a good few occasions on our visit. The instructor did a great job of helping and guiding John.
Sliding along a metal beam
Lauren finished the monkey bars for the first time!
Down the fireman’s pole
Over the wall. A run up is suggested but John prefers to ‘mantel’ up from a standstill.
We’re really happy we had a great day. The only teething issue we found was with the hearing loop on the front desk (I think somebody had unplugged it) but once we raised attention to it the team began to work on getting it up and running again. There’s also the classic VI challenge of not being able to touch items in the shop, but this is a wider issue in general something that there’s not an easy answer to.
The team at The Bear Grylls Adventure have done a remarkable job of keeping the quality of the experience the same despite the huge challenge of keeping things safe during the pandemic. We’d definitely recommend a visit!
Over recent weeks and months, we’ve slowly began to watch the world around us turn more ‘covid-secure’ and less accessible to those with a disability. Small oversights that have led to a big drop in some people’s independence and ability to get around.
At first we noticed that some disabled bays getting blocked off, an inconvenience for us (and the need for John to be extra careful with the car door!) but a major problem for wheelchair users or those who cannot walk far. In our minds, the solution would be to reserve a few more disabled bays where those originally there had been turned into queues, but it hasn’t happened on a wider scale and the queues look like they are due to stay for a while longer.
We’ve also noticed large parts of paths on high streets and retail parks get blocked off, forcing pedestrians into the carpark or roads close-by. Imagine doing that if you couldn’t see or hear.
This is why in recent times the outdoors has been easier for John to navigate. The below video was the first time John went out ‘alone’ with guide dog Daisy and it’s not something he is eager to do again.
Take a look at the report by Daniel Hewitt from ITV.
Leaving lockdown means navigating a new world for blind people, a world where social distancing is impossible and little thought has been given to how subtle changes hugely impact their ability to live their lives. Take 2 mins to watch John’s experience from my @itvnews report: pic.twitter.com/h8NLefcu1Y
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been climbing again (carefully). We want to be as safe as possible so sensible route and crag choices has been important. It’s so nice to get away from this new normality and forget about what has been going on for a short while. It’s not about pushing grades – it’s about spending time outdoors doing things we love.
Organising climbing kit in anticipation of a day’s climbingTop roping at a local crag with Anita Agawaal (paraclimber)Anita leading a climb and John belayingJohn has a first aid certificate. It didn’t cover ‘suncream in the eye’ but he still knew what to doJohn ‘seconding’ a route
A video from our day at Harborough rocks
Abseiling in at Symonds Yat
We’d love to know where everybody else has been climbing or having adventures now some of the restrictions have been lifted!
What a difference a month can make. This time a month a go we were planning adventures and talking of all the things we’d like to do this month and year; Climbing projects, cycle tours and lots of other little things. We’ve joined a massive club of people with cancelled plans and things we want to do that will just have to wait. But with all this comes a massive opportunity. One thing we never have quite enough of is time and now we have it in abundance.
We we’re supposed to be climbing when the announcement on lockdown began. Our van was loaded, we’d chosen a crag and we were really looking forward to spending some time on the rock for the first time this year, like lots of climbers we expect – the weather so far this year has been pretty rubbish for climbing so we we’re itching to get out on the rock. Obviously those plans had to change. We’ve been observing social distancing rules together, at John’s place in Birmingham. Being stuck indoors with your best mate is better than without (we hope – we’re still friends so far!)
What we have found so far is that we have been far from bored. In fact, we’ve had tonnes to do. We have so much time, and so many things we never quite have time to get around to doing to get done. Lauren has started to learn Yoga. John’s garage has never been so tidy and we’re motivated to exercise and train so we’re adventure ready when we’re the other side of this. The to-do list is shrinking down and it has felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pause, rest and catch up with everything.
If there was ever a time to take some time for yourself to do something you’ve wanted to do this might just be it. Learn to play an instrument, make videos, spend some time in the garden. Those of us who are working age might not ever have free time like this again until we are retired. Let’s make the most of it. Adventures can be planned now, but can certainly wait until later.
Our adventures, for the most part, are small. Things that we think anybody can and should #SayYesMore to. Walking, cycling, climbing trees, exploring our surroundings and dipping in the sea. Here are 5 reasons you should head out on a mini adventure!
1. They are some of the most fun
Some of our most fun adventures have been quick, easy and accessible to most people. Small and mighty adventures include checking out a waterfall in Wales, dipping in the sea on new year’s day and climbing a tree on the Isle Of Wight. If fun is what you are after a mini adventure might just be the ticket! Go for a walk, swing on the monkey bars, let yourself explore a path you’ve never been down, grab a towel and dip in the sea. Most of all, don’t worry about what other people think. The most fun stuff is usually the stuff adults ‘shouldn’t’ be doing!
2. There are loads of free or cheap things you can do
The top 4 things to do in Norfolk on Trip Advisor are all free to visit
While there’s loads of adventurous stuff you can pay to do, there are plenty of free or cheap versions too and we usually value the free ones just as much as the things we pay for (and we get to spend some our savings on cake at the end of the day! #Win ). Grab a bike or walking boots, pick a destination or somewhere to explore (like a beach, hill or bit of woodland) and go! Trip advisor is a great resource. Have you been to all of the top-rated places local to you? It’s often surprising to see how many ‘things to do’ are open spaces, landmarks and other places that are free to visit. Can you walk, cycle or use public transport somewhere you usually visit by car? That can be an adventure in itself.
3. No time = No problem
A mini adventure could range from a few hours do a couple of days. Ideally, you’d give yourself a full day to explore and enjoy what you are doing, without worrying about being back in time. But, if time is short, pick something small and get out there! Got work? Perhaps you could do a wildcamping microadventure. Al Humphries is the expert on this so take a look at his website here or take a look at WakeUpWild to find a group camp local to you.
4. You can still get outside of your comfort zone
Adventure starts when something starts to feel a little scary. We’re not naturally bold and brave people but we do have a ‘go for it’ attitude. Every adventure, however small, teaches us something, often about ourselves. Adventures get us outside of our comfort zone, and every time we do that it get’s just a tiny bit bigger. We learn that we are capable of more than we sometimes think and hone our decision making skills when things are not going to plan.
It sounds like the stuff that kids are taught in school, but being able to keep cool when we need to is something that is useful in life itself and we’re still learning how to do it well. It’s why little adventures are so important and why you should do them.
5. Get good at the little adventures and those big dreams might not seem so crazy
We owe a lot to the little adventure: Endless laughs, terrible nights of sleep, stunning views, blisters, delicious cakes, arguments and a massive helping of fun. The biggest thing we’ve gained is confidence. We’ve not done anything huge, but we’ve done things that have gone well, and not so well and as a result we feel so much better prepared for a big challenge. Don’t wait until the opportunity for a big adventure comes your way. Start training with little adventures straight away.
We had an adventure planned. The specification was a 2 day, 1 wild camp tandem ride to give our kit a bit of a test. We wanted decent paths, so opted to stick to the National Cycle Network. After a bit of research we decided to head towards Shropshire from John’s home town of Birmingham, a route which would mostly follow canal tow paths (great for finding camping spots).
The first 5 miles of our trip were hard work. Quite early on we found that a speed wobble into the side of a narrow bridge might cause us to lose our kit ‘overboard’ so we took things a little more carefully. An uphill lock system slowed us down. We rode what we could, but the steep, punchy and often bumpy climbs got the better off us sometimes and if there was a tight turn or narrowing involved, we just pushed up instead.
Lots of locks. Each V shape is a lock. We negotiated Aston Locks and Farmers Bridge Locks.
In the first few miles, we saw 2 kingfishers and 3 Heron, which was pretty cool considering we were in the centre of Birmingham.
We continued along the Towpath until we reached Wolverhampton. Up until this point, our route was pretty good. We stopped for some lunch, a curry we heated up in it’s own pouch. Delicious.
A spot of lunch.
From here Komoot, the navigation app, got into a pickle, and to be honest, so did we. An hour of pootling around got us back on track but it was pretty frustrating. It was also at this time we realised the cycle network can be a bit weird! Taking shortcuts through muddy fields or ‘longcuts’ that bypass perfectly good towpath for busy roads and muddy paths. On one such detour we hit a patch of wet grass – the marathon supremes that had given us so much confidence in summer slid out from under us spectacularly. We were ok – we both took a knock – Lauren to the head and John to the shoulder but after a short break we were back on the bike.
A picture taken from roughly where we fell off, hence the muddy pannier. This picture also shows the way we transported our LiteLok silvers using the wearable kit around our pannier bags.
We continued on, noting all the great camping spots along the way. There are lots alongside the canal. After a while, we joined the road, a nice change of scenery and found ourselves a Petrol Station with a subway. We loaded ourselves up with food and looked at our progress and plans. We hadn’t made as much progress as we’d liked, the terrain had a lot to do with that – whenever the path got muddy, we had to be super careful – and it was going to get dark soon. Rather than push on and potentially struggle to find a nice camp for the night, we decided head back to a lovely spot we’d found a few miles back. We got there just as it got dark, set up camp and made some dinner.
Our tent pitched by the canal with the moon in the background.
Considering we were close to a village, the area we had camped was quite and undisturbed and a bridge offered us some protection from the wind. As usual, Johh made the beds inside while Lauren got cooking. A feast of Pasta and Sausages. Unfortunately one load of pasta fell onto the floor after a straining incident and the whole thing cost us dearly in terms of fuel and water. We had to have a vote on what we would use our remaining fuel and water on in the morning and forfit our hot chocolate but somehow we eeked enough out for a hot breakfast and a coffee.
Morning coffee with a sunrise. John eating his breakfast by the bridge
We made steady progress back to Birmingham, avoiding the dodgy bits of path we’d already learnt of and finding new bits too, including a 350m tunnel, gates to lift over and a set of stairs! We wanted an adventure, and it’s certainly what we got!
On the 28th of October we jumped in a car bound for Portland, where we were to set sail for Lisbon. You might be thinking, why did it take you so long to write a blog about it? Sometimes adventures are so epic you just feel relieved that it’s over. It doesn’t last; with time the good bits sink in and the bad bits don’t seem quite as bad. It was tough and it was challenging but we are so glad we did it.
The first day
We arrived at Portland and saw Tenacious (well, Lauren saw 100% and John saw about 3% which is how much vision John has), the ‘pirate ship’ we’d seen parked up in Poole earlier in the year. Looking at it from the quay in Pool while eating an icecream, we’d never expected to be making our way on board just 6 months later. “Wouldn’t it be cool to go on a pirate ship”. “What do you think JST stands for” We we’re stoked to find out you could sail on it that it was designed to enable disabled people to join in too.
“Maybe we’ll go on a pirate ship one day” We almost forgot about it for a while, until something popped up on facebook. That’s when we thought we’d seen the ideal voyage for us. Two weeks from Weymouth to Lisbon. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for!
Lauren and John standing on the deck of Tenacious
We got out the car with our single bag of carry-on luggage each (and a secret stash of snacks) and headed over to what seemed like organised chaos. A van full of food was on the quayside and an endless stream of people were putting boxes of squash, biscuits and pasta on to the ship. As directed we headed down some stairs and were shown to our bunks. We we’re on opposite sides of the ship. Lauren on a top bunk and John on a bottom. We were sharing a room with about 8 other people each. Many who had lots more stuff than us. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t!
A view from a bunk. The sheet on the left stops you falling out of bed.
After dropping our stuff and making our beds we joined in with loading supplies. Countless times we were directed with a box of goodies to somewhere we were unsure of. The ship felt like a complex maze of corridors and stairways. It was like playing a giant game of snakes and ladders. Emergency procedures were practiced. We had different jobs so John had to learn how to find his own way out onto the deck – not an easy task for somebody that can’t see.
John nailed it and the people we were sailing with were really helpful too. We also had a chance to practice climbing up and down a mast. Here the permanent crew were super. The weather was pretty cold and breezy, but taking the time to show John the equipment was never any trouble.
John and Lauren stood on the first platform in the harbour
Later that evening another blind guy, Jacob, gave John a tour of the ship, sharing all the tips and tricks he’d learnt from previous trips on how to get around the ship. The tour was a great help, and again, permanent crew were brilliant, taking the time to explain and show where we’d be heading tacitly on a map.
Jacob and John stood next to each other on the deck with the ship’s masts in the background
The first night was calm, in the shelter of the harbour.
We woke up prepared to leave Portland, but unsure whether we would. We had breakfast and a watch meeting and news was that we’d need help of two boats to get us off the berth but if it didn’t work we’d have to stay a little longer and wait for a break in the weather. We practiced more ropework and everybody helped prepare the ship to leave. To begin with, we we’re really happy it worked, we headed out of the harbour and that’s when we realised how stormy things were. People began to feel ill, including John, and on the whole, moral took a little bit of a hit.
One of the two boats that helped us off the berth at Portland
The next few days were spent learning what to do and getting used to the daily routine. We had our first watch in the English channel at night and it was busy. A watch is a team of people that take it in turns to take responsibility for helming and keeping watch. We had to look out for other ships and steer. On the first watch Lauren had a go at helming the ship. We were in the middle of the English channel and it was busy with ships left, right and centre. Initially all went well and then, not quite so well. In a muddle, Lauren had turned the ship a long way off the heading.
Lauren helming the ship using a large compass
“Tenacious, Tenacious, Tenacious” another ship called on the radio. Our permanent crew member responded with an apology for the dodgy steering to the ship we were heading towards. Apparently these things can happen when you are tired and have been helming a while. Oops!
John’s attempt in daylight went without a hitch. Tenacious is set up with a talking compass. It reads the heading every few seconds allowing blind people to steer the ship, and as long as it wasn’t too windy for John’s hearing aids, he could too. Keeping watch, for obvious reasons wasn’t his calling but you’d be sure to find him on the ‘warm’ side of the ship (the side sheltered from the wind).
We had no idea of the Bay of Biscay’s reputation before joining Tenacious but we’d heard that it wasn’t a great place to be in a storm, and that there was one heading our way. We kept moving with the use of sails and engines to make as much progress as we could as quickly as we could so we could ‘hide’ in a little town called Muros while things calmed down.
Some of the waves appeared to rise above the ship.
The sea-sickness tablets were starting to do their job for most people and moral was on the up. We saw the occasional dolphin and even a whale. A break in the weather allowed for us to have ‘Smoko’ (11’s on a ship) out on deck. We were starting to enjoy ourselves. It was hard to believe we’d gain the mythical sea legs we’d heard about. Life on a ship being tossed about on the sea wasn’t easy: Walking from A-B, keeping coco-pops in a bowl and lying still enough to get to sleep were all a challenge but sure enough, we switched into ‘sea mode’ and while everything was just as difficult as before, the sickness stayed away.
That was at least until we got to Muros. We’d heard a rumour that when going back on land you’d still feel like you were moving. Turns out a lot of ships rumours are true.
Muros was a lovely town to visit and enjoy a meal with our shipmates. We stumbled around the place with our land legs, found a geocache, ate lots of food and sat and watched the sea. Lying on the floor gave some respite from the ‘land leg effect’ but getting back to Tenacious was the only real cure.
A mast climb with friends at Muros
Lucky for us we had a harbour watch, making sure all was well on the ship and keeping an eye on the wind. Unfortunately it picked up enough for us to wake up somebody from permanent crew who kept a close eye on the mooring lines.
The following morning, after the storm had passed we left Muros which was quite exciting. Lauren, as a nominated Lines-person stayed behind to help let the mooring off before returning back on a smaller boat. Quite an adventure. Outside of the shelter of the bay the weather was up to its usual tricks.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like, but at times we’d almost go weightless in bed and the list (lean) was so extreme that we’d have to hold on to our food to stop it from going everywhere. Talking of food, there was plenty of it and it was nice. Tea and biscuits were always available and we barely touched our snack supply.
Bioluminescence and Porto
Before we joined the ship we made plans for what to do afterwards. We decided upon a few days in Lisbon. Porto was highly recommended but we just couldn’t fit it in so we were delighted to find out we’d be stopping in Porto for 2 nights. Getting there was rough and tough and we certainly starting to tire. Between watches, happy hour (cleaning the ship) and handing the sails there didn’t seem to be much time to sleep but we did the best we could. Snoozing here and there.
“One night I was looking into the water on watch and I was sure I was seeing little blue lights in the water. It was late, perhaps 3am, and I was I was convinced it had to be my tired eyes tricking me but I saw more and more.” – Lauren
It turns out bioluminescence is a fascinating and not imagined thing. At night, you could see them swirl around the port-hole windows and at night glow and flash in the waves like shooting stars. Unfortunately they were too dim for a normal camera or John’s eyes but we’re very cool all the same.
Arrival into leixoes (the Port for Porto) was the perfect break. After figuring out the transport, we hopped on a tram into town where we found custard tarts (pasteis de nata), port and lots of restaurants. On our second day in Porto we visited Churchills Port House which was fantastic, as were the views from the bridge and the pastries. We loved every minute in Porto and we’re glad we were able to visit.
Enjoying coffee and Nata
A night time view over the river
A view looking over a church and orange roofed houses
Tasting port by the river. John is sat at a table with 5 bottles of port.
What an adventure!
From Porto we headed west for a good day so we could come back inland to Lisbon under sail. We got lots of sails up which was great to see. We took time to climb masts to the very top and sit out on the bowsprit. Our last watch on the move was into Caiscais where little sail boats, buoys and fishing nets littered the bay. A bit part of the job involved letting the captain know about any obstacles.
Top of the mast!
“There’s a crab pot on the port side” The captain asked “Are we going to miss it?” “I think so”
We safely arrived at the Anchorage and the following morning headed into Lisbon. Totally exhausted, we couldn’t wait to get off the ship. The best greatest memories and best adventures are rarely those that are easy, and that’s certainly true about our trip on Tenacious.
As with most of our adventures, we filmed and documented our experiences. Here’s a youtube playlist with the videos.