The train journey was through rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.
Arriving at Pitlochry a fellow passenger helped me off with my case as there was a pushchair and hold-all in the door; only to have someone take my case on the platform!
All was okay though…. the man taking my case was in fact my cousin who had come to meet me! I would be spending my time with him and his wife. He gave me the warmest of welcomes and enveloping hug, easing away all the tensions from galavanting in Glasgow.
Fizz also had a friend, in their dog Honey (although on first impressions they weren’t too keen on each other)
Pitlochry is somewhere I have never been before, but thanks to good olde Google Streetview I felt it was somewhere I would be comfortable. The high street was made up of a mix of cafes, charity shops and outdoor shops. The homes were nestled within lush green fields and with numerous whiskey distilleries, long walks and most importantly … FAMILY
A family who opened their home to me. Who cooked me a overly dinner and who walked me via the local golf course to the pub to enjoy a drink or 3 with them and their friends.
After a very comfortable nights sleep we took the dogs out for a walk to Black Spout Wood, a beautiful and refreshing walk with streams for the dogs to splash about in and my first ever encounter of a natural waterfall.
The waterfall was considerably smaller than than usual, because water levels in the streams were much lower as even in Scotland they have been having a very hot summer.
All before returning for some lunch before embarking on a second walk and whiskey tasting in the afternoon.
Afterall, you can’t come to such a beautiful Burgh without tasting the local produce … Even if that is whiskey and gin!
And it is a whiskey that the store keeper knows so well, with the undertones of banana in one and dark chocolate in another; I must admit that to my untrained nose I could taste the differences in the samples, but not what was explained. We even sampled some of Pitlochry’s new gin, which I found very enjoyable and easy to drink.
After a few purchases we headed off towards The Pitlochry Dam. A structure that was planned back in the 1950s, being fully operational in 1962. You see the dam had (at the time) been part of Scotland’s history as the dam created hydro-electricity that helped to power just under two-thirds of The Highlands energy supply (bearing in mind the in 1960 energy usage was no where near what it was today)
The dam being on the river Tummel also included ‘A fish ladder’ enabling the salmon to move through their migration into the river after the dam.
The visitor centre had been renovated in recent years and for my cousin it was the first time he had visited it, we enjoyed some time looking around and learning the history and impact of the dam.
Again, the river Tummel and the Dam are showing how deplested the water levels are given the hot weather. It was very interesting though to find out how important and revelationary this dam was and how even now it continues to support Scotland’s power supplies, although now much of Scotland receives its energy from wind turbines.
During our walk we encountered the odd shower, but this just created a beautiful sky of blue and grey with the odd black cloud against the lush creeks and earth colours of the hills and trees.
But sadly all too soon, it was time to catch another train. For the next part of my adventure. A train journey that saw me returning to Perth before changing to travel on to Dundee.
Dubdee is a city I have visited many MANY many times before, but not for several years. In fact, the last time I visited was when I went to my Grabs funeral.
The sun was warm, although the sky was grey; the air reminded me of London, yet the feeling I got from this city was very different. It was as if when I spoke people softened.
Maybe it was hearing my southern English accent or maybe it was just the way I spoke. Whatever it was, it was very welcoming.
The train assistant walked me out onto the street beside Glasgow Central station and told me to turn right and then right again at the corner. To go to the crossing and I would find myself beside the river, from there I should turn right again and walk alongside The Clyde and I would reach The Glasgow Crowne Plaza.
Walking towards the Clyde had another reason; according to google maps, it was where the closest patch of grass was for Fizz to be able to have her breakfast and do ‘her business’ after all I was very aware that she had been on a train for eight hours without any option of relief!
The walk was lovely, calming yet refreshing and i was able to enjoy the varying architecture and engineering of the many different bridges we passed. (I later discovered just how many bridges there where)
The hotel was sat just after an odd ‘armadillo’ shaped building. I later discovered this to be The SEC Armadillo (yup that its official name) beside the SSE Hydro, a large exhibition, show and conference space.
While on the other side of the river there was The Glasgow Science Centre, IMAX cinema and The Glasgow Tower. But given the mix and mismatch of buildings and paving shows how there has been an increase in renovation and regeneration within the area in recent years.
This would do nicely, very nicely as a base to explore from. Surprisingly even at 8am in the morning my hotel room was ready for me, so instead of just leaving my bag at the hotel, I was able to check in, refresh with a lovely shower and sort myself out read for an adventure.
The hotel was beautiful, with 16 floors I took the opportunity to go upto the very top floor to look at the views (after photographing them and then zooming in) here are just a few of them.
When initially researching the hotel I had found that there was a train station closer to the hotel, but because this would have been involving walking away from the grass area i had decided against it originally. However I re-looked at it as a way to get back into the city centre for part of my exploration.
And when I did I discovered not only that the train station was just 3 minutes walk away, but that it was fully accessible over a large dual carriageway thanks to this beautifully designed fully covered in, ramped bridge.
Can you tell that the design geek in me was happy?
The train took me less than 5 minutes to travel back into the center of Glasgow. Where I quickly found that my google maps was struggling a little because of the high buildings and built up area just like it does in London.
We (Fizz and I) walked for hours, admiring buildings, discovering Glasgow Queen Street station which would be the station I would need to continue my travel later. And in finding other station just a few moments walk from The Central Station I discovered this beautiful mosaic.
I could continue to bore you with photographs from around Glasgow, but actually all I will say is that I walked over 20,000 steps in this beautiful city and saw some amazing buildings along with meeting many MANY many tourists from lots of different countries.
Fizz walked her paws off and she was a superstar for me. With the odd little ‘mischievous quirk’ when she discovered a near by costa and clearly felt we had walked enough for the moment and walked me quickly to the crossing, causing traffic to stop before I had realised what her plans were …
Who am i to argue with a guide dog?
Stop, refuelled and ready for more…. off we go again.
When opportunity presents itself, take its hand and let it lead you beyond your comfort zone.
A fellow VI friend informed me of an upgrade available to me as a guide dog owner to sleep in a cabin overnight on a train for the cost of a seated ticket.
The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Scotland gave me just such opportunity. So in planning a trip I had hoped to take with my CPiC I booked a trip from London to Glasgow.
A journey which soon gave me the option to either cancel or put on my ‘big girl pants on’ to go alone….
Cancelling wasn’t really ever an option, as I would loose money not only on tickets, but on rooms already booked; plus my pure stubborn nature wouldn’t allow it. So I decided to go alone (with my guiding girl Fizz) and a new plan was made.
London to Glasgow was recommended to me as Edinburgh was hosting The Fringe Festival.
So my plan started to come together. I would travel to London on Monday, to catch the 23.20 sleeper out of Euston to Glasgow.
Monday was my day to explore London.
London is somewhere I have been many times before, however with my suitcase I wanted to stay close to Euston. But just getting there wasn’t so simple.
Having used Euston Tube station as an interchange before for the northern line I was aware that it only had escalator access to street level. So I made the brave (slightly silly) decision to get the tube to Kings Cross and walk back to Euston.
The walk was the easy bit, but the different lifts and levels of Kings Cross was a bit of a ‘challenge’ to say the least. But one I achieved on my own. The opportunity was there to ask for assistance, but I chose to put my problem solvcing hat on and just ‘get on with it’ Afterall, I have been to Kings Cross before and if in my mind if i couldn’t handle the tube, how would I manage Glasgow?
Hitting Kings Cross also gave me the opportunity to work out a green space for Fizz because with planned engineering works at Euston at the weekend, we would be returning to Kings Cross. Thanks to the power of social media, I was made aware of a flower bed to the side of the station.
The flower bed was in fact right beside The British Library, a building that has always fascinated me. So with time to kill I took the opportunity to go in.
The security staff were amazing, from explaining the bag search, to using a body scan wand on me and Fizz and continuing to explain it all to me; to then walking us down the ramps to the cloakrooms so I could have my suitcase stored while I explored.
Sadly there were no large print maps available, but as I explained to the staff that I used my phone as a magnifier they quickly radioed through to the other room attendants and security to make them aware that
“the blonde haired woman with the black guide dog who is deafblind has permission to use her phone as an aid to assist her, she isn’t taking photos, but simply magnifying the signs to enable her to enjoy her visit.’
This made me feel so very welcome and enabled me to enjoy my visit; while breaking down barriers for other visitors, who stopped to ask me how I was managing with the maps and signage.
I never went to look at the books (I do want to do this, but think it would be much easier with a sighted assistant) I purely went to look at the building…. The way the levels are open, the way the skylights are positioned, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I enjoyed the fact that I could sit on each level, watch the world go by and enjoy the different ways in which other people used the space.
Because despite my failing sight, I love to read and I have always had a fascination with libraries. So for a few hours after I explored the space I sat down with a comfy spot for Fizz and read my latest book. (Which is for another blog in the future)
This was just the calming and relaxed start to my adventure I needed before I met up with a climbing friend for a late supper.
We sat and talked, we ate, we drank and then realised this is the first time we have ever met outside of a climbing wall or competition setting.
And before I knew it, it was time to catch my train.
I felt nervous.
I felt excited.
I felt exhausted.
So, with a quick stop at Starbucks I went to find the assisted travel desk to board my train.
if you have followed me for some time you will know how much I like my coffee. It’s no secret, I enjoy sitting with a nice cup and ‘people watch’ (yes even as a VI I do this!)
But of late I have really struggled.
Not so much with the people watching part; but rather the collecting my coffee part.
Just a short bus ride away from me is the lovely Whiteley Shopping Village. It is home to a great variety of shops, restaurants, cinema and yup you guessed it coffee shops!
It has the three MAJOR brand names of Costa, Nero & Starbucks, in addition to The M&S cafe.
Whitely was purpose built. Many of the storesmake use of the high ceilings and glass outer wall to add a mezzanine floor, while the cafes and restaurants leave them to create the feeling of space and ambiance.
But here in lies an issue.
Starbucks in particular……
with its solid floors, wooden traveled, coffee ba and very minimal in way of ‘soft furnitings’ the inside has an echo.
The seating is positions around the centrally placed counter that leads you around to the right where you can collect your coffee at the end of the bar, where the bar continues again to the right (and right again) to enable friends to sit on the stools while enjoying a coffe with easy access to PowerPoints that are built into the bar.
There are standard level blue benches that cover one entire wall of the store with small tables, then at the back there are simple couch like seating around low tables.
With a further bar seating in front of one of the windows and more 2 seated wooden tablespoon dotted about.
So for me, I can easily find somewhere to sit that works with the lighting, be that natural, bright sunshine that we are enjoying at the moment or artificially lit by the store itself.
So, hopefully I have set the scene for you. The fact that the coffee machine is not directly beside the till make for easy ordering and it also enables the staff to have a ‘queue’ system for drink collection.
But it is this ‘drink collection’ that has become a real struggle for me.
With the height of the ceiling, the multiple coffee machines and the general ‘noise’ of the store; even with my hearing aids I can’t hear any particular voice clearly.
These are all factors I can’t change. And I am not one to be beaten into having to avoid a store (particularly one that sells coffee) because of it.
With my visual impairment I can’t make eye contact with others, although I can thankfully usually recognise a member of staff at datrbusks by the iconic green apron they all wear.
So now, when I arrive at ‘the bar’ I politely gain the attention of a member of staff and then I show them my phone…..
And this is what they see. (Or similar depending on my order)
Where I have found that a kind member of staff then directly passes me my drink when my order is is completed. Saving them shouting out to deaf ears and saving me from tepid coffee because it has been sat too long.
Such a simple little app is ‘Notes’ which I use every day for one thing or another like many people. But one that has enabled me to keep just a little bit more of my independence (even if it is something so trivial as ordering a coffee)
I now feel more comfortable when dealing with such noisy situations.
And I don’t have to miss out … So it’s win-win situation.
On 20th March 2017 I found myself sat in the audiologists office having my hearing aids fitted; which I wrote about in What does sound sound like?.
I had previously been told I would only need a hearing aid for my right ear, yet when I arrived at my appointment I was actually fitted with a hearing aid for both my left and right ear; a pleasant suprise, yet a very welcome on. Because in giving me hearing aids for both ears the audiologist was able to programme the strength in each side differently so that I heard the same.
I wont’t lie, I hated wearing them.
It took me a long time to get used to ‘hearing’things again. The little things, like the kitchen clock; the dogs gnawing on their bones; the sound of my feet on the pavement. But (following the audiologists advice) I soon learnt to ‘not hear’ or rather ‘tune out’ these sounds; sounds that my brain had learnt to ignore (just as it does for most people who can hear perfectly well)
I also quickly learnt how little and inconspicuous my hearing aids were. With very few people realising that I actually wore them.
When they were originally fitted, I had them set by the audiologist to automatically adjust with no input from me. However this was not while I got used to them.
In July ((1 beep, 2 beep, 3 beep, 4) I had my hearing aids adjusted and since then I have gone from strength to strength in using them and wearing them each and every day, just as I would with my glasses (even though I now get so little from wearing them-wearing them is a daily habit)
I have also added to my ‘tech’ to go with my hearing aids, with my amplicomms personal t-loop system I am able to listen friends in busier environments, have calls streamed directly into my ears with the microphone around my neck; I am also able to listen to audible and music too.
My CPiC and I are working on using it as an aid to my climbing….. But that is a whole other blog post!!
So, what have I gained in the last year?
I have learnt that just like glasses for me, hearing aids to not ‘fix’ my hearing; however they do enable me to hear more and clearer than if I don’t wear them.
I have been able to feel safer out and about, especially with hearing traffic and its direction. So much so, that in recent months I have gone back to enjoying walking into town (about 2.5 miles) with Fizz guiding me.
I have also learnt that I can ‘shut out’ noise if I want to sit quietly with a cuppa or a cold pint, then I can turn my hearing aids down, put them into the induction loop setting and I can sit peacefully. So I can have ‘selective’ hearing too!!
Its been an interesting year of wearing hearing aids, I would be lying if I said I am getting used to them….. But I am finding the postitives with them, both with my own hearing and with the connections I have made with other people who have hearing and sight issues.
I am still wanting to work on fundraising for my own pair or ReSound Hearing Aids, which are so much more ‘tech’ friendly with my iPhone and Apple Watch, but that is a work in progress.
Would you think of a pair of glasses as a mobility aid?
When you see an item every day and used by everyone then it becomes ‘the norm’ and not seen as an aid to support someone with a disability.
There are many products that are designed to support those with disabilities, these include glasses, hearing aids, walking sticks, wheelchairs and even other everyday products like iPhones and iPads.
It may not seem like it to a person who has no sensory or motor disabilities, yet all apple products were designed with accessibility and intergration as their base principle.
There are obviously other computer operating systems, programmes and technologies available. But as a Mac (made famous in a Mitchell & Webb sketch) which I have been ever since I studied at university; way back when Apple Macintosh was for everything design and Windows was for everything administrative.
I have spoken before of my liking for Apple products, and in this I am not alone. Molly from The Molly Watt Trust is a big believer and user of Apple products, her charity have also helped to support and fund those with Ushers Syndrome by funding an Apple Watch programme as she herself had found its features so very beneficial.
As part of an Ushers Social and awareness weekend (The Weekend that almost wasn’t) Molly was going to give a presentation similar to that that she gives to large companies about accessibility and awareness.
Molly explained the way in which she made use of the accessibility on her iPad. She spoke of the obvious ‘voice-over’ and how she didn’t use it, how she found ‘zoom’ and ‘speak screen’ more neneficial to her.
She spoke of how you could set you home button triple click to bring you a list of accessibility options. Including how to use your camera as a magnifier.
These little ‘nuggets’ of information were some that I was aware of and some that I wasn’t.
Since the latest iOS update there was also a rather clever new accessibility feature called ‘smart invert’ this is where the screen and text are inverted in the colours used, but the p have photographs are not……. Savi g confusion with colours when looking at images.
Chris spoke of how accessibility is in the every day, how as I said at the start of this post , “ when something is used and seen every day it becomes the ‘norm’” and how the work he does with Sigma and Molly is about making that a reality.
Molly explained how she found “Hey Siri” a great help; although this was when she realised that another piece of technology she was used stopped the others in the room from heading the response.
You see, Molly wears ReSound hearing aids; hearing aids that stream her iPhone and iPad directly and clearly into her ears. Just as if she were wearing headphones!
Molly’s work has seen her work with ReSound and it is through this work that I have followed her and learnt about the fantastic products that are available.
Molly and the work she does through her company Molly Watt Ltd is paving the way for those with sightless, Ushers and hearing loss.
This masterclass have me some fantastic information to work with, some new connections to talk to and more importantly new friends who enjoy similar struggles to me.
The session was just a snapshot of what Molly and Chris do when talking to big companies, where there is often very rarely anyone with additional needs in the audience.
But it was enough to make me feel confident that accessibility becoming part of ‘the notm’ Could be a reality in the not to far distant future.