New vision for a Victorian hideaway: Hotels for the visually impaired guests are now open to anyone

Until recently, only the select few could spend a few days in the Lake District at a Victorian pile that used to be the holiday home of the Coutts family: Coutts, as in bankers to the aristocracy. But recently this exclusive establishment has opened its doors to the general public, particularly those who want to get away from it all with man's best friend.

Let me explain: Windermere Manor (01539 445801; visionhotels.co.uk ) is one of four hotels which – until recently – were open only to blind and partially sighted people. But in these days of inclusion, disability legislation and "access all areas", the concept of holidays that segregate disabled people from the rest of society seems out of step.

The four properties, owned by the charity, Action for Blind People, have been re-branded under the name Vision Hotels. Anyone is now welcome to check in, and because so many blind people use assistance dogs, the chain might have a particular appeal to those of us who want to holiday with our canines.

The first thing you notice when you cross the threshold at the Manor is that there is no difference at all from your average country-house hotel. There is wood panelling in abundance, friendly, helpful staff and the feeling that you have come to a place of rest and relaxation.

The manager, Chris Lawrence, led me into the dining room. He explained that this ornate room had once been the family's private chapel.

"There's a step-up at the end of the room where the altar used to be," he said. "I think it was a bit of a fad at the time because there are a couple of other, large houses round here which had their own chapels." Private worship was – it seems – the Victorian equivalent of a hot tub or a conservatory.

After the Coutts family had moved on to pastures new, the Manor had a number of other uses including being a convalescent home for wounded service personnel and a Borstal.

Unsurprisingly, the guest rooms were probably long ago stripped of their original fixtures and fittings. They now display all of the charm and style of a budget hotel room. I always request a walk-in shower, and therefore always end up with a wheelchair accessible room: the bathroom facilities would not be out of place in a hospital or residential home.

But it is in catering for four-legged guests that the hotel truly comes into its own. Not only is there a doggy loo – known as the spending pen – but there is also a grooming room, complete with shower. Dogs are provided with a feeding bowl, a fleece and can choose from around a dozen varieties of dog food – prescription diets catered for upon request. Guide dogs have the run of the place. Pet dogs are somewhat second-class citizens: they are expected to stay in their owners' rooms but are welcome to run around outside, especially in the designated "free-run" areas.

Mealtimes – for people, not dogs – are a little on the restrictive side: breakfast, for example, is served from 7.45-9.15am even at weekends, while last orders for dinner is at 8pm.

Most hotels in Europe and North America have to comply with minimum "access standards" to accommodate people with disabilities. Why, then, would a disabled person seek out a special disabled-only destination?

The answer is that facilities like those provided at Windermere Manor go way beyond what the law requires. Ramps, lifts and wider doorways are one thing, but no hotel chain need lose sleep about being sued for the absence of a spending pen. Others feel that they can relax rather than feel awkward about their disability.

"If you do something silly or you get lost, you just have a laugh about it," said one of my fellow guests, Mavis Brennan.

Geoff Adams-Spink is the BBC's Age & Disability Correspondent

European connections

Disabled people want to live in a world where they can stay anywhere. But with transport becoming more and more accessible, ever greater numbers of us will be on the move. Establishments that go beyond box ticking are always likely to prove popular. These are a couple of favourites of mine.

The little French resort of Berck-sur-Mer (00 33 3 21 09 50 00; berck-tourisme.com ), which is about half an hour from Calais, has set out to attract more older and disabled visitors. There are a couple of hotels that have a large number of accessible rooms, but it is in the town's infrastructure and culture that the difference is felt. There are plenty of disabled parking bays and shops and restaurants are more than welcoming. "I didn't get the usual stares that seem to follow me everywhere I go," said my Belgian thalidomide friend, Martine Olivier.

Those with mobility difficulties, who are looking for more than the standard wheelchair-accessible room, can sun themselves at the appropriately named Mar y Sol Hotel (00 34 922 750 540; marysol.org ) on Tenerife. The place was built by a German as a gift to his wife who had MS. Her doctors had advised that a stay on the island would be therapeutic. The hotel has 139 adapted rooms, all with walk/wheel-in showers. Guests can avail themselves of an assistance service should they need help with washing, dressing or eating; a nurse is on call 24 hours a day. There are three pools (all with hoists) and even the sunbeds are at the right height for transfer from a wheelchair. The hotel also has a disabled-friendly diving school, golf course-friendly wheelchairs and a therapy centre.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee