Travelogue 1 – Derby

At the start of 2012 I promised myself that I would try to see more of the great country I live in. It seems that February really kicked started this goal, with a series of trips all over the UK in my diary.

The first was a visit to Derby to write an article for Disability Now magazine on the photographer Rei Bennett’s Beauty from Damage project, which will be in the next issue of DN. I have been to Derby a few times in the past but as a singer with various bands, as it is a great place for live music. The only problem with seeing anywhere when you’re touring is that you don’t get to see it. You arrive, sound check, have something to eat, do the show and retire to a hotel for drinks and passing out. The next morning you’re back on the road with a place name ticked off your tour itinerary, but with no actual knowledge of what that place is like. So I wanted to experience what Derby had to offer, and with this in mind I booked a hotel room for my wife and I the night before the interview.

We stayed at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in St. Mary’s Gate, which was a great choice. It’s a really nice high quality hotel, that came at a very reasonable price. From the minute we arrived outside it was obvious that the Cathedral Quarter was going to be accessible too. While it is an old building, the Old County Offices, it’s wheelchair accessible through out. Our room was nice too. Not massive, but superb for the price paid and very swish. The bathroom was very accessible too, with a walk in shower and handrails galore. The whole hotel was a superb combination of designer chic and historic features, including stained glass windows on the sweeping stair case in the lobby. The staff were really helpful and very friendly.

In fact everyone we met in the city were friendly and chatty. So much so that it made the whole visit even more enjoyable. It’s funny how your experience of a place can be so heavily influenced by it’s people, but it only becomes clear when you visit somewhere where everyone is so nice. But not only has Derby got great people, it’s also a really great place.

At this point I must mention the thing about Derby that really impressed both me and my wife… just how accessible for disabled people it is. In fact it is so accessible that I would say that Derby should be a shinning example to other towns and cities. In the past I have always given the example of Barcelona as proof that a anywhere can be made accessible, but Derby equally proves it and is here in the UK. Derby really is that good. It starts with the pavements, with large areas being pedestrianised. I know that many people find the idea of shared spaces frightening, but Derby demonstrates that these fears are unfounded. The changes from pavement to road area are marked with noticeably different coloured paving, and have a small dip to make sure people with visual impairments are safe, while ensuring a smooth surface for us wheelie types. Pretty much all the shops had ramped access, and everywhere had lifts and toilets. They had even made most of the cobbled areas accessible by smoothing off the surfaces of each cobblestone. Anyone who uses a wheelchair knows how truly evil cobbles are, but Derby has cracked the whole issue. Keeping the historic nature of the cobbled areas while making them usable for all people. If you are disabled, a trip to Derby is a must if only to witness how accessible it is.

When you are a wheelchair user like me, how accessible a place is can really effect how you experience what is on offer when you visit. I have lost count of the number of holidays and trips out have been ruined by crap access. With Derby being so accessible it became clear that our one night was not going to be enough. We arrived early, as I am a sticker for time keeping, and after we unpacked in our room, we went out for a walk around. I love shopping, and in Derby I could feed my addiction very nicely. We did pop into the Westfield shopping centre briefly, but much preferred the myriad of shops outside. Something that is noticeable about Derby is how many of the shops inside the centre are repeated outside. Thus saving shopping centre phobics, like my poor wife, from the horror of being stuck in the unnatural environment of Westfield and the like. On top of the usual high street fair, Derby has loads of little boutiques selling high quality items. From local designers to designer labels there’s something for everyone. I found some great jewellery shops too. Hmm, that’s good shopping.

While I love to shop, Diane loves to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Derby has many lovely coffee shops and restaurants, catering for all tastes. Top quality gourmet food, local produce and high street chains are all there. We tried out a couple of little coffee places, a cheese and bread place just next to the hotel and Pizza Express. All yummy with great food and really great staff.

Even if you don’t fancy shopping and eating (are you still alive?), you can easily enjoy just wandering around the city. Being an architecture buff, I found the many architectural styles of Derby fascinating. It has spans the most of industrial history, from Georgian and Victorian grandeur through 30’s and 60’s modernism to recent new developments. Definitely visit Waterstones. It’s a glorious old building with loads of original features, with an amazing 30’s building opposite, currently housing spa. In most of the centre of the city I got to combine my love of shopping with sight seeing lovely buildings, especially in the side streets off St Peter’s Street. Check out Pictures of Derby to see what a treasure chest of buildings the city is. I’d also advise a walk down by the river. Romantic and beautiful.

If you haven’t been, I would advise you give Derby a try. I fell in love with the city after one day and know I want to go back, soon. I know it has a thriving arts scene for one thing, and I want to taste some of the creative offerings Derby has to offer, as well as it’s other delights.

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