Spontaneous combustion

We were lucky enough to manage a week away during the summer holidays. The beautiful Schoolhouse at Fenwick in Northumberland, just a short car journey away from home, provided a brilliant base for our adventures with absolutely everything we needed. I planned our days based on the experiences of a couple of friends so we could relax and enjoy some time away.

Quinns smiles his biggest smile with a large aeroplane behind him on tarmac.

Although I am a bit of a planner anyway it does get a little frustrating not to be able to be a bit more spontaneous. Earlier in the holiday I discovered when trying to book tickets for an exhibition on a Saturday evening for the Sunday that I couldn’t get a carers ticket because they were only available to those phoning during working hours Monday to Friday. Another unnecessary obstruction on top of everything else for disabled people who need support.

Anyway when we were driving to our holiday I spotted a sign for the National Museum of Flight. A few people had mentioned it to me because of Quinns’ love of planes but I hadn’t done my research nor did I intend to while on holiday. The planning extended to let’s just go on the way home and see what we find. I booked the tickets including a carers ticket online the night before.

As you can imagine for a display that includes aeroplane hangars the site is large. There are disabled parking spaces at each of the buildings and wheelchairs for use by anyone who needs one. As well as large thankfully the site is also very flat and the pathways tarmac which made it easy to get from one building to another so once we were parked up we were ready to explore.

The grounds were full of planes for us to discover. Quinns was immediately very excited to see so many up close. Although we took him on a few flights when he was younger we haven’t quite managed to bring ourselves to again now he’s bigger.

Disappointment came before we even made it to the suggested start of the exhibitions. We couldn’t help but have a closer look at the first plane on route only to realise we could board to see the inside. I stayed with Quinns on the ground while everyone else disappeared up the steps. To be honest I’m not sure he was too bothered about the inside but it wasn’t a good feeling that he was excluded. 

At the desk we were given times when each of the planes would be open to explore. Of course I couldn’t help but ask if any were accessible to wheelchair users. A very confused man simply told me no. I was disappointed but not surprised given the difficulties wheelchair users have with flying as described in this recent Guardian article

Rather than miss out exploring the inside of Concorde with Dad and Big Sister I decided to take copious numbers of photographs to share with Quinns afterwards. Again he was probably more interested in the large screens showing videos of the red arrows in action or Concorde in flight but I couldn’t help wondering why there isn’t more effort to make at least one interior available for wheelchair users who might be interested?

After lunch we went to explore the Fantastic Flight hangar. I was seriously impressed. There were loads of interactive exhibits for children and adults to explore and learn about flight. Quinns was absolutely fascinated by the balloon that filled with air and rose up. Even better, it was operated by a button that he could reach and press himself! He also spent quite a lot of time trying out the controls for operating different parts of the plane. Although he had a good go at all the different levers his favourite was the one that switched the lights on. For someone who often has to sit passively at such places this was amazing!

He was also able to have a good go at the flight simulator but given that his favourite activity was letting the plane crash I think I might leave it a while before he starts flying lessons! 

So our little bit of spontaneity paid off on this occasion. The museum redeemed itself from the immediate disappointment of inaccessibility with interactive installations that Quinns could actually enjoy. However there are no excuses on a site that large not to have a Changing Places toilet which would have made our day even better! 


We have all been stuck at home much more than we would like in the past year. As we begin to think about getting out and about more I’ve been reflecting on a couple of our experiences pre-covid. On a trip to Halifax we had fun at Eureka! the national children’s museum and on a day out we went to an aquarium.

We all had a great experience visiting the aptly named Eureka! From the moment we entered through the accessible gate, held open for us by a member of staff, we felt welcome. There was no question even when Quinns turned up driving his newly loaned Wizzybug.

Four year old Quinns drives his 'Wizzybug' small electric wheelchair with his nine year old big sister chasing him from behind.
Big sister chases Quinns in his Wizzybug along the painted lines at Eureka!

Quinns could see and even take part in the majority of the exhibition because it was well laid out and interactive. All the floors were accessible via the lift and you know how much Quinns loves the whoosh of a lift!

The signs on the doors advertised the accessibility features of the museum; free admission for carers, Changing Places toilet facility and extra pair of hands service. Who doesn’t need a bit of help sometimes?

The Changing Place toilet meant we were able to spend the entire day enjoying all that was on offer. When we needed a break we spent some time outside. We ran along and round and round the painted lines on the ground. Had the weather been less kind there was a quiet room perfect for an indoor break.

It may sound like a pretty average uneventful museum visit but contrast it with our experience of visiting the aquarium on another day out. 

After paying for our tickets we were sent back out the front door, back the way we came. We trailed down a slope at the side of the building past a skip full of rubbish. Not exactly the welcome you would expect from a visitor attraction.

Once inside not all the tanks were at the right level for Quinns to actually see the fish. We quickly showed him as much as was possible both inside and out. Big Sister got a close up view of the meerkats being fed, while Quinns was only able to watch from afar as their enclosure was down a flight of stairs with no other access.

Photo of the back of Quinns head looking down some stairs at an animal enclosure
Quinns looks down the stairs at the meerkat enclosure below.

Once we had completed the first floor we had to go back out the way we came past the same rubbish filled skip and in through another door. Before re-entering the aquarium space we had to check with staff that we were allowed, expected even, to go through the door that had a sign saying ‘no admittance’. 

There was no need for us to visit the disabled toilet in the building adjacent. It wasn’t a Changing Place and so didn’t have the right facilities. We didn’t really feel like staying too long anyway.

As places begin to open up again I can only hope that they will choose the Eureka! sort of a welcome rather than the aquarium’s. I certainly know which place we would choose to visit again even although it’s a five hour drive away; Eureka!