Friday, October 06, 2017

Accessibility: the Vilaine

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

The Vilaine

The Vilaine from Arzal inland is protected by a tidal barrage, which was originally intended to reduce the frequent flooding. The whole area is very popular with yachts, especially British ones. It is very sheltered but is still subject to occasional strong winds even in summer – we saw a 47-knot gust at Arzal and know of someone whose electronics were destroyed by a lightning strike at Camoël.

Port d'Arzal/Camoël: We got to know this very well as Kalessin spent the winter here. We really liked the location but found a car was essential, as the only food on site is the little épicerie (and restaurants of course) and buses are far from regular. There is a boulangerie and small store in the village but it's at least 2km away. The big advantage is that it's inside the barrage and therefore tideless, so we could get Sam on and off at any time of day. One disadvantage is that the older finger pontoons on both sides of the river have a step down from the jetty. If you ask and keep asking, the capitainerie can allocate a place on the new pontoons where the jetties have been extended, which are all on one level although they are still not very wide. Away from the pontoons access is very good around the marina.

Of the three toilet blocks the best for disabled access (and the newest) is the upriver one on the Camoël side with lots of space, good lighting and hot water. I don't think the other Camoël block would have been usable, although there is a disabled access shower, but there are steps. On the Arzal side the access for a wheelchair into the toilet block is tight and the accessible shower a bit tatty with fixings sometimes coming off the wall - it's much bigger than the ordinary showers so is often used by able-bodied people.

La Roche-Bernard: The crucial word here is Roche, as pretty much everywhere is up a very steep hill to the top of the rock. The marina itself is ok although a bit up and down as you walk along the pontoons. There is said to be one berth with a hoist but we saw no sign of it and didn't ask about it. Accessible facilities are ok, but like the ones at Arzal space is very tight. We took Sam for a trip on the petit train, which starts outside the marina, and although he didn't get to see the heart of the old town it was a good option.

On a visitor berth in Redon
Redon: We went to Redon to get good transport access, as the marina is 10 minutes walk from the TGV station. Visitor moorings are on the port side as you enter the basin and are close to the road but also to the facilities, such as they are. The finger pontoons and jetties were ok and the ramp not too steep (and also non-tidal, of course). The loos and showers to which we were given a key are in a very tatty portacabin. The shower was big enough for Sam to use and it was possible to get a wheelchair in, from memory there was a single step. The floor of the shower was vinyl over some kind of board which had probably rotted underneath. Therefore the floor sagged somewhat and there were places where Sam would not have been safe to stand. Using the shower was an adventure... but slightly exhausting.
Sam in the Cours Clemenceau

We explored the town of Redon which is quite small but pleasant with a few very steep slops up to the ramparts. The Cours Clemenceau is a pretty garden area with views over the river which we could get Sam up to in the wheelchair.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine (this article)
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

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