Friday, October 06, 2017

Accessibility: west and southern Brittany

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 tidal areas like north Brittany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

Roscoff Marina: This is a vast, relatively new marina, and the distance from your berth to the capitainerie may be considerable. There is a disabled access lift for use at low water, visible as a little cabin on the top level in the photo above, unfortunately out of order when we were there in June 2016. Access around the marina is generally excellent with very wide jetties and promenade areas and a relatively smooth ramp to the pontoons. I can't remember the detail of the disabled shower, I think Sam must have been too clean to need it when we arrived.

L'Aberwrac'h: We didn't attempt to get Sam off the boat here, nor from the moorings at Sainte-Evette. We have never found a way to transfer Sam to and from a dinghy alongside the boat.

Brest, Moulin-Blanc marina: We spent a week here in July 2017 and another unexpected two weeks in September 2017. We asked for an accessible berth in advance and were placed on the visitor's pontoon straight down from the capitainerie, where the boat is alongside a very wide, accessible jetty. One minor hiccup is that at high water, especially at springs, the little ramp connecting the main ramp becomes steeper as the main ramp becomes flatter, It took all my strength to get Sam up it. Otherwise the access everywhere was very good although distances quite long. There was a choice of disabled bathrooms but we used the men's facilities in the block under the Tour du Monde restaurant because it had a sturdy shower seat. The second time we used it the washbasin was no longer working. The car parks get very full and it is rarely possible to find a disabled space especially in the summer and at weekends.
In Brest we went to Océanopolis, one of France's biggest aquariums, which we would recommend for both disabled and non-disabled users and is just behind the marina. You need to take some proof of disability (eg a blue badge) to get a small discount for the disabled person, none for the carer. We also went by no. 3 bus into the city centre. The buses were great with wheelchair ramps available (although it took two goes to lower one of them so they are obviously not often used) but the city centre is somewhat dull. If we did it again I would get off the bus at Octroi and walk down the main street, which is a very long hill, instead of getting off at Place Liberté and walking up it!
It's well worth going to the botanical gardens, which are stunning, although we cheated and drove Sam to the lower car park, and didn't go to far in because the valley slopes quite steeply.

Port Vauban showing wide jetties

Ramp at a couple of hours before HW, still very steep and inaccessible for Sam. There is not enough space to turn a wheelchair or even lift it round on to the upward ramp unless you had several helpers
Camaret, Port Vauban: We went to the outer marina, Port Vauban, at least partly because it had lots of space on alongside berths and very wide jetties. However a comment on a CA report made me aware that the ramp is steep even at high water, because it goes to the top of the high sea wall. I went to investigate and not only is the ramp steep, but at the top is a little downward ramp which is far to steep for safe access of a wheelchair and offers nothing to hold on to. I could't think of a way to get Sam past it, so he stayed on board. Facilities at Port Vauban are in a small historic building and are down a number of steep steps, so are completely inaccessible. I didn't go into the facilities in the town centre marina but they looked rather old and tired.

Access to the citadel is bumpy but manageable for a wheelchair
The marina seen from the citadel in fog
Concarneau: this was the third time we had tried to get to Concarneau, this time with success in July 2017. We could have taken a berth at the very inner end of the visitors' jetty which would have been alongside the main walkway. I'm not sure if it would have been worth it however, as it was quite noisy. This is a base for the Glenan sea schools and every crew member from every one of the boats would be walking past your cockpit. It was marginally more peaceful on our own finger pontoon. The facilities are accessed through the capitainerie and it was one location where i never found the disabled showers, if there are any. The public toilets on the other side of the building are accessible but not very attractive. We took Sam into the citadel which was manageable but very crowded, and spent a lovely couple of hours in the maritime museum which was quiet, easy to get around, interesting and free for both Sam and for me as his carer.

Benodet,  Port du Penfoul: We were on the Benodet side of the river. Reasonable finger pontoons and jetties and good access around the marina. If you moored on a hammerhead, disabled access might be better, but there is a very strong tide running through the marina which is stronger the further out into the stream you are. This was the first time that Guy showed me how to lash the finger pontoon to the boat – if you use a short rope and make it as tight as possible, you stabilise the finger pontoon with six tonnes of yacht. Modern showers with disabled access. The town is also fairly easy to get around with a couple of small hills but the wheelchair is manageable all the way along the seafront.

Lorient: The visitor's pontoon has alongside moorings but was already rafted up two or three deep when we arrived, possibly with sea-school boats. We were allocated a finger pontoon instead. There are new-ish facilities with adequate disabled access, although again I don't think Sam used them.

The Port-Louis Capitainerie and bridge to the visitors' pontoon

Port-Louis: We liked Port-Louis a lot and would not bother going back to the Lorient city marina again. Excellent facilities in a new capitainerie building with a lovely view out over the river. Both ladies and gents had two disabled showers. After experimentation we ended up in the smaller shower in the ladies because there was more for Sam to hold on to. The ramps to the pontoons go over a bridge arrangement which is always disconcerting. The town is uphill whichever way you go to it, so we didn't get Sam much beyond the seafront moules restaurants. We didn't try getting Sam on the little ferries across the river, which might have been interesting.

Port Haliguen: We have been here several times but although convenient I find it very soul-less, perhaps because of the huge sea walls. Both in 2016 and 2017 we were a long walk from the capitainerie albeit on different sides of the marina and we didn't get Sam off the boat. Facilities were a bit disappointing but there are plans for massive further development so no doubt they will be much better in future. The beaches are lovely, however.

Fabulous aerial photos of the marina at La Trinité, click through to see them at full size. Romeo is the closest pontoon to the bridge and connects to a walkway at the far end
La Trinité: We were chucked off the visitors' pontoon and sent to Pontoon R which is actually the wavebreak. With luck and determination we got a really good spot on the inside of the jetty - outside is quite unpleasant in any kind of weather. The jetty was plenty wide enough to get Sam straight into the wheelchair but there was an extremely annoying raised barrier in the middle of the jetty which Sam had to climb over, and little bridges connecting the jetties which were rather hard work. Pontoon R is around half a mile by road from the rest of the marina and the town, but fortunately there are accessible but rather dilapidated facilities at that end of the marina. It's worth walking round to see the racing yachts and the Philippe Plisson gallery.

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

1 comment:

Charles McGrory said...

Thank you Camilla. Very kind of you and so useful for all of us to provide. I am planning a passage from Clyde to Brittany. I briefly in the yard met you, Sam and your son in 2014 in SYH. Well done Sam! I am back now in Clyde area.