22nd May, 2018
I am currently living in North Hertfordshire with my parents. Three years ago, my parents bought a small plot of land and built a rather quirky lodge in a forest on the North Norfolk coast. They took ownership of this in autumn 2016. Since this time, we have enjoyed going there for weekends on a regular basis. The information that follows relates directly to these trips to Norfolk and how I have had to adapt my everyday living to accommodate my impairments; both physically and mentally.
From my experiences to date I have found that environments that differ from those I am familiar with can frequently prove problematic. Problems that I believe are due to and/or greatly exaggerated by my brain injury. I am pleased to say that I am however still able to enjoy much of Norfolk and its attractions. Though to do so I must square up to the fact that the restrictions in my mobility, mean that I frequently need some form of guidance enabling me to enjoy things that would be otherwise inaccessible.
It hasn't been easy for me to come to terms with the fact that I require direct help and guidance because I feel that this robs me of a certain degree of independence, freedom and anonymity. That said, I recognise that with the help and guidance I have received I have learnt to navigate around unfamiliar surroundings, mitigating the risk to my safety and wellbeing. I now can independently go around the shops and short walks without getting too lost. Initially I did lose my way a few times. This made forest walking tricky as my mobile phone has no signal in the forest. On one occasion I was lost for over an hour or so. This was worrying for my parents more than me! I did ask for direction from walkers but as our lodge is in a remote spot, no one could help. More luck than judgement I stumbled upon our house, keeping up the appearance that I had been on a longer ‘brain injury-hazard free walk’, whereas I was well and truly relieved to be home.
From a mental perspective, I always feel Norfolk to be a place I can go to and escape from the reminders of the impact of my brain injury such as hospital appointments, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation events. A place I can go to and restore my resilience to the challenges that my brain injury has caused me.
From a physical perspective, Norfolk provides an environment in which I can test the limits of my mobility. I have a left sided weakness and no left sided vision. The combination of both means that I am a hazard to myself and others especially during the busy peak season and holidays. When it is busier I must be extra vigilant when it comes to obstacles such as toddlers and pensioners as well as the damaging public property by way of the odd lamppost or bollard. When I do knock into people, I am often as surprised as they appear because I haven’t seen them coming. Apologies are tailored to their level of anger or worse still their pain, and convincing them that I am neither drunk or disorderly!
Although I must be more careful and cautious in Norfolk, generally I find the pace of life there is much slower than in the South. People seem friendlier and more accommodating to my restrictions and overall have more time to spare – which I really enjoy. I generally feel less likely to be judged by people, which makes me feel more relaxed and confident.
Norfolk has many interesting National Trust places, which led me to join as a member. My ‘Access for All’ membership allows me and two ‘companions’ to visit any site at no cost, as well as free parking. I recently visited a National Trust house and gardens, a country retreat that reflects the personal stories of four Norfolk families. Whilst the house was interesting I enjoyed the walled gardens more. The dove cote was very impressive and bigger than I imagined. It was circular red brick work with plenty of room for loads of doves.
The North Norfolk coast line is about a mile from our house. The cliff top walk is a huge favourite for walkers and holiday makers. The scenery is breath taking – both the sea and the cliff tops. Boat trips run most days depending on the weather, these include organised trips to view seals in their natural habitat.
One of the things that I enjoy the most is the array of different places to eat and the excellent fresh seafood on offer. This is both via fishmongers and restaurants/pubs. The fish that we get from the local providers is superior being so close to the sea. The choice of pubs is vast but due to the nature and age of the buildings not always easily accessible to those with a physical impairment and reduced mobility. That said, I have always found the staff at these places pull out all the stops to try and be as accommodating as they can. It is always worth calling ahead.
I appreciate how lucky I am to have such a place to retreat to. The calm, neutral environment helps me forget some of my struggles and anxieties related to my life with a brain injury. The mini breaks offer me and my family the welcome opportunity to be together and ‘enjoy’ each other’s company!
“ The Hospital Brain Injury Co-ordinator became someone who absolutely understood how I felt, I didn’t need to explain. I could talk about my fears and worries. She was such a great support through the difficult days, but could also celebrate the small step successes, which was important to me. ”