Penny waxes lyrical about the appeal of London when the mercury rises…
There’s nothing quite like London in the summer the sunshine. This will be my 30th year as a resident of the capital, and agree with Samuel Johnson’s famous remark that, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Even now, I continue to find new things to be amazed and entertained by in the Capital.
London is a city in constant flux. The changes I’ve observed for disabled people during my time here are extraordinary, so I’d like to take the opportunity here to celebrate the hard work done by our many disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to make London one of the most accessible cities in the world. That includes its bus network, the Docklands Light Railway, parts of the overground, and the odd tube train; in terms of driving, Central London doesn’t conform to the standard Blue Badge parking rules, though it’s possible to locate disabled parking bays via the website Blue Badge London.
Coping with crowds
In summer months, London’s tourist hotspots groan with the weight of visitors – something I particularly noticed last July, while attending a House of Lords protest opposite Westminster Abbey. It was the hottest day of the year, and the crowds were in overload. Visit the mother of Parliaments, by all means – but be aware everyone else wants to do the same. As for Westminster Abbey itself, even getting into the rather squashed café refectory involves cobbles – no friend to wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments.
London is one of the shopping capitals of the world, and indeed, shops like Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty should be visited at least once in a lifetime. Access to these places is good, if generic, with lifts, accessible toilets and there is a range of places serving (expensive) refreshments.
Myself, I adore London’s free to enter parks and open spaces. Hyde Park and Green Park are both worth a look, but for me they lack the charm of my favourite – Regent’s Park, with its two-circle design, white ‘wedding cake’ houses, pretty flower beds and water features. Its smooth pathways are perfect for wheelchair users and good for anyone needing space without barriers, and there are plenty of toilet facilities. The Regent’s Bar & Kitchen café on the inner circle is on the small side, but the answer to that is to go al fresco. I’ve had some splendid picnics with friends, congregating en masse with camping tables and fancy tiffin boxes – the Regency surroundings demand that you picnic in style.
There’s also the marvellous Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, which is built into the fabric of the park’s flora. If you see that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is due to be performed there, then buy, beg, steal or borrow a ticket. Access to the theatre is decent, but book ahead.
Access and inconsistencies
East of London around the Stratford area we now have the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which is fully accessible and a remarkably peaceful, open oasis that stretches out over a large expanse. It’s easily accessible via the DLR, though if you go by car make sure to get your bearings when it comes to parking, since the distances between its points of interest, cafés and so on, can involve lengthy treks.
As in many cities, the best access features tend to be found on the main thoroughfares. Venture off the beaten track and you’ll find fewer dropped curbs – particularly in Westminster. Ironic, eh? One of the richest boroughs in the country, and its overall level of access is worse than, say, Waltham Forest, which includes parts of the majestic Epping Forest, the stunning William Morris Gallery in Lloyds Park and the lively ‘Enders’-style Walthamstow Market, one of the longest street markets in Europe.
Whatever you decide on doing when in London during summer, you can be sure that there is something you will like. Even if rain threatens to ruin your picnic, with just a little planning, you will not, I promise, be able to be bored.
Penny Pepper is a writer, performance poet, activist and veteran of the UK disability arts scene. Further details about her work can be found at www.pennypepper.co.uk; she also posts on Twitter as @penpep