Aboard their accessible barge Endellion, Lesley and Stewart MacLennan enjoy new experiences on Europe’s inland waterways.
Leisurely cruising Europe’s inland waterways in a custom-made accessible barge is the perfect travel solution for an Australian couple — and it can be just right for you, too!
Stewart MacLennan and his wife Lesley have always loved to travel, whether professionally or privately.
In his “walking days,” before multiple sclerosis totally slowed him down, Stewart made educational films for the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. These involved more than 30 trips to and around the U.S. and films in Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Antarctica, Germany and the Middle East.
Stewart’s first symptoms of MS appeared in 1985. As years went by, he hesitated to travel because, as a wheelchair user, he was concerned about accessible accommodations and bathrooms. The MS hasn’t ended the Australian couple’s wanderlust — they just approach adventures differently now. They decided an accessible motor home or boat could be the answer.
They located a UK company that had built some accessible barges. Two years after the first telephone conversation with the firm, the couple finally headed off in Endellion, a wheelchair friendly barge named after the Cornish village where they married. (They had met in Sydney, Australia.)
The barge’s living areas include many accessibility features such as tables at wheelchair-friendly heights, a roll-in shower, strategically placed grab bars, an accessible vanity basin, and sliding doors between cabins. Because Endellion has several floor levels, the MacLennans installed a platform lift to move Stewart from the wheelhouse galley down to the saloon level or up higher to skipper the barge. He uses a portable ramp to access the stern deck.
A critical design element was to ensure that anyone can easily get on and off the boat. Endellion has no bulwarks or raised gunwales around her square-cornered stern deck. Gaps and removable sections in the handrails allow embarkation from either side as well as from the rear. Lightweight folding ramps in several lengths bridge any gaps to the shore.
For the past few years, the MacLennans have cruised numerous waterways of Europe in England, Belgium, and France. In 2012, they left Paris in June and traveled 2,500 kilometers (approx. 1,500 miles) before their winter mooring back in Paris in December. Their average speed was 6.3 kilometers (3.9 miles) per hour.
They urge people to try a barge trip. It’s a leisurely float that offers many opportunities to enjoy life along the way.
“We only get one go at life,” Stewart says, “and travel is just the best way to see, learn, experience, meet people and enjoy their company, food, customs, etc. So, ‘Come on over!’ we say to all, ‘and see and try it.’”
According to Stewart, many organizations, especially in the UK, offer day trips for wheelchair users, and several hire out barges for longer journeys. An offshoot of Europe’s river-cruise market, a commercial luxury barge trip is like a floating bed-and-breakfast where you know everyone’s name by the second day.
For example, French Country Waterways, Ltd., offers luxury-barge canal cruises in rural France. The vessels are not wheelchair accessible, but for slow walkers or guests who need a bit of mobility assistance on shore, the company provides collapsible wheelchairs for shore excursions. (Contact fcwl.com.)
Note: Some information in this article is based on material provided by Stewart MacLennan in “Barging On,” Accord, Summer 2009. For updates on the MacLennans’ adventures and the Endellion, visit endellionbarge.wordpress.com/about.
To learn about additional terrific travel opportunities, see the travel features in the March 2013 issue of PN.