Have you got escalaphobia too?

Charlotte holds onto these rails with both hands Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Charlotte holds onto these rails with both hands Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I've got a weird problem and everyone I know thinks it's stupid.

I've got a bit of a problem. It's pretty weird, no one really gets it, but apparently I'm not alone…

My issue has always been a part of my life and it picks on me when I least expect it, like a nagging, ongoing dull ache.

I've always tried to cope with it, but last weekend's trip to London for a friend's 40th highlighted not only how acutely affected I am, but really how ridiculous it is. And what is this completely irrational, illogical, maddening thing I refer to? A fear of escalators, of course!

Yes, those innocuous things that basically make travelling a little bit easier.

As ever, when I travel to the Big Smoke, I'd made plans. We were staying near Tower Hill station which has stairs (score) and connects easily to the Circle, District, Central and Hammersmith and City lines. I have a special underground map showing where the stairs and lifts are so I was sorted. What I hadn't planned on was pretty much all those lines being diverted on the day we had to leave. So poor hubby had to schlep about Tower Hamlets with me (and our luggage), trying to find an escalator-free way onto the Central line back to Newbury Park.

Just in case you're interested, Mile End station has escalator-free access – but in heavy Sunday traffic (a la moi) is going to set you back around £20 in taxi fares from Liverpool Street. See…my fear is costing me a fortune!

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I still can't believe, in this day and age, that there are so few mobility-friendly stations in our capital city. Granted, being scared of moving stairs hardly earns me even a sniff of a blue badge, but I do wonder what those in wheelchairs or with balance issues have to do to get around. Are there secret lifts at some stations for these cases (let me know if there are)? Or do they, like me, have to plan for weeks before attempting public transport? Of the 270 underground stations in London, a mere 77 have lifts. It's just madness. While I accept there must be strict planning laws dictating what can and can't be done to these stations, is it really acceptable that only a fifth of them are catering for disabled folk?

This fear (it's called escalaphobia by the way) has gripped me since I was very young, although I can't pinpoint the exact moment it happened. Apparently I also have acrophobia (fear of heights) and bathmophobia (fear of stairs). Nothing else (well perhaps aside from illness and death) really scares me. I laugh when my daughter runs screaming from the bathroom upon discovering a 'huge' (tiny) spider. I've held pythons and tarantulas. I don't mind small spaces, or big spaces, or the dark. But put me in front of a steep flight of stairs and my legs turn to jelly.

Seeing as I've already humiliated myself, here are some classic moments where the fear has beaten me.

1. At the Moorish Castle in Sintra outside Lisbon I was so terrified about stepping onto the walkway that my friend had to hold my hand and lead me (cowering) around the path. People thought she was my carer.

2. At the Musee d'Orsay in Paris I crawled on hands and knees across one of the suspended glass walkways with my eyes shut – not tres chic.

3. At a showing of Wicked in the West End I had to crawl up to my seat as it was too steep.

4. I begged my friends to abandon me at a tube station connection halfway through a hen party when I realised I needed an escalator to change lines – they pushed me on and I cried the whole way.

5. Two years ago I was caught short at Stansted Airport, returning from Madrid, when a lift was broken. I begged a security guard to let me out a side door but he disappeared. My friends had to turn the escalator off, coax me off a bench and walk me down!

I think maybe some sessions with a hypnotist are in order…

Have you got a fear of escalators too? Do you find travelling in big cities difficult? Do you have any tips for getting around London? Or do you have another 'irrational' fear? Write to me