“Are we nearly there yet?” takes on another dimension when uttered by Senior Citizens than when heard out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. As we grow a few more silver hairs, we find that parking nearby to an attraction and the angle of ascent (or preferably lack of) becomes an increasingly important factor in the enjoyment of a day out. We don’t want to get worn out walking to the site. But, let’s face it, the job spec for medieval architects rarely covered making castles inviting to visitors. Heritage managers have faced an uphill (sorry) struggle to improve access to buildings and provide suitable alternatives where access just is not possible.
There are inevitably a few disappointments where the construction makes it physically impossible for adaptations to be put in, but on the whole we feel that over the past ten years many sites have moved heaven and earth to improve the visitor experience for all visitors.
One of the best sites we have come across and deserves a bouquet is Blenheim Palace near Oxford. For a number of years it has been possible to hire motorised scooters to take the strain on getting from the main gate to the Palace itself and to whizz around the extensive grounds– a great idea and we salute you and wish that many more of the heritage sites would follow in your motorised footsteps.
Blenheim also offers a Touch Tour with a trained guide providing the opportunity to touch and feel some of Blenheim’s most famous artefacts.
In Kent National Trust’s Ightham Mote – a most beautiful moated manor house set down in a dip – hires out buggies but only if there is a volunteer to accompany the buggy-ist.
Battle Abbey in Hastings, Sussex offers mobility scooters for loan to roam around the battle fields of 1066.
National Trust’s Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds provides a number of free mobility scooters that can be booked in advance or on a turn up & ride basis for use around about one third of the stunning gardens. Free binaural guides to the garden are also available.
Sheffield Park and Gardens in East Sussex has been part of a pleasure garden and parkland estate since the 1700’s and continues to stay up to date by offering DOUBLE motorised buggies to zoom around their acres of landscape garden, parkland and woodland (these need to be booked in advance and a £2 donation is requested.). This really is forward thinking. One of the great difficulties with manual wheelchairs is that the carer is often a similar age to the wheel chair occupant and finds pushing the chair arduous. A double buggy means that conversation is easier and isn’t sharing the delights of what you seeing one of the greatest pleasures of a garden trip? Baby backpacks and all-terrain baby buggies are also available for a small donation.
Alternatively why not visit places where everyone in on wheels. Denbies Wine Estate at Dorking provides land train tours of the wine estate. The vineyard train takes visitors on a round trip to the highest point in the vineyard with full commentary outlining the history of the Estate. Conversely why not do it the old fashioned way?
At Hampton Court these wonderful Shire horses will take you around the magnificent grounds.
We are seeing more and more land trains ferrying visitors to and from carparks or around the venue itself. Leeds Castle in Kent is a good example of a land train operating in parallel with the Shank’s Pony alternative, as is Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent. During the summer in Royal Tunbridge Wells a land train operates between the level historic Pantiles at the bottom of town to the level modern shopping centre at the top of the town.
The much maligned alterations to Stonehenge are, to our view, a great improvement, we’ve even heard comments that they appear to have moved the Stones closer! An optional weatherproof land train, with excellent own-wheelchair access takes you close to the Stone Circle. Currently, powered scooters are not available to hire on site to transport you around the stones, but this is being considered.
We find that most heritage sites are only too willing to do that little bit extra to make a day out a delight, but they do prefer to be contacted in advance so they can offer you the best when you arrive.
More about Dawn
Dawn Blee is an experienced tour guide and winner of Tour Guide of the Year. Her company South East Tour Guides offer bespoke tours and will carefully research the accessibility options of the attractions clients wish to visit.