Accessible South West

American MuseumThe South West of England has so much to offer visitors. There has been a steady migration of retirees down to Devon over the years and owners of tourist destinations are very aware of the limitations that reduced mobility brings.  A great deal of investment into accessibility now makes a day out for locals and their visitors really enjoyable.  

The South West offers diversity, there really is something for everyone. 

Bath is England’s only UNESCO World Heritage city and is the home of the American Museum, the only museum of American decorative and folk art outside the United States. Situated on the edge of the city in Claverton House, the building is fully accessible via ramps and a lift. Manual wheelchairs are available on loan from Reception. Assistance dogs are welcome and disabled toilets are situated in the Gallery Shop and Coach House. Blue badge holders are able to park in front of the Main Building.

Travel South to Plymouth and look out across Plymouth Sound as Sir Francis Drake and other famous sea faring characters did before setting sail. Today the National Marine Aquarium succeeds in amazing visitors as they embark on a journey across the world’s oceans. The Aquarium is accessible by ramps and lifts throughout. There is limited disabled parking on site so it is a first come, first served.

Castle Drogo loungeThe very best of Britain’s landscape and scenery are found in Devon’s five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Drewsteignton on Dartmoor is where the last castle in England was built. Castle Drogo (NT). There is Mobility parking in the main car park, an Accessible toilet at the visitor centre. Wheelchair access to the castle (one wheelchair available to borrow). Two rooms are wheelchair accessible (stairs to other floors) and there is a Volunteer operated buggy available from visitor centre to the castle. Discover the beautiful Lutyens-designed terraced garden which is partly accessible by gravel paths off of the main drive.

TIC’s across the South West have an excellent range of literature categorising suitability of sites for those with limited mobility.  Accessible Trails have tantalising names such as The Tarka Trail running between Meeth and Barnstaple, a haven for wildlife and outstanding views so vividly described in Henry Williamsen’s ‘Tarka the Otter’. Drakes Walk in Tavistock was purpose built by a special needs group and won 3rd prize in the Esso Community Footpath Awards 1994. Parking and toilets are available in Bedford car park. 

RHS Garden RosemoorFor garden lovers RHS Garden Rosemoor near Great Torrington is a must. Eight manual wheelchairs at the garden entrance are available for ‘on the day’ use. Two Powered Mobility Vehicles are available for guests with limited mobility, free of charge, (subject to membership to the Countryside Mobility South West Scheme). Adapted unisex WCs are situated in the Visitor Centre and in Rosemoor House.

One companion is admitted free of charge per wheelchair user. Assistance dogs are welcome. A plan of the recommended route for those with limited mobility is being developed.

Exeter Ship Canal is a bird spotters paradise with flat and easy walking. Darts Farm near Topsham offers nature trails and you can hire binoculars from the farm shop where toilets for the disabled are situated. 

Buckfast AbbeyIf visiting National Trust properties it is always worthwhile to check on how accessible public areas are, many properties now have golf buggies to transport visitors from the car park to the property. Advance booking for parking is necessary at the newly opened Greenway (NT) once owned by Agatha Christie. The ground floor of the house accessible, grounds partly accessible, but there are steep slopes and narrow paths. Adapted toilets are next to the Visitors Reception.  Manual wheelchairs are available for loan.

Just off the A38 lies Buckfast Abbey. This living Benedictine monastery offers tranquillity. A video tells of the monks determination who returned in 1882 to rebuild the Abbey. There are only two rooms in the area open to the public that are difficult for wheelchair users. Disabled toilets available.

Crossing the A38 towards the Elizabethan town of Totnes is Dartington Hall perched on a hill. This medieval estate was a centre for progressive thinking in education, agriculture, forestry, music and the arts in the 1930’s. Today concerts are given in the summer by students attending the International Summer School. There are disabled toilet facilities at the entrance and in the White Hart restaurant. Disabled Parking spaces.

Tarka TrailDartington Cider Press shops and eating places at the bottom of the hill again offer easy parking and disabled toilets.

Rivers which were once the main transport routes for tin and wool now host regattas, marinas and sailing schools. If you miss being on the water and feeling the wind in your face then sailors have the opportunity of joining Dart Sailability on a Tuesday or Saturday during the summer. Purpose- built boats, which can be adapted to meet the needs of individual sailors are available to enable disabled people to get afloat. A hoist is available to safely lift wheelchair users into the boats.

Visit the South West and you will find that there is more to this spectacular area than smugglers coves and thatched tea shops.

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Kay Wiseman

Optimistic traveller & wordsmith

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