Accessible days out in the South East
Some obstacles can put us off visiting an attraction. It could be the steep steps and narrow corridors, or sometimes it's how far away the car park is from the place. But through a combination of innovative technologies and simple good practices, some places have made a big effort to ensure their attractions are accessible for all.
Here are some of the best accessible places to visit in the South East when walking is less easy.
Blenheim Palace near Oxford gets full marks for accessibility. Motorised scooters are available for hire from the palace entrance (some way from the actual building) for exploring the attractive surrounding gardens and estate. This makes perfect sense. Those with visual impairment will enjoy the Touch tour, where you can handle various objects from the collections with the assistance of a trained guide.
Ightham Mote near Sevenoaks in Kent is a remarkable 14th-century moated manor house complete with a grade 1 listed dog kennel. The National Trust property hires out buggies, however they do require that a volunteer is available to accompany it.
Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds, another National Trust beauty, has several free mobility scooters and wheelchairs, which can be booked in advance or you can try pot luck on the day. The beautiful gardens are not entirely accessible, but about 3 acres of the grounds can be enjoyed. There are also guides for those hard of hearing.
If 1066 and all that takes your fancy, then the Battle Abbey in Hastings offers excellent facilities for those with limited mobility and sensory impairment. You can borrow a scooter to meander around the site. It's surprisingly evocative.
Sheffield Park and Gardens
For a rather revolutionary idea and one that’s pretty sensible, try a double motorised buggy to enjoy Sheffield Park and Gardens in East Sussex. It makes a great change for anyone who normally pushes a wheelchair user. They can hop in too and enjoy the view from the buggy.
Due to demand, these need to be requested in advance and a donation is asked for too (in lieu of a hire fee). The grounds here are vast and varied, so this mode of transport will really offer a superb chance to discover, in comfort, some of the far flung corners that might otherwise have escaped a wheelchair user and companion.
At Hampton Court, great attention to detail has been paid to ensure that those with limited mobility and sensory impairments have every opportunity to enjoy the palace and gardens, with comprehensive information on the website.
Of course, the land trains, so beloved of the sea front a few decades ago, are a total triumph when it comes to covering larger areas of estates of parkland, for visitors of all ages and abilities.
Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking transports people around the vineyards with a historical audio guide, so slopes and hills present no problem.
The land train is also becoming more popular where car parks are at a distance to the main attraction and are used helpfully to ferry visitors between the two. Leeds Castle and also Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle in Kent do exactly this.
And to help those shoppers with tired or less willing legs, a land train shuttles between the stylish Pantiles and the new shopping mall up the hill in Tunbridge Wells.
Even Stonehenge has a land train impervious to inclement weather, with good wheelchair access, which gets right up close and personal with the stone circle. The latest alterations are not to everyone’s taste, even if some visitors report the stones are closer than before.
It is certainly worth exploring the website of anywhere you plan to go, and if in doubt, perhaps give them a call. Most places are very keen to do everything they can to ensure every visitor has a great time.
The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain is a wonderful mine of information too if you're looking for more ideas.
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For more information call Age UK on 0800 055 6112