VisitEngland: accessible countryside breaks
Following on from VisitEngland’s launch of its Access for All campaign, which aimed to raise awareness of accessible places across England, it has created three guides with a wealth of advice and information on accessible travel. Covering seven areas – Brighton, Margate, Birmingham, Lincoln, Nottingham, Northumberland, and the Peak District – 56 businesses across these locations have assisted in compiling the guides to help you choose your next holiday destination.
In a three-part series, VisitEngland shares its guides with Disability Horizons readers. This week find out about accessible countryside breaks.
Peak District and Derbyshire
There’s something distinctly regal about the Peak District and Derbyshire. With stately homes as standard, prolific literary connections and eminent English history fused with rolling stretches of lush green space, it’s quintessentially ‘English’. And, as you’d expect from a place where beauty and tradition blend seamlessly with hospitality and innovation, a trip here is the perfect balance of heritage meets homely.
At the north of the county, sitting on the southerly hills of the Pennines, is the jewel in the Derbyshire crown; the Peak District National Park. As the country’s original national park, founded in 1951, today it’s one of Europe’s most popular. It also packs in serious amounts of dramatic natural features spanning valleys, gorges, lakes and wild moorland. And the best news is that it never feels crowded, thanks to its vast 555 square miles scale, so you won’t be short of space.
Get away from it all in this breathtaking landscape and its parks and forests, they’re the perfect place for strolling, hiking, cycling, riding or climbing. If you’re a wheelchair user or have an accessibility requirement, don’t dismiss climbing the hills and traversing the valleys. Hire a Boma 7 all terrain wheelchair and you can explore the terrain alongside the walkers and hikers, no problem (you can watch presenter Sophie Morgan try out the Boma 7 in our Peak District accessibility video).
There is a real focus on accessibility in the Peak District and Derbyshire at the moment, with the charity Accessible Derbyshire also running its ‘Big Push’ campaign to make life easier for disabled people, their families and carers. Whether you are looking for a level stroll around a pretty village followed by afternoon tea in a quaint café or a sumptuous meal in a local pub, businesses are working hard to offer a friendly welcome to all.
The county’s iconic historic address is Chatsworth. Known as “the palace of the peak”, this baroque style stately home is in the heart of the art of the Peak District. The house itself has more than 30 rooms including the magnificent Painted Hall. And the art collection is one of Europe’s finest; spanning the old masters, Egyptian artefacts and modern sculpture.
Outside, 105 acres of beautiful gardens abound. Trail routes help you navigate around the best water features such as the Squirting Willow Tree Fountain and the maze, rockery, rose and kitchen gardens. Chatsworth has a dedicated team to assist guests with any accessibility requirements. Eight wheelchairs and three scooters can be booked in advance, and with a Sensory Garden on site, it’s clear the estate is serious about accessibility.
For retail therapy with a distinctive Derbyshire twist, there’s Peak Shopping Village in Rowsley. Relaxed and set in a stunning rural area here you can shop, wander round the art gallery or visit an antique auctioneers, a far cry from your local outlet or mall. Parking is free for four hours, with plenty of places to park, including 16 accessible spaces.
National names such as Pavers Shoes, Field and Trek and The Gift Company sit alongside local independents. Authentic Furniture stocks hand-crafted sofas and reclaimed baker’s benches among lots more, and The Old Station Country Store is a mecca for the green fingered. To make your shopping experience even easier, complimentary wheelchairs are available on request.
For a unique taste of working history, Crich Tramway Village is the place to go. This museum and village tracks the story of the tram, propelling it out of the history books and offering first-hand experiences for visitors. Wander around the authentic Edwardian street and enjoy a pint at The Red Lion pub or buy a quarter of humbugs at Barnett’s Sweet Shop. You can watch a live restoration of the working tram fleet, or take a woodland walk through to the Sculpture Trail. The designated Access Tram is a 1969 Berlin model, adapted for wheelchair users.
After all that history, it’s time to feel the wind in your hair. Parsley Hay Cycle Hire is an excellent option if you’re looking to explore the Peak District on a bike. You can hire hand crank cycles, tandem trikes, trikes, trampers and wheelchair accessible bikes. Situated eight miles south of Buxton, it’s a hub for the High Peak and Tissington Trails giving access to over 30 miles of flat, trafficfree cycling. You can also join up with the White Peak Cycle routes.
Stock up your panniers with local handmade cakes, waterproofs and guidebooks from the onsite shop. The Pavilion Gardens, Buxton, contains 23 acres of beautiful manicured lawns and parkland. And don’t be daunted by its extensive grounds – level access direct from the car park to the promenade and throughout The Conservatory, Café, Shop, Art Café and Octagon Hall mean it’s easy to get around.
The Conservatory houses botanical treasures from all over the globe, and, as a Grade II listed property, there’s a tranquil, timeless quality to the ambience here. Relax with a picnic listening to a brass band play a nostalgic tune from the bandstand. Or immerse yourself in one of the eclectic events hosted here; from farmers markets to dances and fetes, classic car auctions, circuses or live music.
From walls and walking to coasts and castles, this region’s remote land and seascapes remain gloriously uncrowded. Home to England’s most northerly national park, it’s also steeped in natural beauty, so if you’re lucky, you may just have a stunning sandy bay, mountain valley or lakeside lawn all to yourself.
History is also a huge part of the lifeblood here, with more castles than any other British county, it’s a hotbed for film producers looking to shoot the next period drama or fantasy adventure – both Harry Potter and Downton Abbey were filmed here. 2,000 year old Hadrian’s Wall is arguably one of England’s greatest historic landmarks. Once the boundary point, marking where the Roman Empire couldn’t venture, it stretches 73 miles from coast to coast. And today, it’s dotted with intriguing archaeological sites and museums. The fauna here is world-class too.
Northumberland National Park is home to many rare species such as red squirrels, otters and black grouse. At night the skies come alive in the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. The largest dark sky park in Europe is one of the best places to enjoy the stellar wonders of the astronomical world.
The county is fully committed to making the diverse countryside terrain as accessible as possible. The local tourist information centres provide accessibility information when you’re out and about. Plus, all the trains in the county run with ramps for wheelchair access, designated spaces, accessible toilets, colour contrast and audible announcements.
Calvert Trust Kielder is one of the standout highlights of Northumberland’s accessibility story. This outdoor adventure centre is the place to go if you want high-octane fun and don’t want to be restricted by your impairment. Expert instructors will guide you through activities spanning kayaking, sailing, zip wiring, geocaching, canoeing, abseiling, archery and laser clay shooting. The equipment lets you embrace new challenges and with many options available to reserve before you check in, you won’t miss out on new adventures. Climbers can benefit from climbing supports and adaptive equipment, plus paddle grips and archer’s arm supports are readily available.
The ten three bedroom log style self-catering chalets can be adapted to suit many accessibility requirements. There are two further luxury chalets and the unique Sky Den – a tree house with a spectacular sliding roof, featured on CH4’s George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
If you prefer adventures of the historic kind then the Roman Army Museum is one to add to your Northumbrian wish list. Taking history and bringing it to life, quite literally, is what this attraction does so well. Fully immerse yourself in the Roman empire and walk in the shoes of a Roman soldier. The Museum sits directly next to Hadrian’s Wall at the site of the Carvoran Roman Fort and adjacent to Walltown Crags; one of the highest standing sections of the wall itself. Learn about the role of the army in the Roman Empire and view the only Roman helmet crest ever to be discovered.
Watch the Eagles Eye Film, which includes an aerial view of Hadrian’s Wall as it is today, and then transports you back 2000 years to Roman times; it’s memorable and evocative. Hearing loops are fitted throughout the museum, and there is easy access for visitors with mobility impairments.
The sister site to the Roman Army Museum is the Roman Vindolanda Museum and Fort. This archaeological site on Hadrian’s Wall has been active for over 40 years and is arguably one of the country’s finest. Hard standing paths surrounding the site allow wheelchair access to a vast 75% of the remains and you can watch a live excavation from April to September.
The physical remains include a large Pre-Hadrianic bath house and a beautifully preserved third century bath house, several Roman army commanding officer’s barracks and a Roman Celtic temple built to an unknown Roman Celtic God. The dedicated museum houses an array of personal belongings lost, abandoned or scattered by the Romans including pottery, jewellery, textiles, coins, shoes and of course, their notable writing tablets.
Access for All campaign – what it means for you
Under VisitEngland’s Access for All campaign key staff members have completed disability awareness training. Accommodation and attractions have been audited by a professional access advisor and many have received a mystery visit from guests with accessibility requirements. All venues listed display full access statements on their websites.
Go to VisitEngland’s Access for All website to download this full costal breaks guide, which includes key contact details and suggested accommodation.
You can also visit our new travel site, Accomable, to find accessible accommodation not just in the UK, but across the world.
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