As the weather improves and the elusive sunshine comes out, many people start to think about day-tripping and making the most of the summer.
By Michael Park
People choose different sorts of days out for a variety of reasons. Some are looking to see something new, different or downright unusual, whilst others just want to relax and forget about day-to-day life. Meanwhile, younger family members or the more active may be looking for excitement and adventure from their days out.
We pick out some of our favourites and try to satisfy all tastes whilst keeping an eye on the best for accessibility and facilities.
Fun For All The Family
Bournemouth Beach and The Bournemouth Balloon
Bournemouth has long had an unfair reputation for being a glorified retirement home, but this jewel of the English Riviera is the perfect place to pick up a bucket and spade, soak up some rays and generally enjoy the fine weather the south coast has to offer.
Further back from the beach is a tethered hot air balloon which provides panoramic views over the entire town. The balloon provides space for up to three wheelchair users at a time but there are no seats, so anyone who is standing must be able to do so for the 15-minute duration of the trip.
The beach itself is more accessible than most with plenty of disabled parking bays and provisions in place for wheelchair users to access the sand using buggies – these need to be booked in advance though, so be sure to plan ahead.
Paradise Wildlife Park
Paradise Wildlife Park is designed with disabled people in mind and this zoo and playpark combination has something for all the family. There are all sorts of animals with big cats and wolves, all visible from a raised, accessible walkway, and some smaller animals guaranteed to raise the ‘cute factor’ such as meerkats and monkeys.
At its centre, Paradise Wildlife Park boasts an accessible playpark which offers full support seat swings and even one which can accommodate a wheelchair, allowing disabled children to enjoy the park along with their able-bodied siblings and friends. Another nice feature are the signs on the enclosures showing sign language symbols for the animals. It should be noted that although assistance dogs are allowed in the park, this must be arranged prior to arrival due to the nature of the attraction.
Navan Centre & Fort, Armagh, Northern Ireland
Known in Old Irish as Emain Macha, the Navan Fort was once the ancient royal seat of the Kings and Queens of Ulster. The reconstructed fort and walk-through exhibition explains the history of this part of Ireland from mysterious myths and legends to more terrestrial archaeology. The centre is fantastic for kids, offering ‘authentic’ Celtic costumes for them to dress up in while a cast of characters bring the fort to life, demonstrating day-to-day life in ancient Ireland.
The centre offers accessible parking, the exhibition areas are completely accessible and flat but the surfaces in the reconstructed dwelling are a bit bumpier. Headsets are provided in the exhibition and visitors have plenty of time to make their way around at their own pace. Only the very summit of the fort is likely to be off-limits to wheelchair users with a set of steep steps leading up to it.
Set Pulses Racing
Adventure Island, Southend
The majority of the rides at Southend’s premier theme park are disability friendly, taking a lot of the worry away from a day out. What’s more, the rides are charged individually with entry to the park free, meaning that the few rides which aren’t accessible can be avoided.
The Viking Boats, Flying Jumbos and Blackbeard’s All at Sea are suitable for all ages and guests can be assured that there are rides suitable for thrill-seekers and thrill-avoiders alike. The Barnstormer and Green Scream rollercoasters are not for the faint hearted, while the 21-metre high Sky Drop is a white-knuckle experience only recommended for those who like their heart very much in their mouth.
Unlike most theme parks, there are no turnstiles at the park entrance, but some rides do have them; disabled visitors are able to enter these rides via the exits. Rides at Adventure Island are marked as being “suitable for most disabled people with the help of a carer” but whether this applies will depend on visitors’ specific circumstances.
Airkix Indoor Skydiving
If rollercoasters seem a bit boring, why not try some simulated skydiving at Airkix in Manchester? While it doesn’t sound terribly accessible, the centre’s experienced staff are used to dealing with customers with a wide range of disabilities and extra care needs and the experience itself is akin to swimming in that it negates physical disability in a wide range of cases.
Visitors enter a chamber which fires air straight up at speeds of over 100 miles per hour, allowing them to experience the sensation of freefalling without the need to throw themselves out of a plane. A trainer is on hand at all times and carers are able to accompany guests into the flight zone, although not into the actual chamber itself.
A More Relaxing Experience
Severn Valley Railway
Nothing fills people with the same nostalgia as remembering the golden age of steam. The chugging of the engines, the glamour, the experience of a journey rather than a drab commute is all on show and what’s more, is all entirely accessible at the Severn Valley Railway near Kidderminster.
Thanks in no small part to the fact that this heritage route uses modern stations, the disabled facilities before even stepping onto the train are excellent and the main stations on the route offer Blue Badge parking and fully accessible toilets. Many of the trains on the route carry adapted carriages complete with ample wheelchair space and accessible toilet facilities.
One of the stranger tourist attractions the Highlands has to offer, this Georgian era fort is located about 15 miles from Inverness at the mouth of the Moray Firth. Built to protect the Firth against Jacobite rebels, the fort is one of the best preserved fortifications in the UK and is a must for those who enjoy military history and exceptional coastal views.
Although Fort George is still a working military barracks as well as housing a public museum and exhibition space. Visitors will be surprised at its considerations toward accessibility. There are stairlifts in the main museum (although the top floor is not accessible to wheelchairs) and powered scooters and manual chairs can be borrowed from the museum. There is also an induction loop available in the audio/visual sections of the museum, as well as in the shop and main foyer.
Get A Disabled Persons Railcard
If you’re an avid day-tripper then you should consider investing in a Disabled Persons Railcard to mitigate some of the cost of your travel. It costs just £20 for an entire year and gives you 1/3 off Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares for you and a friend.
Find out if you’re eligible: disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk/are-you-eligible
A Card For A Rainy Day
Of course, we do live in the UK and you may find yourself unable to partake in outdoor activities and might find a trip to the cinema to be a more viable option. The CEA Card is a national scheme developed for UK cinemas. The scheme was introduced in 2004 and is a way for participating cinemas to ensure they make reasonable adjustments for disabled guests when they go to the cinema. It ensures a complimentary ticket for someone to go with them, meaning that carers can attend screenings free of charge.