It is not until someone becomes the user of a mobility scooter or wheelchair that they can fully appreciate how complicated it can be making one’s way around many of the UK’s most popular and widely-visited attractions. Things which are simple for those who do not have mobility difficulties (such as negotiating certain surfaces or travelling uphill) can instantly make a day out unnecessarily stressful for anyone who cannot walk for long distances unaided.
Historically, exploring public gardens has presented logistical problems for people with limited mobility. Here, however, we will introduce you to four excellent examples of gardens across the UK that are notable for their wheelchair and scooter accessibility. Hopefully, this list will demonstrate how – providing you do some research beforehand – visiting truly beautiful outdoor spaces can be just as comfortable as relaxing in one of our rise and recline chairs!
Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, Devon
One of the most popular public gardens in the South West, Bicton Park Botanical Gardens is spread across 63 acres, meaning that there is plenty of space for several different horticultural themes to be explored in areas such as the Pinetum & Arboretum and the gorgeous Italian Garden centrepiece.
Whilst there are some slopes and steps to be aware of around the site, Bicton is largely accessible for wheelchairs and robust mobility scooters. In addition, the car park is only about 50 yards from the park’s main entrance and has eight disabled parking bays, as well as a convenient drop-off point.
One of Bicton’s most-cherished features is its Woodland Railway, which has been showing visitors around the park since the early 1960s. A treat for traditional train enthusiasts and plant lovers alike, the railway runs almost every day of the year, with the memorable trips on this 18-inch gauge line lasting approximately 25 minutes and taking in all corners of the extensive and diverse site. Disabled passengers will also be pleased to hear that the railway includes a carriage that has been specially adapted for wheelchair users.
If you do plan to visit Bicton Park soon, it would be a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the highlights you can look forward to seeing there so that you can plan your day accordingly. For more information on the many different plants and trees from around the world that will await you, click here.
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Scotland
A few miles south of the Scottish Borders town of Peebles, Dawyck Botanic Garden is – much like Bicton Park – home to an imposing collection of rare trees, including Douglas firs and Giant Sierra redwoods. As with all the UK’s best gardens, however, there is much more to Dawyck than its most famous features; look out for the stunning seasonal displays of snowdrops and rhododendrons, as well as the world’s first moss, lichen and fungi reserve!
In terms of accessibility, this garden takes its responsibilities towards its patrons with mobility difficulties extremely seriously – most of this spectacular setting is fully accessible, with clear signage marking all the paths around the site which can (and cannot) be explored via wheelchair or mobility scooter.
As well as easily navigable, relatively flat tarmac paths being present throughout Dawyck, other benefits for visitors with limited mobility include no less than 140 benches (with and without arms), wheelchair accessible lifts, lowered counter service points, several accessible toilets and the free loan of mobility scooters and wheelchairs. At present, the only section of the garden that is completely inaccessible to wheelchair users is the ‘Plants & People’ glasshouse display, although Dawyck has stated that it intends to remedy this exception “at the very earliest”.
A comprehensive access statement which gives much more information about what the garden does to help all its disabled visitors can be viewed here.
Kensington Gardens, London
Whilst London is one of the biggest and most populated cities in Europe, anyone who has spent much time there will know that it also boasts some of the world’s finest urban green spaces. Accessibility is generally excellent in the capital’s Royal Parks, with level surfaces and extensive seating prevalent throughout; perhaps best of all in this respect is the beautiful and historic Kensington Gardens.
Formerly the private gardens of Kensington Palace, this 270-acre area wouldn’t be the number one choice for those who most enjoy the wild side of nature, but the perfectly manicured lawns, lovingly-maintained ponds and impressive statues that can be found there offer visitors a tranquil and picturesque setting in which to take a well-earned break from the relentless hubbub of the ‘Big Smoke’.
Kensington Gardens (and neighbouring Hyde Park) also benefits from a fantastic, volunteer-led service called Liberty Drives that allows people with reduced mobility to explore this lovely place in complete comfort. With advanced booking, you can reserve an electric buggy tour that will take you, your scooter or wheelchair and up to five companions on a relaxing and informative tour of the park and gardens that lasts for over half an hour. For more information, click here.
The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
Finally, we must mention The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, as it is surely the most unique and exciting formal green space in the whole north of England – and, of course, it wouldn’t have made our list if its accessibility credentials weren’t also among the region’s best.
There are many unusual highlights at this garden that, once seen, will never be forgotten. If you only have a couple of hours to spend at the amazing Alnwick complex (which was originally built in 1750 but fully redeveloped in the early 21st-century), a few sights that you will have to try and squeeze in include the magical Cherry Orchard, the bizarre Poison Garden – which is filled with a range of potentially lethal plants, some of which are illegal to own – and one of the largest treehouses in the world.
Disabled visitors may be surprised to learn that the treehouse’s mid-air walkways and wobbly rope bridges are, in fact, suitable for wheelchair and mobility scooter users, with other examples of Alnwick’s dedication to accessibility including award-winning toilets, carefully planned routes around the garden and a brilliant selection of kids’ activities that can be tailored to entertain and educate children of all physical and mental abilities.
There is an excellent, interactive online guide that goes into detail about Alnwick Garden’s accessibility which is sure to answer any more questions you may have. You can read it in full here.