03 January 2018
The UK’s most accessible areas of natural beauty
For those who live with reduced mobility every day, it can sometimes seem like making the most of life is difficult. There can be little denying that activities such as exploring the countryside tend to be easier for people who have no difficulties with walking, and especially for those who are able to navigate all kinds of terrain with apparent ease.
However, many local authorities and national organisations across the UK have spent the last few years making a conscious effort to open up the natural beauty spots they are responsible for maintaining and promoting to as many people as possible, whatever their levels of mobility.
In this article, we will take a closer look at just a handful of the countless places around the country which are proud to offer visitors of all abilities – even those who regularly rely on the use of home stairlifts - an unforgettable experience in some of Britain’s most stunning areas. Through a combination of hard work on the ground and more readily available information, you will be pleased to learn that it has never been easier to discover the best of natural Britain in comfort and with ease.
National Parks UK
National Parks UK is the organisation responsible for promoting the 15 individual National Parks which can be found throughout the country, from Dartmoor in Devon to the Cairngorms in Scotland.
We were delighted that the team at National Parks UK took the time to tell us more about the beautiful areas of land they seek to conserve and enhance, and details of how each one offers its own routes and initiatives allowing those with limited mobility to make the most of what they have to offer:
“The UK’s National Parks are Britain’s breathing spaces. Containing more than 25,000 km of public rights of way, they are full of routes to activity in some of our country’s most inspiring and beautiful locations. Our Vision is for the UK’s 15 National Parks to be protected, understood and enjoyed by everyone - both now and in the future.
“As the ‘green lungs of the nation’ the National Parks are a natural way to improve the nation’s health and well-being. But we know that for many people, it’s not so easy to benefit from these landscapes.
“Currently, 9% of National Park visitors have a disability or long term health issue compared to 20% of the UK population. Steps, uneven surfaces, stiles, steep slopes, and lack of information, equipment or confidence – all this prevents millions of people from exploring and enjoying the UK’s National Parks – even if they live close by.
“Accessible routes are already available across the National Parks in the UK, usually described as ‘Miles without Stiles’, ‘Access for All’ or ‘Easy Access’. These are routes suitable for people of all fitness levels and those with limited mobility, including wheelchair users, families with pushchairs and scooters, and the visually impaired.
“Even with great routes, that’s often not enough – people need to know that they are there and what to expect, so National Park staff and volunteers provide a range of activities including guided tramper walks, family days, health walks and buggy walks to get people outdoors and introduce them to the routes. Information on the routes and activities is on each National Park website. Downloadable maps are available too from the National Park website or mapping apps such as ViewRanger and the Ordnance Survey or you can get paper maps from National Park visitor centres. Some are even available on Google Trekker and Google Street View so that you can look them up before you go and plan your outing.
“All National Park Authorities are working with partners to develop and promote more accessible routes and activities across the UK to enable more people to be able to get out and about and enjoy the National Parks. As well as the National Park activities, Disabled Ramblers and other organisations can provide information about routes and facilities and often organise events and days out that can be a good way to start your exploration.
“Brief details and links to more information on the National Parks are below.”
Norfolk and Suffolk Broads (The Broads)
Access for All: “Mostly flat paths with no stiles along many of the major routes in the Broads make it naturally accessible but the Broads Authority are working on making it even more so. There are opportunities to get afloat as well as enjoy the views and wildlife from the boardwalks – see the Easier Access Guide at http://www.visitthebroads.co.uk/discover-the-broads/about-the-broads/access-for-all for details.”
Access for All and Easy-Going Dartmoor: “There are trails that can be enjoyed in a wheelchair or on a Tramper, which are available to rent at locations like South West Mobility, Devon Cycle Hire and National Trust at Parke in Bovey Tracey.”
“Easy-Going Dartmoor Tours offer people the chance to enjoy a day out visiting sites on the beautiful high moor accompanied by a National Park Guide. All vehicles are fully accessible and equipped to carry wheelchairs. Attendants / carers / families are also welcome to join the tour.”
Accessible Exmoor: “Some of the footpaths and bridleways on Exmoor can be rugged and challenging but many are much easier and suitable for a wide range of users. There is suitable access for people who are less mobile or use a wheelchair, families with young children or pushchairs, as well as anyone who just wants an easy-going stroll. There are several places on Exmoor where you can hire an all-terrain tramper including Heddon Valley, Wimbleball Lake and Dunster Castle.”
“There are 48 routes across the National Park suitable for people with limited mobility, including wheelchair users, families with pushchairs, and the visually impaired. Use the interactive map below to explore the routes available or choose from the menu on the left.”
Access for All: “There are many routes around the New Forest that are suitable for people with disabilities or families with a pushchair. There are also great opportunities for inclusive cycling from the charity Pedall and sailing and horse riding too.
“Some routes can be view on Google Trekker: http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/news/article/958/google_street_view_launches_for_new_forest_tracks”
“The new, fully accessible Sill landscape centre and YHA have replaced the Once Brewed Visitor Centre. Details of walks and activities are at
North York Moors
Easy access: “There are currently 6 walks we describe as 'easy access' which are short, fairly level routes, suitable for wheelchairs, scooters capable of travelling over rough ground, trampers and robust pushchairs.
“Use the interactive map below to find easy access walks and attractions and other routes which you might want to try out.”
“Access Peak and Accessible Derbyshire provide useful ideas and information.
“A comprehensive list of accessible sites and routes, including the excellent Monsal and Tissington Trails where all abilities cycles can be hired, are here: http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/accessible-places-to-visit/access4all-sites
“And a series of short films gives a useful guide: http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/accessible-places-to-visit/access-peak”
“4 Miles without Stiles routes with more planned – some great routes accessible by public transport such as the Seven Sisters route: https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/walking/miles-without-stiles/”
“17 Miles without Stiles routes: http://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/visit-the-dales/get-outdoors-dales/walking/miles-without-stiles”
50 Easier Access walks:
“Another way to enjoy the less accessible areas of the park is by hiring an electric all terrain 'Boma 7' wheelchair, which can allow people with limited mobility the freedom to join friends and family on walks across Brecon Beacons National Park, without the worry of accessibility. For more information and how to hire 'Boswell the Boma' please visit here.”
15 Walks for All routes: “The walks are designed to provide sufficient information for people to decide for themselves if a route is suitable, depending on their own needs and abilities.
The walks are intended for people who use mobility scooters, manual or powered wheelchairs and for people who have limited walking ability. The walks can therefore be enjoyed by family groups with toddlers and pushchairs as well as people with mobility problems and wheelchair users.
In general, people can expect reasonably level routes with no steep gradients or steps and information relating to the condition of path surfaces.”
“The website also provides information about 18 Easy Access Beaches and 36 Easy Access Viewpoints.”
“Whether you're looking for a long walk such as the Mawddach Trail or a short stroll along the Traeth Benar boardwalk, what these walks have in common is that they have been designed with accessibility in mind. These walks are relatively short and most have sections that are accessible to wheelchair users. They are also suitable for those who want to use pushchairs and are great leisure walks. The Mawddach Trail is also suitable for cyclists and is considered one of the best trails in Britain. Most of these accessible walks have facilities nearby including parking, picnic tables and toilets.”
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
“There are many paths in the National Park that provide particularly good opportunities for the less able or those looking for easy gradients and smooth surfaces in a variety of scenic locations.”
Access for All: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, how fit you are or where you come from, the Park is for everyone to access and enjoy. There are lots of places in the Park with easy access and accessible facilities. There are a wide range of paths with easy access in most communities across the Park. Some of these can be found in the Badenoch and Strathspey Paths with Easy Access guide. Have a look at other options in the community path leaflets.
“Check out the range of Phototrails in the Park which give a photographic description of paths and trails to help you decide if it is suitable for you.
“Details for routes, activities and accommodation can be found at:
North York Moors National Park
We also heard from the North York Moors National Park Authority themselves in more detail about the range of accessible areas which can be explored throughout the park.
Here’s what they had to say about the North York Moors’ most accessible parts, as well as what they have been doing to ensure that as many people as possible are able to benefit from their beauty: “For the last few years the North York Moors National Park Authority has made a concerted effort to remove barriers which can prevent people from enjoying the Park. This has led to several initiatives which benefit disabled people among others, such as replacing stiles with gates.
Image Credit: Ian Lawson
“The Authority relies on the help of people with disabilities to ensure that it is getting things right and always welcomes advice and comments. The Disability Advisory Group, which meets four times a year, is made up of representatives from a number of disabled groups. The National Park Centres (located at Danby and Sutton Bank) and the public areas of the Helmsley office are, of course, accessible to wheelchair users. Some of the most popular easy-access routes are detailed below. For information on others, please visit: www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/visiting/enjoy-outdoors/walking/easy-access-walks.”
Cod Beck Reservoir, Osmotherley
“Work by Yorkshire Water has opened up the popular reservoir walk to wheelchair users by adding a RADAR-key-operated gate on the western side of the reservoir, close to the car park. This means access for all to a route that’s level, sheltered and highly scenic – and much used by dog-walkers, bird-watchers and picnickers. Steps leading back towards the car park on the eastern side mean that you have to return the way you came – no hardship on such a lovely route – although longer-term plans aim to open up the access here as well. This and other ‘easy access’ walks are promoted on the National Park website at www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/walking.”
“Dalby Forest is a real favourite for walkers, cyclists, families, star-gazers and wildlife-watchers, and there’s a choice of well-signposted routes for anyone with mobility issues. The Ellerburn Trail is the best-known, a multi-user pathway for walkers and wheelchair users as well as being a safe and accessible route for children on bikes and parents with pushchairs (look out en route for the Gruffalo!). The Waitcliff Trail and Staindale Lake Trail may also be suitable – both are rated ‘easy access’ – while the night sky’s the limit at the free public stargazing events, held right next to the main visitor centre.”
Sutton Bank – England’s finest view!
“Our National Park Centre at Sutton Bank is a gateway to all that’s good about the National Park. No one need miss out on ‘England’s finest view’ (according to James Herriot) – the accessible path and viewing platform sees to that. A longer route to the top of the iconic White Horse of Kilburn is also wheelchair and pushchair accessible, along the dramatic escarpment edge. There’s also straightforward access to the visitor centre (and adjacent café), where you can birdwatch undercover from the handy wildlife viewing area. www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/suttonbank.”
Whitby Abbey and the Cleveland Way
“Experience part of the Cleveland Way National Trail at one its most spectacular locations, at fabulous Whitby Abbey. A wheelchair-accessible trail leads from Abbey Fields turning area out along the cliffs, while a new ramp offers access down to Whitby Holiday Park, with its café and toilet. You can return the same way (enjoying views of Whitby’s piers and the coast to Sandsend) or arrange to be picked up at the holiday park, having enjoyed one of the most exciting and spectacular sections of the Cleveland Way.”
Broads National Park
The Broads National Park, discussed earlier in this piece and also known individually as the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, were able to share with us some detailed and extremely useful information concerning both specific easy-access viewing and walking areas.
As well as this, they also provided an extensive list of local organisations which allow those with reduced mobility to enjoy a number of activities popular in the local area, such as boating and angling. Read on for more details.
Easy access paths and boardwalks
“These are often the best way to explore the marshy areas of the Broads and many are on nature reserves. They are suitable for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
- Beccles Marsh Trails
- Burgh Castle
- Filby Broad
- Horsey Mere
- Horstead Mill
- Hoveton Riverside Park
- How Hill
- Rockland St Mary
- Whitlingham Country Park
“More information on all these walks is available from the Broads National Park information centres.”
Boat trips, boat hire and other boating activities
Beccles – River Waveney
“Two single-deck cruisers with hydraulic lifts, designed for wheelchair users and people with other disabilities, take up to 12 passengers. Skipper and crew included. Galley and accessible toilet. Other starting points: Brundall, Norwich and Stalham. Please book in advance (online booking available).”
Horning – River Bure
“Two self-drive electric day boats, each with electric lift for wheelchairs, steering wheel controls, toilet, all-weather cover. Seat 10 people including two wheelchair users.”
Horning – River Bure
“Takes up to six wheelchair users on its scheduled trips or 20 for private parties. Please book.”
Horsey – River Thurne
“Trips on a classic wooden boat, takes up to 12 passengers including one wheelchair user (please enquire in advance). Style of commentary may suit passengers with visual impairment. No trips on Saturdays.”
Tel/text 07791 526440
Neatishead – River Ant
“Activities for disabled and socially disadvantaged people: motor cruises with wheelchair access, sailing, canoeing, birdwatching and fishing; day activities, holidays and courses; self-catering residential bungalow for up to 10 people.”
Oulton Broad – River Waveney
“Some wheelchair spaces available when sailing from Oulton Broad. Please book in advance.”
Oulton Broad – River Waveney
“Sailing club offering members with disabilities the opportunity to sail in specially adapted dinghies.”
Wroxham – River Bure
“Trips on four double-decker passenger boats. Trips can accommodate up to three wheelchair users (manual chairs only). Larger wheelchair user groups by prior arrangement only. On-board toilets are not accessible to wheelchair users but there is an accessible toilet at the boarding points. Pre-booking for wheelchair users recommended. Also day boat with a wheelchair lift – maximum lift 300kg. Minimum suggested hire time three hours, suggested times 10.00am-1.00pm or 2.00-5.00pm, for maximum six people. Booking essential, extra assistance available.”
“Most Broads Authority 24 hour free moorings are level and without steps. Please contact the Broads National Park information centres for advice about accessibility.”
“The Broads is a great place for angling for everyone, with a large network of well-stocked rivers and shallow lakes. The catch includes bream, roach, pike, rudd, tench and eel. You can fish from the bank or from one of the many platforms, or you can hire a boat. The coarse fishing season runs from 16 June to 14 March. All you need is a current Environment Agency licence, available from post offices or www.gov.uk/fishing-licences.
“Places with platforms or pads suitable for wheelchair users:
- Buckenham Ferry, River Yare – three pads
- Bungay – contact Bungay Cherry Tree Angling Club, 01508 518798
- Cantley Staithe, River Yare
- Filby Broad – on one boardwalk
- Ludham, River Thurne – three platforms at Cold Harbour Farm
- Martham Pits – two platforms – day tickets from the Co-op, Repps Road, Martham; 01493 748358
- Postwick, River Yare – 23 pads upstream of Ferry Lane
- Potter Heigham – south-east (Martham) bank of the River Thurne, upstream of the New Bridge – 10 platforms
- Upton Dyke, River Bure – two pads
- Worlingham Staithe, River Waveney – two pads at the 24 hour free moorings
“For more information go to the Broads Angling Strategy Group site: www.basgonline.org.”
Access All Areas
“This video, presented by Mik Scarlet, will give you a true flavour of a visit to some Broads venues with great access: http://bit.ly/2k6FHPA.”
The team at the Broads National Park also told us that two locations in particular have done a great deal of work recently to ensure that their sites are fully accessible to all, regardless of mobility. More details about these areas can be found at the following websites:
Whitlingham Country Park: http://www.whitlinghamcharitabletrust.com/
Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden: http://www.fairhavengarden.co.uk/
The Royal Parks
Finally, we thought it would be remiss not to mention the Royal Parks, a charity which is tasked with supporting and managing 5,000 acres of the beautiful royal parkland which can be found throughout London.
Some of the most famous areas that the Royal Parks charity looks after include Hyde Park, Richmond Park and Kensington Gardens, as well as all manner of other sites such as Brompton Cemetery and Victoria Tower Gardens.
The team at the Royal Parks work hard to ensure that each location is as accessible as possible, and their website contains a number of links to portals which offer more details about how those with reduced mobility can plan their visits. Below are some examples of how you can get started:
Image Credits: The Royal Parks, North York Moors National Park Authority, John McSporran, Craig Tuck, Malcolm Murdoch, Peter Pearson, Henry Hemming, Davidgsteadman, Wazimu0, Thomas Tolkien, Simon Harrod, Dominic Alves, Minniemouseaunt, Nick, Andrew, Andrew Bone, Francois Schnell, Nick Bramhall, Colin Gregory, Asands, Oatsy40, Smabs Sputzer, Tim Parkinson, Ted and Jen, Roger Green, Elliott Brown