ACCESS ALL AREAS: CORNWALL FOR THE DISABLED
Tens of thousands of people with physical impairments visit Cornwall every year - here's our guide to what to do and where to go
Many of Cornwall’s most popular attractions accommodate the needs of disabled visitors – with good reason, writes PAUL COCKBURN as he goes in search of what Cornwall has to offer those with physical impairments
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey, are undoubtedly one of the most popular botanical gardens in the UK, and an undoubted jewel in Cornwall’s crown of visitor attractions. They are also among the more accessible in the UK.
We’re committed to our disabled visitors and have recently commissioned the Sensory Trust to conduct a full site access audit,’ explains James Stephens from the Heligan marketing team. This access audit will not only look at disabled access but also things such a signage, parking, websites and many other aspects of Heligan.
At the end of last year we were joined by doctors and professors from Exeter University who conducted their own access audit,’ he adds. From these, we’ve already taken a lot of points on board and look forward to implementing their suggestions to enable even more disabled visitors to enjoy the magic and mystery of The Lost Gardens of Heligan.’
Of course, ensuring that your visitor attraction is accessible to disabled people – those with physical, mobility and/or sensory impairments, or learning difficulties – has been a legal requirement for nearly 20 years, but it also makes a lot of sense. While recent tourism research shows that Cornwall is attracting more young families and independent travellers under the age of 35, the majority of its visitors from the rest of the UK, Europe and wider world remain 45 and older, which proportionately increases the chance of them having impairments or longterm health conditions which require additional support.
Thankfully, Cornwall now offers a whole host of visitor attractions and facilities ideal for disabled visitors. Importantly, too, there are numerous sources of information online enabling visitors to check beforehand what they can expect on the ground. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, for example, has gathered together its accessibility information on a single page on its website (which adheres to W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), while those intending to visit can also download an access guide which documents those areas which visitors should be able to access with ease as well as those which may prove to be more uneven and unsuitable.
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For those visitors who are unable to access such areas or the Jungle or Lost Valley, we’ve created an armchair tour,’ adds James Stephens. This video runs in the picnic area all day and enables visitors to enjoy an in-depth tour of these stunning areas.’ Over the last few years, Heligan has worked with the Sensory Trust, a leading authority on inclusive and sensory design, to create wheelchair-friendly trails and events for children.
More general access information is available online from both tourism body Visit Cornwall and the county’s main disability charity DisAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly. Among its many services and projects, the latter continues to provide sand chairs or beach access wheelchairs in locations around Cornwall. This ensures, for example, that visitors with mobility impairments can get right onto Gyllyngvase Beach, which is found just 10 minutes travelling time from the historic centre of Falmouth.
Recommended by the Marine Conservation Society Good Beach Guide for its excellent water quality, Gylly’s fine crescent of sand – raked every morning during the summer months to remove litter and other dangers – is particularly popular with families and watersports enthusiasts. Further accessible amenities include the Gylly Beach Cafe (where the sand chair is based), public toilets, a large car park, and the nearby formal Queen Mary Gardens which are home to several sub-tropical plants.
For those visitors not so keen on the beach or coast, the Camel Trail provides relaxing access to some beautiful Cornish countryside. Following the route of a disused line once used by the London and South West Railway, the full Camel Trail runs for 28.9km (18 miles) taking in Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow in North Cornwall, although it falls into three basic sections, each roughly 9km (six miles) for those looking to take things easy!
Offering access to range of beautiful landscapes and wildlife, the trail is ideal for wheelchair users as the route is largely traffic free, smoothly surfaced and – given the original requirements of 19th century steam trains – a lacks any steep gradients! Particularly popular with cyclists, a range of specialist bikes designed for disabled people can be hired for the day from several cycle companies based in Wadebridge and Bude. The trail can also provide the spine’ for more detailed exploration of nearby villages and countryside.
A different kind of day out is offered by the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. One of three centres run by the National Seal Sanctuary, it operates as a rescue, rehabilitation and release centre for stray, sick and injured seal pups discovered and rescued around the Cornwall coast. Visitors can meet (and, sometimes, feed) the centre’s “residents” – including grey seals and sea lions, as well as Asian Short Clawed Otters, Humbolt Penguins, ponies, goats and sheep – and also enjoy the 40-acre site’s wide open spaces and woodlands. General accessibility at the sanctuary is good, according to DisAbility Cornwall, with firm paths, ramped access throughout, suitable toilet facilities and – perhaps most importantly of all – helpful staff.
For many, of course, there is a certain iconic value in visiting Land’s End – the western-most part of Cornwall and also the southern-most part of the British mainland. Most of the on-site visitor attractions here (except for the Air Sea Rescue Motion Cinema) and the surrounding landscape are accessible, with designated toilets and parking (free for Blue Badge holders) on site. Tarmac pathways and stony cliff paths around the peninsula are suitable for manual and powered wheelchairs, although the most accessible routes – to the First and Last House and Greeb Farm – are uneven and undulating’ and involve an uphill trek on the return trip. In common with all other visitors, of course, disabled people are advised to dress appropriately; while the Land’s End peninsula’s climate is generally mild and frost-free, it’s also quite often wet and windy – but then, weather is one thing that’s equal for all!
Visit Cornwall recommends...
The golden beach of Perranporth is a year-round winner for its fantastic facilities, which include a sand chair to aid beach access.The town of Perranporth, as well as the beach itself, is relatively flat and home to the Watering Hole beach restaurant which enjoys uninterrupted views out to sea.
Visit Cornwall has a total of 45 beaches in its guide featuring good disabled access. Other beaches on its list include: Coverack in the picturesque Cornish fishing village with a small sand and pebble beach on the eastern coast of the Lizard peninsula and Readymoney Cove, a south-east facing sandy beach to the south of the harbour town of Fowey.
Porthgwidden in St Ives is small and accessible, while Porthminster in St Ives and Summerleaze in Bude offer sand chair hire.
Despite being a valley garden with steep sections and steps, around 80% of the garden is accessible by motorised vehicles. Two motorised Tramper’ chairs are also available through the Countryside Mobility scheme, as well as a motorised carer controlled wheelchair. (book ahead to avoid disappointment).
Plus, entry rates for Registered Disabled and for their carer is half the standard rate!
South West Coast Path from Penzance to Marazion
The two-mile stretch of South West Coast Path between Penzance and Marazion flanks the glory of Mounts Bay with the fairytale castle of St Michael’s Mount on one side and trains chugging past on the other.
The trail is level and wide with plenty of places to stop and take in the views.
At the everything-thought-of Eden Project catering for all ages, abilities and backgrounds comes as second nature.
As well as accessible parking spaces, toilets and wheelchairs available for hire, the Eden Project provides a range of sensory highlights and ensures no stone is left unturned with a full accessibility guide which is worth checking out before visiting.
Find out more at visitcornwall.com/essentials/accessibility