UK Travelling With Limited Mobility Requirements
Many of us will be considering staying in the UK for our summer holidays this year, and there are plenty of exciting destinations and lovely places to explore - or perhaps you want to go back to favourite haunts of the past.
Staying within the UK also makes it easier to travel with elderly relatives, groups of friends, and in bigger family groups. We're seeing quite a growth in UK ‘extended family’ holidays right now, and it’s nice for the whole family to get together for a few quality days, or a group of friends with shared interests to catch up and share time together.
When accessibility is a concern though, that often means those options are more limited and, even worse, sometimes you only find that out once you’re there.
Personal experience of taking elderly parents away, both of whom have very limited mobility, has created a very specific set of questions and planning requirements to ensure that what starts out as a really nice idea does not turn into a living nightmare.
Step-free access and accommodation equipped with handles and railings are expected in large cities, and they’re becoming far more common in smaller towns and quiet countryside getaways too. This is fantastic, and it’s great to see that more attractions are providing wheelchair-accessible shuttles to get you where you need to go. Visiting historical houses can be really lovely for picnicking in the grounds or visiting the cafe – but impossible to navigate around inside with walkers and wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
We realise you’re probably very familiar with the things you must look out for – those two or three stairs leading up to a hotel, or cobbled streets that are technically flat but are almost impossible for a wheelchair to navigate. Getting every little checked before you set off invariably still pays big dividends and won’t take the spontaneity out of your time away.
Accessible… or is it?
Think about buildings and attractions that are wheelchair friendly but not very friendly to someone who can’t hike a mile each way. What about a partner or friend who can’t push that wheelchair for two miles, even along those nice smooth (mostly) flat surfaces?
Limited mobility can affect us at any age, whether it’s an injury or a medical condition, and a little research can ensure that we have an enjoyable holiday no matter how mobile we are.
A few suggestions:
- Plan your outings and activities ahead and check total distances. Google Maps is a great way to do this, but it’s also a good idea to call ahead and ask for specific details. Personal experience has shown that if you explain to a restaurant that you need a table with clear passage for a wheelchair to a disabled bathroom, then everyone can be comfortable.
- Look carefully at what the area has to offer – promenades, gardens of interest, parks and café reviews all help build a picture of what you are going to be able to do in an area.
- The crew of the steamer on Lake Ullswater will place ramps from the dock onto the ship – but if the wind on the lake is cold (and it often is) you will need blankets. Taking shelter is easy for the able bodied, but very hard for some. A hip flask isn't a bad idea!
- Hotels may have lifts but getting from the lift to the restaurant or bar, if it involves steps, needs to be checked carefully before booking. Simply asking the question delivers the answers you need.
- Remember to check on access and distances from the carpark to the entrance, as well as the distance you would need to walk once inside. Check if there are nearby spaces for Blue Badge holders to park and if these can be reserved in advance. Never forget the Blue Badge, as it makes life so much easier - and don’t forget to set the clock and leave the picture on show. Also, don’t assume Disabled spaces are free of charge in public carparks – many are not!
- Is there a lift to take you to all or most floors of the place you’re visiting (especially if it’s an old castle, stately home or museum) or would you be stuck only seeing a small section?
- Take into account the amount of time you may have to be on your feet – will you have to stand or wait in long queues? If so, are there chairs available for visitors who need them? It may help to call ahead and arrange this.
- Make sure your travel insurance is fully up to date, including details of any accessibility or mobility limitations. If you’ve been injured or something has changed since purchasing your travel insurance, it’s vital to update these details. The biggest protection that travel insurance for UK travel will provide is for cancellation, curtailment and the costs you have to commit to prior to leaving home – these soon add up – the UK is not a cheap option.
- Don’t forget that local mobility centres will hire out walkers, scooters and wheelchairs, freeing up much needed boot space for the kitchen sink! Many visitor centres have the same facilities. Just call ahead to book what you need, bearing in mind that peak season will increase demand.
Where To Look
There are some great websites dedicated specifically to accessible travel within the UK – Visit Britain has an excellent “Accessible Britain” section which contains a wealth of information, and motability.co.uk provides a well-researched handbook that you can download. There’s also ‘disabledholidays.com’ which despite the unfortunate name, seems to be a good source of accommodation links, categorised by area.
Hotels on reputable booking websites are likely to have all the details you need about accessibility and amenities available, and many of the above guides explain accessibility of attractions and sights you can visit. Call to double check that your specific needs are met, so you can have the best possible experience.
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