Wheelchairs and mud – not a marriage made in heaven!

Wheelchairs and mud

Using a manual wheelchair means the wheels are narrow so they sink easily. Having absorbed that fact early on I don’t usually make mistakes nowadays.

On outdoor audits I try for dry days; I’ll look for ruts and footprints in the dry mud and work out how bad it would be on a wet day. Sounds like I know what I’m doing but I can still be caught out.

I once arrived for an official conference during my early days working in Calderdale – it was very wet, but I thought the car park would be tarmacked. Wrong!

I thought there would be empty designated parking spaces at the entrance. Wrong!

I ended up parking in the mud at the back of the car park, got out in the mud, pushed through the mud to the entrance, and looked and felt like a dirty drowned rat when I eventually got inside. Not the best start to the afternoon!

My worst mud experiences….

My worst mud experiences by far happened as a parent when I took my rugby fanatic son to junior rugby matches and training. From Under 9’s to Under 16’s, (that’s eight seasons – yes, eight), we had to include a trip to our local club or to a match elsewhere on winter Sundays.

Yes, we experienced excitement! And, we engaged in banter! Yes, we indulged in bacon sandwiches! And yes, we encountered mud, glorious mud!

Being a junior team meant they usually assigned us to the furthest pitch, away from the clubhouse – the one through the underpass, beyond the motorway, past all hope of rescue (don’t ask where the toilet is). I always had pushers, though. “Come on Dad, take your hands off the wheels, trust me.”

I never crashed, but the chair would be covered in mud over the footplates.

The final insult came from my son – immaculate out of the showers in a white shirt and smart tie on match days. However, he would walk into the shower fully clothed in his kit, get undressed in the shower, stuff the sopping kit into a bag, and pass the whole dripping mess to me to wash for next week! Adding insult to injury.

I ruined so many clothes during those days, not to mention the frequent mess in my car.

Thankfully those days are behind me now, or so I thought.

Wheelchair User Tips for Attending a Music Festival

I love attending rock festivals in the summer, but it can be challenging as a wheelchair user. I recently went to Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank, and the weather was terrible. It rained all night before the festival, and the ground was a sea of mud.

I parked in a muddy field and had to be carried through the entrance gates. I was covered in mud by the time I got to the accessible viewing platform. But I had a great time, thanks to the help of a friendly stranger who offered to push me around.

Here are some tips for wheelchair users who are planning to attend a music festival:

  • Check the weather forecast and be prepared for rain or mud.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Bring a change of clothes and shoes in case you get really muddy.
  • Ask about the festival’s accessibility features, such as accessible viewing platforms and toilets.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other festival-goers.

I hope these tips help you have a great time at your next music festival!

My Favourite Mud Story

But my favourite mud story doesn’t involve me directly – a few months ago I was auditing a potential communal garden which was bordered by an open wire fence. Whilst writing some notes I noticed pre-school children playing on the other side of the fence. They’d found an interesting puddle, and were absorbed with buckets and spades. The boys started conversation – why are you in that chair? do your legs work? my Grans got one of them. How fast will it go? The usual. Whilst answering as well as I could I noticed a little girl sitting

in the puddle and using a spade to pour the (very) muddy water down her outstretched arms and onto her (very) white dress! Whilst driving home I couldn’t rid my mind of the image of the loving parents coming to pick up their beloved child in her (once) white dress!

Until next time,


Chris the mudlark

Patient with ALS in Australia first person to tweet using direct thought via brain-computer interface

ALS Patient Tweets “Hello, World!” Using Brain Implant

Philip O’Keefe, an Australian man with ALS, has become the first person to tweet using only his thoughts.

O’Keefe received an endovascular Stentrode brain computer interface (BCI) in April 2020, which allows him to control digital devices with his mind.

In a tweet on December 25, 2022, O’Keefe wrote, “hello, world!” He used the hashtag #HelloWorldBCI to share his experience with the world and offer inspiration for the future.

O’Keefe’s tweet is a significant milestone for the field of BCI research. It shows that BCIs have the potential to restore independence and communication for people with ALS and other paralyzing conditions.

How does the Stentrode BCI work?

The Stentrode BCI is implanted in the brain through the jugular vein. It contains a small chip that records electrical signals from the brain. These signals are then sent to a computer, which converts them into commands that can be used to control digital devices.

The Stentrode BCI is designed to be user-friendly and dependable. Patients can learn to use it in a matter of weeks.

What are the benefits of the Stentrode BCI?

The Stentrode BCI can help people with ALS to regain a degree of independence. They can use it to control their computers, phones, and other devices. They can also use it to communicate with their loved ones.

The Stentrode BCI could also be used to help people with other paralyzing conditions, such as spinal cord injury and stroke.

What are the limitations of the Stentrode BCI?

The Stentrode BCI is still in its early stages of development. It is not yet clear how long it will last or how effective it will be in the long term.

The Stentrode BCI is also not a cure for ALS. It cannot stop the progression of the disease.

What is the future of BCI research?

BCI research is rapidly advancing. Scientists are working on developing BCIs that are more powerful, more user-friendly, and more durable.

BCIs have the potential to revolutionize the way we treat a wide range of neurological conditions. They could help people with ALS, spinal cord injury, stroke, and other paralyzing conditions to regain their independence and quality of life.

More information on BusinessWire here.

Updates from our own Access Consultant – Chris Cammiss

December news! & Accessible Calderdale Updates

Seems to be a very long time since I wrote anything, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy – oh no!  Work is as interesting and demanding as ever, if not more so, and the rest of my life hasn’t been dull either. Read on for news of the Accessible Calderdale Project.

I recently completed a long report for Calderdale on a huge road project connecting Halifax to Huddersfield, touching Elland etc which involved a lot of driving along busy roads, checking out possible crossings, negotiating roundabouts, coping with tricky gradients and discussing the dreaded “shared space” beloved by planners and hated by disabled pedestrians.

I’m still on the Accessible Calderdale project – stalled by Covid but still in operation – and found myself at St Matthews Parish Centre this month. Lovely, welcoming space inside but a crazy car park, too steep to push my wheelchair out of and a busy road to cross from the church without the benefit if a crossing. (The absolute downpour I encountered didn’t help – especially as I left my coat in the car. It’s a man thing).

I also noticed that the Calvert Trust were advertising for Trustees this month so I thought I might apply to see what they were all about. I’m happy to report that they’ve co-opted me onto their Operations committee. Little do they know…..

A lovely weekend break Shropshire

Outside work my car passed its MOT. It’s Motability but they extended my lease because I couldn’t get around car showrooms which were shut during lockdowns.

Had a lovely weekend break Shropshire in a country house which has an RHS connected garden. Very accessible garden and only one tiny portable ramp in the house. The staff used it so much they are going to leave it in place permanently!  On one day we mentioned a nearby house with a stunning garden which was unfortunately shut for the winter. They immediately rang them up and arranged for the garden to be opened up just for myself and partner!

Finally, I’m fully jabbed and now hopefully bullet-proof. Both Covid jabs, official booster, flu jab and even Shingles. Are there any more?

Northern Rail work continues at pace. Very exciting developments. Next week I go to check out a mock-up of an accessible toilet pod. If it stands up to scrutiny then it could be the answer on hundreds of Victorian stations which don’t have appropriate buildings to construct an accessible toilet in or don’t have many buildings at all. Watch this space for developments.

My most recent Audit on the Accessible Calderdale Project

I conducted my most recent Audit on the Accessible Calderdale project at AgeUK in Halifax. Great place, friendly staff and the strangest door system I’ve ever come across. Two narrow single doors next to each other, with a central column? Unless one was originally “in” and the other “out” I can’t fathom it.
Some work to do soon for the new Leisure Centre – can’t wait for that! Just my cup of tea.

Outside of work, we had to say goodbye to our beloved caravan (over twenty years old) which had endured so many fierce winters on the Cumbrian coast that the chassis was about to collapse. A new one just wouldn’t be the same.

And my final act of the month so far has been to successfully complete an online Speeding Course. Yes, I’m afraid to admit I was caught on camera speeding around. Not racing up to Cumbria, not chasing around Manchester where I live, but driving around Halifax a few mph faster than allowed! But online was better than the classroom version I did a few years earlier! (another story)!

Have a great Christmas and see you again in the New Year.

Britain loses hundreds of public toilets

Cash-strapped councils have closed a fifth of conveniences, leaving some people with no choice but to stay close to home.

Republished courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd, written by Chaminda Jayanetti.

Public toilets are not as convenient as they were. Getting caught short outside home has become an increasingly tricky problem as a result.

The trouble has been caused by austerity-hit councils in the UK who are not legally required to provide toilets for the public and who have cut expenditure on them in order to protect services that they are obliged by law to provide for local people.

The result is a major reduction of Ladies and Gents across the nation. According to Freedom of Information data obtained by local government researcher Jack Shaw and shared with the Observer, the number of public lavatories that local authorities have funded and maintained fell from 3,154 in 2015/16 to 2,556 in 2020/21 – a drop of 19% across the past six years, which comes on top of reductions in previous years.

Public health workers have warned that this loss of public conveniences is now causing major problems for a range of people, including the homeless, disabled, outdoor workers and those whose illnesses dictate frequent toilet use.

Continue reading here

The Captcha Conundrum & Accessible Alternatives

How to tell legitimate users apart from automated systems in an accesible way has been a problem for developers of accessible web sites for a long time. Here at Visits Unlimited we use invisible systems on comment, contact and log in forms that minimise the risk of causing accessibility problems but even these can cause problems on occasion.

Raghavendra Satish Peri has written an interesting article at digitala11y.com discussing different methods, their advantages and disadvantages, and problems on the methods used by very large sites.

…I wanted to contribute to the accessibility pages on Wikipedia recently and decided to make an account. I thought the process would be easy to register and start making edits, but I was quickly proved wrong. It requires solving a CAPTCHA.

I thought there might be an alternative method to complete my registration, but the whole exercise to find an alternative on Wikipedia frustrated me. In fact, I never found an alternative that day that used audio or a one-time confirmation code sent to a mobile device.

This is what it’s like to be a visually impaired person who uses the internet. Even the world’s most popular sites aren’t completely accessible.

You can read the full article on Digital A11Y’s accessibility blog here.

The high cost of living in a disabling world

For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, disabled people cannot yet participate in society ‘on an equal basis’ with others – and the pandemic has led to many protections being cruelly eroded

Republished courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd, written by Jan Grue

At times, it feels as if the disability rights movement won. After years of groundwork, 1981 was declared the International Year of Disabled Persons. I was born that year, in Oslo, Norway, and though I did not receive my first diagnosis of muscular dystrophy until I was a toddler, the coincidence is apt enough: I was born into a world that was, at last, beginning to recognise this aspect of my being in it.

Then, from 1983 to 1992, came the United Nations’ Decade of Disabled Persons. And the Americans With Disabilities Act, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The turn of the millennium was marked by a litany of good intentions and disavowals of unequal treatment – by an endorsement, as the first article of the UN convention has it, of disabled people’s right to “full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

I came of age in this world, more or less protected by these rights. In Norway, which produced its own act in 2008, I received an education, found work and started a family. I am writing this as a tenured professor, as well-protected as a member of a protected class can be. And yet I am writing with a feeling, as Tony Soprano had it, that I came in at the end – that the best, in the sense of our best and greatest hopes for universal, rights-based protections, and for the logic of anti-discrimination, is over…

Continue reading here

Chris has been busy working with the team developing plans for the projected Station to be built at Elland

As you know, I’ve been trying to get involved with the “powers that be” in planning decisions for some time. Improving the roads, opening a new building, changing use – I’ll always have an opinion, I’m a Yorkshireman after all!

I’ve got a lot of knowledge and a lot of lived experience – worth listening to – right?

However, it’s all very well shouting from the sidelines, but does that really do any good?

Read More

Extreme Auditing (working through the Pandemic)

Well, I certainly can’t remember a year anything like this one – it seemed to come to a grinding halt in March, and it’s certainly not back on the rails yet.

For the team at Visits Unlimited you might think that would be the end of things for the foreseeable future, no one going anywhere, no one meeting up with anyone, not a bit of it.

We’re far more resourceful and resilient to accept that!

True – work did drop off a cliff for a few weeks, audit dates in the diary were cancelled, people didn’t know what could or should happen, but that didn’t last for long at our Accessible Calderdale Project.  After a few weeks of hiding away, people started peeping over the parapet and gingerly climbing over.

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Fully Accessible, The Space @ Field Lane is a new community Space in Calderdale

Opened in September, 2020 (but temporarily closed due to the Coronavirus lockdown), The Space @ Field Lane is a community building which had lain derelict and in very poor condition for nearly ten years.  This left the local community with nowhere to come together for socialising for group or activities or to access services and training without going into the centre of town.

The Space @ Field Lane image of dining area

In 2016 a group of local residents came together to rectify this situation and negotiated with Calderdale MBC to take over the building, to carry out a full refurbishment and then for it to be run by local residents.

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So near and yet so far……..again.

I love getting out and about. It’s good for fitness, and we also live in a very beautiful country containing lots of awe-inspiring buildings. A particularly keen interest of mine is in history, so what better way to combine both passions than exploring a magnificent ancient ruin?

Just prior to the lockdown, my partner and I felt the need to get out and about and had located a suitable hotel online and so we stayed in North Yorkshire for a long weekend and made sure we thoroughly explored our surroundings. We found we weren’t far from Rievaulx Abbey (Click Here To Visit Site) which I’d heard about but never seen. The weather was decent so off we went.

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What’s in a name?…….and the name is “accessible”……..

Well, we all know what that means now, don’t we? Read on…..

A few weeks ago my partner and I were feeling a little stir crazy and thought we deserved a weekend away, so that’s what we planned.
(Ironically this was the weekend just prior to hearing Government advice not to travel unless totally necessary. So, we had a lovely three days of gorgeous villages, artisan markets, great weather, excellent meals and too much to drink, to return to a different world. If we thought we were stir crazy then….?)

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Centre Vale Park Todmorden looks like a great place to visit after lockdown.

Recently I was made aware of Centre Vale Park in Todmorden . I’ve not had the pleasure of a visit yet but looking at the little I’ve seen online it looks very enticing &  seems very accessible .

There are 33 hectares so it covers a fairly large area & seems to have areas to suit everybody . I look forward to visiting when lockdown is behind us all to see what it has to offer . Situated on Burnley Road , half a mile from Todmorden town centre it boasts woodland walks , open parkland , play areas & even an under 12s roadway , to name but a few . Definitely one to look forward to .

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So, the first year of the brilliant Accessible Calderdale project is already over! Bring on the second!

It’s been consistently absorbing and incredibly varied. Massive plans, big ideas, selfless individuals – it’s all there.

I’ve met many, many interesting, committed, hard-working people – all determined to make their particular voluntary project work. Hopefully my advice, followed by money from Community Foundation for Calderdale will help them all to realise their dreams.

People always want to hear a summary at this time of the year – high spots, interesting people, fascinating twists, unexpected turns – so here goes!

After roughly forty audits I’ve accumulated plenty of stories……

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To the Mayor of London from Nadia Clarke

To the Mayor of London:

I would like to say something regarding the 2019 New Year’s Eve Fireworks event. I am a wheelchair user, as I have cerebral palsy, so I booked for the accessible area for the event. It has been my dream for years to go, and I travelled all the way down from Halifax. I had to pay for a Hotel and also transport for not just me, but my 2 PAs, so this was at great expense. A few weeks ago I got my letter with the information for the event and it was not very detailed at all. When me and my PAs were heading to the event the map was useless, as it did not show much of the  surrounding area or the streets. On the tickets it said “From Waterloo” at the top, but did not explain what this meant. I am guessing this means that is where we could get to the area,  however, as the tube is at times inaccessible for wheelchairs and also would be crowded on New Year’s Eve, this was not the best option for me.
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How accessible is your business/venue?

Are you meeting your legislative requirements?

Did you know that being accessible can help your business grow?

Visits Unlimited is a Halifax based organisation working with attractions and businesses both locally, regionally and nationally.  We work with colleagues in the tourism industry to help reduce the physical and non-physical barriers often experienced by disabled people.

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Accessible Calderdale Project Free Access Audits and Training to the Voluntary Sector

Visits Unlimited trainers have many years of experience of delivering training to a wide range of organisations, tourist venues, businesses, statutory services and the voluntary section.  We train management, front of house staff and volunteers across the country.

Visits Unlimited is part of the England Inclusive Tourism Action Group alongside Visit England and other partners in the tourism industry.

Our offer to the voluntary sector and community groups in Calderdale:

Free Training to all those organisations who have put in an Expression of Interest Form for our Free Access Audits.

Recent feedback from our local training session

 “ Thanks Chris and Katie for sharing your personal experiences to help us understand more about disability”

“I can use what I learned in everyday aspects of my life – professional/parish and volunteering”

“Very informing and eye-opening.  Thank you”.

Free Access Audits

  • Would you like to develop your community group venue to become more accessible to people with disabilities?
  • Are you considering re-locating your group and would like to ensure the proposed venue is inclusive and accessible?

Chris Cammiss is our skilled and professional auditor, trainer and disability advisor. Chris works is an auditor for a variety of venues including large tourist attractions, stately homes and castles, health settings, large businesses, transport, shops, hotels, outdoor venues and small organisations.

Chris provides a full access survey with a report a recommendation. Groups will have the opportunity to apply for funding through the Community Foundation for Calderdale to support recommendations for access and inclusion.

Feedback from recent audits
“So helpful”, “fabulous audit”, “looking promising with the funding from Community Foundation”, “invaluable”.

Contact Lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk 07596 707795 

The Accessible Calderdale Access Audit Expresssion Of Interest Form is downloadable by clicking this link.

Email the completed form to lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk or post to: 15 Savile Park Gardens, HALIFAX, Yorkshire, HX1 2XL.

Chris, collaboration, great folk & the lion’s den.

Longleat, where change is welcomed.

I went back down to Longleat on Tuesday to see Simon Townsend and his team from Cheddar Gorge and Longleat to discuss my two earlier Access Reports.

After enjoying a lovely journey there I was quickly deflated when I found the main Entrance completely blocked off! Proper electronic barriers, clear signage, the venue was clearly closed! Luckily I could see a distant Land Rover parked amongst the trees so I knew some sort of access must be possible but how, where? Being the consummate professional I am I had arrived without Simon’s number or indeed the contact details of anyone relevant to the venue!

Eventually I started to think more clearly, looked around more carefully and found “the button”. Quick press and I was through to Security and the barriers soon began to move aside.

After parking, one more random question and I was directed to the Estate Office. Jump forward a few minutes and now I’m back in the real business world. Simon collected his team, a suitable room was located, coffee was brewed and off we went.

What a positive meeting! Everyone was on the same page and very keen to progress. Lovely to encounter so much enthusiasm. It’s always a good sign when everyone is discussing issues without mentioning costs. Of course costs will be relevant later but it never blocked or influenced a discussion here.

I was particularly relieved to find how much common ground there was. I had indicated several areas in my reports where I wanted to see immediate improvement. You never know how well negative comments will be received in these situations, but all was well, we all agreed, they had the same reservations as me and indeed some changes were already on track.

Hopefully this will be a long-term connection, yearly reviews, training updates and so on. I want to continue working with such lovely venues and enthusiastic staff.

After a very productive meeting, feeling very pleased with the situation we eventually dispersed into the night.

Now, I had been there before, but in the pitch black you can easily lose your bearings. Signs are missed, floodlights don’t quite illuminate the places you want. Paths which are obvious in the daytime become inexplicably invisible in the dark. After a few wrong turns (including a near miss with the lion enclosure) I spotted red rear lights in the distance and set off in pursuit. I was able to locate some paths and negotiate the winding route to eventually catch the line of departing staff just as if I knew exactly what I was doing!

A great day and a very positive conclusion to my work which had started back in November. Katie’s training is yet to come and then we’ll know more about how to carry this great collaboration forward. Watch this space!



Making Calderdale Accessible For All                      

A new venture run by a local not for profit organisation Visits Unlimited! Making Calderdale a place that offers a warm and inclusive welcome to people who live here and those who visit.

Visits Unlimited has received 3 years funding from the Community Foundation for Calderdale to work with disabled people and local voluntary groups, the local authority, visitor attractions, transport companies, businesses and Visit Calderdale.  They are working together with Disability Partnership Calderdale and are really excited to have this opportunity to make a difference to our local community.

“We want everybody to take full advantage of what our beautiful area has to offer.  That includes visitors and people who live here.   We want to make sure that Calderdale is a fully accessible and welcoming place where people with disabilities and their families can enjoy and leave with memories that entice them to return!”

Visits Unlimited

Visits Unlimited is a Halifax based user led organisation who works both locally and nationally with colleagues in the tourism industry.  They run a training and access audit programme across England and clients include the National Trust, English Heritage, football and cricket grounds, large tourist attractions, small businesses, theatres, music venues, museums and hotels.   

Visits Unlimited ran the Accessible Hebden project thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation for Calderdale in 2015.  Working with disabled people they completed over 40 access audits and surveys on small businesses to support them to become more accessible.   This project is now imbedded into local strategic work and the Hebden Bridge Disability Access Forum continues to roll out the work and to be a key player in new planning and designs.

Accessible Calderdale

Accessible Calderdale is building on this work and will be working across Calderdale together with Disability Partnership Calderdale to ensure that we have the voice of disabled people, their families and carers, organisations working with people with a range of impairments to have a say in how the project runs.

“Visits Unlimited have been a catalyst for us on the Hebden Bridge project.  We had identified access issues with our Access Group but just turning up was not good enough. Visits Unlimited did a report on the train station and to have their report under our arm has given strength to our argument every single time we have met and we were able to go to Network Rail and the highway authorities   – it has made a big difference.  I have learned a lot – things I did not know or what was available.” Hebden Bridge Partnership.

 “Our disability survey was extremely useful as we did not appreciate the things that needed doing.  Chris gave us lots of useful simple ideas including even changing the door knob on the toilet facilities that we never thought about.”  Pennine Heritage.

The project has developed two working groups which convened in December 2018, ‘How to get there’ with a focus on accessible transport and ‘Places to go’ which focuses on accessible tourism. The groups will meet four times a year and are integral to the project in developing Calderdale into an accessible and inclusive place.

Calderdale Disability Access Forum

Visits Unlimited are establishing a Calderdale Disability Access Forum so any organisation or individual wishing to get involved can contact the project coordinator, Lorraine Beiley.   The group will meet in March 2019. We are delighted to have already made some good alliances with voluntary and community sector, the local authority and Visit Calderdale, and are holding an event at Square Chapel on February 26th 2019 – guest speakers include Visit England, our own Eureka and Accessible Derbyshire.   #wewelcomeeveryone   We will be doing free access audits and there will be opportunity for community organisations to apply for a small grant from Community Foundation for Calderdale.

Contact details

For more information contact Lorraine@visitsunlimited.org.uk or rob@cffc .co.uk

My day out at Longleat Safari Park

Day one was Chedder Gorge, Day 2 Longleat.

Driving through the grounds for the first time, my first impression was how fabulous the house actually appears. After parking up, I planned my day to include all the major attractions. There’s so much here to do and see, everyone will find something to enjoy.

Staff were incredible again and lots of thought has already gone into improving access.

The House itself was a delight. As often happens the dedicated disabled entrance takes you through several rooms the general public may never see but then joins the public flow along the tourist route through the house. Volunteer guides are in every room and they are friendly, helpful and clearly love what they do, they are all dressed as 20’s flappers and full of great information.

Longleat outside

Outside there are formal grounds – all accessible, endless playgrounds, a fully accessible train taking you around the grounds so you can catch your breath, even an accessible cruise around the huge lake.

There are many eating places and shops – again all very accessible indeed.

Most of the rides are accessible.

The only downside in my opinion was the Adventure Castle children’s playground. Stunning looking space, castle, drawbridge, rope walks from tree to tree, aerial walkways, but all currently inaccessible for many with mobility issues.

But, back to the park and the famous Safari itself. If you have your own transport it all works brilliantly – you just drive through at your own pace. If not, catch the fully accessible bus. Stop off at the African Village, all very accessible, and spend as much time as you wish.

It’s all around you – elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, flamingos..

Throw in the fireworks and light show after dark – what’s not to like?

It was a challenging trip but well worth the effort.

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge 

Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge

So, who’s up for some extreme tourism? 

My latest escapade for visits unlimited was to audit Longleat Safari Park and sister attraction Cheddar Gorge.  

Some simple cave exploration in the Gorge and dancing with lions at Longleat – no problem at all for a wheelchair user! 

I have to admit I was intrigued. I couldn’t believe my luck. How romantic, how interesting, but how much of the caves would I see? How would I get around the Safari Park? 

Well, I found the whole experience fascinating and much more accessible than you might have thought. With the help of some very well-motivated staff I had a great time. Both sites were an absolute pleasure to survey. Yes, I saw plenty of features that could be improved but the sites are well worth a visit now.  

Day One – Cheddar Gorge.  

The attraction in essence consists of several caves developed in Victorian times as a tourist venue. With an introductory film show, a modern museum, walks and viewpoints and several shops, there’s a full day out here. 

After purchasing tickets, see the introductory film. This beautifully sets the scene with colourful history, wildlife, flora, what to visit and what can be managed. 

The main cave – Gough’s Cave – after the man who made a public attraction out of it is unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchair users and anyone who can’t negotiate four sloping steps but is very rewarding for anyone else.

Staff helpfully bumped me down (not for the general public) so I did see most of what is on offer. If my recommendations are followed the access will be quickly improved. 

A long tunnel carries you into the rock – Cheddar Man, unique rock formations, twists and turns, audio description points – very special indeed. 

After Gough visit the very accessible Museum of Pre-History. Small enough not to be daunting or boring but large enough to house a huge array of exhibits all displayed with imagination.

The fun never stopped

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by an enthusiastic school party who were greatly entertained by the Stone Age re-enactor who dressed them in animal skins, told them about skinning a rabbit and finally showed them how to start a fire with just a few sticks – hugely impressive!  

My final, and possibly favourite destination was Cox’s Cave. This is a network of several inter-connected chambers. Complex and challenging for some with mobility or visual impairments it rewards those who can manage handsomely.

A brilliant film show showing the development of Early Man in the area is displayed on the raw walls of each chamber, carrying you through his history, changing environment and the animals he hunted. Sound and lights enhance this extremely entertaining  production. Different episodes take you through the cave complex.

Mindful of my mobility issues, staff made sure I saw as much as possible by letting me in the front and back entrances. Nothing was too much trouble.