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Accessibility at Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge

close up of tiger at safari park

This post has been written by Chris Cammiss, Disability Awareness Trainer at Disabled Living. He talks about how accessible Longleat Safari Park and Cheddar Gorge are as a wheelchair user.

So, who’s up for some extreme tourism? My latest escapade was to spend a couple of days looking at Longleat 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. How romantic, how interesting, but how much would I see? How would I manage in the caves and 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 visit. Yes, I saw plenty of features that could be improved but the sites are well worth a visit now.

cheddar-gorge-natural-valley

First day was Cheddar Gorge – an attraction consisting of several caves developed in Victorian times as a tourist venue. With introductory film shows, a modern museum, caves, walks, viewpoints and shops, there’s a full family day out here.

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

The main cave – Gough’s Cave – after the man who made a public attraction out of it, is unfortunately inaccessible to many wheelchair users and mobility impaired visitors because of four large, sloping steps, but is very rewarding indeed. If you can be carried or otherwise helped down it is well worth the effort.

(Personally, as I was on my own at a very quiet time so a staff member bumped me down but this is definitely not company policy!)

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

The ground surface is excellent – the slightly ridged concrete path carries you along with no trips, bumps or slips.

Try the Museum of Prehistory. It’s small enough not to be daunting but large enough to house a huge array of exhibits all displayed with imagination. This is a very accessible venue. 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 a few sticks – hugely impressive!

My favourite destination was Cox’s Cave. This is a network of several inter-connected chambers. Complex and challenging for many with mobility or visual impairments, it rewards those who can manage handsomely. A brilliant multi media film show depicting the development of Early Man 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 lead you through the cave complex. In my wheelchair I was able to see the first parts and the last parts with the help and advice of the brilliant staff. Nothing was too much trouble.

The next day I visited nearby Longleat

deer at longleat safari park

Photo by Mark Woodbury – https://www.flickr.com/photos/markwoodbury/38962211774

Driving through the grounds for the first time my first impression was how fabulous the actual house appears. After parking I planned my day to include all the major attractions. There’s so much here for everyone to enjoy and again the staff were incredible. It’s also obvious 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 public may never see before joining the beginning of the public flow along the official tourist route through the House. Volunteer guides in every room – all dressed as 20’s flappers on my visit – will inform as much as you want or transport you into their world if you prefer!

Outside there are formal grounds, endless playgrounds, many animal enclosures, all generally accessible. There’s a fully accessible miniature train to carry you around the grounds while you catch your breath, even a fully accessible cruise around the huge lake.

There are many shops and eating places – all very accessible, and most of the rides are accessible as well.

The only downside in my opinion was the Adventure Castle play area. This was a stunning looking space, castle, drawbridge, aerial rope walks but all completely inaccessible to anyone with a major mobility issue.

If you have your own transport it all works brilliantly – you just drive around at your own pace, stopping at the fully accessible African Village as you go. If not, you can catch the fully accessible Safari Bus and sit back in comfort. It’s all there around you – elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos and flamingos.

Throw in the firework display and light show after dark – what’s not to like? It was a challenging trip but well worth the effort.

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