Written by Katlyn McDonald
Hestercombe House, based within Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton, is a historic house with 12th century origins - all upgraded, added to and demolished by Hestercombe's owners throughout the centuries. Hestercombe itself offers fifty acres of heritage gardens spanning three centuries of design, plus a fascinating, ever-changing contemporary art gallery. Its place within Somerset means that it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside spots anywhere in England - from the gateway to the South-West, Taunton, to countryside destinations too, some of Somerset’s finest places are nearby. But what does this region offer to the 1.2 million or so people in Britain with wheelchair accessibility needs – and is it safe and accessible for them to get around?
Accessibility at Hestercombe
Hestercombe House is a Grade II* listed building while the gardens are Grade I listed. It’s a good starting point for anyone looking for an accessible day out to explore the Taunton area of Somerset or to take in some outdoor air in gorgeous surroundings – and where possible it’s been made accessibility-friendly, too. Areas which are suited to people who are wheelchair or mobility scooter users, for example, have been marked out in an accessible-route map. Mobility scooters are available to hire for £6 per every two hours, and there are free wheelchairs available for hire as well. And if you fancy a cup of tea or coffee later in the day, the Column Room Restaurant and the cafe are both accessible by wheelchair users.
Taunton is a historic town which was first established back over a thousand years ago. Often, this sort of history leads to inaccessible features like cobbled streets, awkward pavements and more. But like Hestercombe House, it has adapted – and large parts of it are wheelchair accessible. The car park on Canon Street, for example, has 306 accessible bays. And tourist attractions, such as the Willows and Wetlands Centre, come with features like accessibility ramps for wheelchairs.
Into the countryside
For those who are looking to go further into nature, Somerset has a variety of options. A day out at the Bishop's Palace, Wells, offers those with accessibility requirements plenty to do, and they have written a comprehensive accessibility statement for visitors to read to help them plan their visit.
Similarly, Forde Abbey near Chard offers beautiful gardens, much of which is accessible to people in wheelchairs, and on arrival the most suitable paths for wheelchair users will be indicated to you by staff - and there are plenty of benches around the gardens to rest. All kinds of technology for improving movement can be used in the gardens: smooth paths and ramps mean that electric wheelchairs can get around, for example.
But that’s not all. There are plenty of countryside destinations around Somerset which are designated specifically for people who want to have an accessible day out. The Strawberry Line in the middle of the North Somerset region is great for those who are moving about in a wheelchair as it has fully level access. And if you fancy doing something completely different, why not head over to a destination such as the Clatworthy reservoir where there’s a Wheelie boat if you want to set sail in a wheelchair?
Hestercombe and the wider Somerset area are popular for a reason. They attract over 11 million visitors each year because they’re beautiful, and interesting too. And for those visitors who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, there’s no need to feel left out thanks to the many moves which have been taken to ensure accessibility.
Find out more about Accessibility at Hestercombe.
Image: by Annie Spratt