Accessible Attractions in The Scottish Borders
I've lived on the English/Scottish Border for over twenty years. I've always enjoyed visiting the many attractions the Scottish Borders offer. A few years ago, rheumatoid arthritis reduced my mobility so I started looking at visitor attractions from an accessibility angle. The area contains many historic attractions and has a hilly landscape so I expected difficulty in finding suitable attractions for the less mobile. I was pleasantly surprised to find many venues make great efforts to welcome everyone. When Silver Travel Advisor asked me to write about accessible attractions in my area I was delighted to do.
I have learnt that even though a website may illustrate a disabled friendly venue, it can be beneficial to telephone before a visit. For example disabled blue badge parking can become limited during busy times and staff can advise on the best time to visit to ensure a disabled parking place.
Floors Castle, Kelso
Floors Castle is Scotland's largest inhabited castle. Its pale stonework with hints of gold, its towers, turrets and stonework make it resemble a fairytale castle. It was built in 1721 by the first Duke of Roxburghe. Today it is the home of the 10th Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and their family. Both the castle and extensive grounds are open to the public.
There is dedicated disabled car parking and wheelchair and mobility scooters are welcome, as are assistance dogs. Wheelchair hire is available. There are disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets.
Access to the Castle is by steps, with a rail. However, access by lift is available by request – follow the signposts to the Gift Shop where it will be arranged for a guide to take you to the lift.
The grounds consist of formal and informal gardens. There are level pathways in the grounds which are wheelchair accessible, however, the woodland walk is uneven in areas.
There is also a Courtyard Restaurant, Terrace Restaurant, Gift Shop, Castle Kitchen Shop, and Plant Centre which all have level or ramped access.
The Courtyard Restaurant is self-service and can get busy. For a more relaxed meal, visit the Terrace Restaurant which has waitress service and is beside the Plant Centre and Walled Garden. Guests are able to drive to this area through the grounds and there is parking immediately outside the restaurant. Guides will give directions on the route to drive, the alternative route is a fifteen minute walk through the woodland area.
There is clear signposting throughout the venue and an audible alarm system. I found the guides to be particularly helpful.
Abbotsford House and Gardens, Melrose
Abbotsford House was built in the 19th century for Sir Walter Scott – Scotland’s most prolific and successful writer. It's now owned by The Abbotsford Trust. It stands on the outskirts of Melrose town.
This venue has ensured there is good access throughout. There is a new fully accessible visitor centre housing
a fascinating exhibition illustrating Scott's life and achievements as well as a shop selling a wide range of products.
The house is filled with fine furniture, books, possessions and intriguing objects relating to Scott's life. The tour route through the house is level (apart from one step). The formal gardens are all accessible apart from one or two steps near the riverside which may prove difficult for wheelchair users the gardens.
The venue provides: A free car park with dedicated disabled car parking. Disabled drop off points close to the entrance. Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are welcome. Free manual wheelchair hire is available. Assistance dogs are welcome. Respite seating throughout the entire venue. Level tour through the house. Hearing induction loop. Audio tours, large print information available. Disabled/wheelchair accessible toilets. Exterior pathways are smooth (a mixture of gravel with resin bond). Interior flooring is carpeted or varnished wood.
The entry fees (concessions are available) can be for the house and garden or just the garden. For those just wanting to visit the Visitor Centre, it is free.
The Hirsel Estate and Homestead Museum, Coldstream
The Hirsel Estate stands on the Scottish bank of the River Tweed on the outskirts of Coldstream. The seat of the Earls of Home since 1611, it was once the home of former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Currently it is under the stewardship of David 15th Earl of Home and his family. The Historic house where the family live is not open to the public but the extensive grounds and museum are.
The approach to the Hirsel Estate is along a long driveway which has a memorial to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and views of the surrounding rolling countryside. There is no entry fee but there is a charge for parking (£2.50 when I visited). However, Blue Badge holders get free parking.
The venue offers history, woodland, riverside and lakeside walks. The opportunity to see the famous Douglas Highland Cattle, an abundance of bird life, a craft centre, gift shop, museum and cafe.
The museum is housed in separate rooms which once were farm buildings, each opening onto a courtyard. There are some cobbles around the museum and inside some museum rooms there is uneven paving. However, the viewpoint into each small room from which you can see life size displays is the doorway, so the uneven interior paving can be avoided.
There is level access to the craft and gift shops and cafe. The cafe will cater for special dietary requirements. There is a wheelchair accessible toilet. Assistance dogs are welcome.
The walks are illustrated on a map near the car park and colour coded for ability. The pathways and routes are mostly disabled friendly and wheelchair accessible. I took a walk past the lake and woodland to observe the Highland Cattle this walk was on smooth level surface. There is respite seating throughout the venue. Signposting is clear, staff are helpful.
Paxton House and Gardens, near Paxton
Located a few miles inland from the border town of Berwick Upon Tweed and just inside Scotland, Paxton House is a fine example of neo-palladian architecture. It is also known for its large collection of Chippendale furniture and its art collection. Its beautiful grounds extend down to the River Tweed.
Car parking with disabled parking bays is free. Manual wheelchair hire is available – please telephone in advance to arrange this. Assistance dogs are welcome. Level access is provided to the shop which houses the ticket office.
The guided tours of the house involve stairs, however there is a lift which can take you to the first floor (the second floor contains the nursery and bedrooms), allowing partial access to those who cannot manage stairs.
The cafe has level access. There is a wheelchair accessible tpilet. Some areas of the grounds are steep and uneven making partial access to the grounds for the less mobile. Respite seating is available throughout the venue.
The Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick
Located thirty miles east of Edinburgh, the Scottish Seabird Centre, provides a wealth of fascinating information on local marine and bird life, through its displays, films and live web cams. There is also a cafe and shop.
This venue provides full access and friendly staff. It is housed in a large modern building. There is ramped access to push button automatic doors, wheelchair accessible lifts, low level displays for wheelchair users. Respite seating throughout the venue. Disabled/wheelchair friendly toilets. A ground level cafe and shop both with level access.
There is Blue Badge parking outside the centre, however it is limited to about 5 places (other parking facilities are available in the town just a short walk away). Staff recommend you telephone them when you plan to visit and they will tell you the best time to visit to ensure the best chance of a disabled parking bay.
Gunsgreen House, Eyemouth
Situated on the south side of the harbour in the fishing town of Eyemouth – Scotland's first town on the east coast. Gunsgreen house is a palatial mansion designed and built by leading archtect John Adam for local merchant John Nisbit.
Gunsgreen House also has another name, 'The house of secrets', because funding for its creation arrived from the proceeds of smuggling and the purpose of the house was not just to be a home but to traffic contraband. John Nisbit was not just a local merchant but a rather rich Smuggler. The house has so many hiding places built into it that it is thought there are still more to be found!
Today Gunsgreen House is an interesting visitor attraction, the top two floors are closed to the public as they are let as holiday accommodation. This furnished house contains an interesting exhibition detailing the smuggling trade in Eyemouth. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly.
The walled car park which includes dedicated disabled car parking bays is immediately outside the house. The separate disabled entrance is clearly signposted and easy to reach from the car park. It is a separate entrance because the standard entrance is via the cellar, which is under the car park and accessed by walking down railed steps.
Once inside, there is lift access (which is wheelchair friendly) or stairs with rails to use. Although their website states there is no lift access to the top floor this does not affect the visitor experience as the top floor is part of the holiday accommodation, not part of the standard house tour
Some of the paving in the cellar area was a bit uneven and the area although lit is darker than the rest of the property but I found it manageable. The rest of the property is carpeted or has wooden flooring.
There is respite seating throughout the venue. There is a wheelchair friendly toilet. Hot and cold drinks are available at the ticket office but there are no cafe facilities. However, nearby there are many cafes along Eyemouth Harbour.
Concessions are available to seniors and carers for disabled people are admitted free.
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Melrose Abbey, Melrose
Melrose Abbey is one of Scotlands famous ruins. It has magnificent architecture adorned with unusual sculptures. It is located in the centre of the town of Melrose.
Parking including disabled parking is directly opposite the Abbey. The ticket office and entrance is within the shop from which there is railed steps leading down to the grounds. Wheelchair users/the less mobile will be taken to a level access entrance to the grounds via the cemetery gates.
Concessions are available and carers for disabled people are admitted free. A free audio tour is provided.
The grounds are fairly large and are well kept with plenty of seating provided. The Abbey ruins can be easily walked around and are wheelchair accessible. The pathways are a mixture of paving and gravel and are wheelchair accessible. Some of the grounds I noticed were a bit uneven, especially inside the ruins but not enough to make them inaccessible.
There is a separate museum housed in the Commendators House which is separated from the Abbey grounds by a road. Assistance for the less mobile is suggested here due to the exterior terrain. The museum is on two floors (no lift) accessed by a railed staircase.
Although there is a well stocked shop and toilet facilities, there is no on-site cafe (but there is a picnic area). However in the immediate vicinity just outside the Abbey grounds there are several cafes, as well as a wheelchair friendly toilet block a short distance away on Abbey Street near to the Priorwood Dried Flower Garden.
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