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Great accessible UK weekend breaks: Exeter

20th November 2018

Despite being relatively small, Exeter is a vibrant and historic city that is home to many attractions and a mix of eateries.

Devon’s capital is a popular destination for a weekend break and it is very accessible for people with mobility issues that need stairlifts, wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Debbie Lewis, the Marketing Officer at Visit Exeter, explains what makes the city such a desirable location for a weekend away.

“Exeter is one of the most vibrant, attractive and historically interesting cities in England. Firmly on the map as a hub for great shopping; a diverse cultural scene; world-class sporting fixtures; top places to eat; and more than 2,000 years of history, there are numerous reasons why people should visit Exeter. With its magnificent Gothic Cathedral at its heart, there are a number of distinct quarters to discover, including the Castle Quarter – home to the award-winning Royal Albert Memorial Museum, and the West Quarter, packed full of independent shops, quirky eateries and arts venues.

“Venture a short distance from the city centre, and discover Exeter’s beautiful Quayside, providing a great choice of cafés , pubs and restaurants in which to sit and watch the world go by.”

Talking about how accessible the city is, Debbie Lewis, adds, “Exeter is a compact city with its main visitor attractions, shops and restaurants all within easy reach of one another. The main city centre area is level, with an extensive bus network providing access to peripheral areas of the city including the picturesque historic Quayside.

“Exeter City Council has a variety of surface and multi-storey car parks that are accessible to visitors with disabilities. The city centre is also served by three major Park & Ride sites. Exeter's Shopmobility office is located on Paris Street, part of the Princesshay Quarter and convenient for the bus station and city centre shops. Operated by Exeter Community Transport Association (ECTA), Shopmobility is for anyone, any age, no matter whether their mobility problem is temporary or permanent. As Exeter Shopmobility is part of a registered charity, donations are always welcome. The service is available to residents and visitors in Exeter. Free parking for Shopmobility users is available on level three of the Princesshay Car Park. Shopmobility allows you to hire wheelchairs and motorised scooters to improve access to the city centre. A charge of £4.75 is payable for the loan of a wheelchair or scooter. For more information on Shopmobility, click here or contact ECTA on 01392 494001.”

Here we take you through the most accessible attractions, restaurants and tours in Exeter.

Best accessible attractions to visit

Exeter has lots of great attractions to visit and here are three accessible places you can head to.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Exeter’s world-class museum has stunning displays and galleries, fabulous exhibitions and modern amenities. Its spectacular Victorian building links the modern commercial city centre bustle on Queen Street with the city’s historic past.

The displays reveal Devon and Exeter’s rich history and global connections. Exotic animals, birds and insects delight children and the ‘world cultures’ galleries display stunning items from all over the globe. The busy programme of exhibitions and events means there is likely to be something different to see on every visit.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum has been designed for easy access with ample space to manoeuvre and lifts between floors. For visitors with mobility issues, it is best to use the garden entrance where there are a few bookable blue-badge parking bays, a gentle ramp, especially wide doors and a spacious reception area. For further ease and comfort, there are portable stools, large print captions in galleries, accessible toilets on both floors and gallery guides are always there to help. The Queen St entrance is more convenient for shoppers and bags can be left in adjacent lockers.

Mike Ellis, manager of Shopmobility Exeter tells us about his experience at the museum, “I can’t tell you what a treat it is to be able to get around a building without obstacles. It’s been well thought out and will be a treat for disabled visitors.”

Free entry gives everyone the freedom to visit the museum many times and to stay for any length of time. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays and bank holidays.

Exeter Cathedral

Dating back 900 years, Exeter Cathedral is one of the UK’s most beautiful medieval cathedrals and a great example of Gothic architecture.

With its two Norman towers, carvings and a 15th Century Astronomical Clock, the cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

The cathedral is home to several historical books and documents, tombs, bosses and corbels as well as a shop and café.

Visitors heading to the cathedral at 5.30pm most weekdays can listen to the Cathedral Choir sing Evensong, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

Despite its age, the cathedral is accessible to disabled visitors and those with mobility problems as the main floor is generally flat. The Quire can be accessed via a ramp and there are only some small steps to the smaller chapels.

Visitors can hire wheelchairs and there are disabled toilet facilities available with level access. There is space for you to drop off anyone who has mobility problems just outside the cathedral before finding a parking space in the city centre.

Debbie Lewis from Visit Exeter, adds, “Exeter Cathedral is a great place to start any visit to the city. Virtually all the Cathedral is accessible by wheelchair, with ramps provided to gain access to the Quire and Visitors Centre.”

Exeter Quayside

The historic quayside is one of the most popular areas of the city with its lively pubs and restaurants, cafés , antique shops and boat hire services attracting lots of visitors.

The area has a fascinating mix of historic and contemporary design and is home to lots of accessible walks.

You can walk around the quay and enjoy the beautiful and picturesque surroundings and see the local wildlife such as the swans, ducks, cormorants and other birds.

The bounty of coffee shops and restaurants will give you plenty of places to stop off at and for those with mobility problems, the footpaths are flat and accessible alongside the river.

Visit Exeter’s Debbie Lewis says the quayside is accessible for those with mobility problems:

“Exeter’s Quayside has disabled parking giving access to a range of attractions including the Custom House Visitor Centre, providing visitors with an insight into Exeter’s maritime past.”

Best restaurants in Exeter

Exeter is home to a diverse mix of eateries and is known as the foodie capital of the South West. Here are some of the best restaurants you can head to and a food and drink trail of the best places to eat at in the city.

Exeter Food and Drink Trail

The Exeter Food and Drink Trail is a new initiative that launched this autumn. The trail places Exeter as a major new foodie destination as visitors can visit over 40 food and drink businesses.

The self-guided tour brings together the area’s finest food and drinks producers, retailers and restaurateurs and you can follow the trail via a map created by local illustrator Aylwyn Bowen.

Designed to raise the reputation of Exeter as an international foodie destination and awareness of the astounding range of produce and culinary hotspots in the city, its surrounding countryside and waters, the Exeter Food and Drink Trail includes experiences that are sure to enthral any food and drink lover.

Catherine Hill, Head of Service for Communications, Tourism & Culture at Exeter City Council, commented: “We are delighted to announce the launch of the exciting Exeter Food and Drink Trail. This self-guided trail is an excellent resource for foodies who live in or are visiting Exeter to discover the very best of local produce. The trail is a hub for businesses that celebrate local produce, both in the dishes that they create, and the artisan produce that they harvest, craft or sell.”

A spokesperson from the trail, talks about its accessibility, “The majority of trail members accommodate for all levels of mobility, with disabled facilities and level access wherever possible.”

Here are some of the places you can visit on the trail:

Harrys Restaurant

Harry’s Restaurant has been run by the Pounds family since 1993 and this laid-back restaurant is the perfect location for brunches, lunchtime foods, intimate dinners or quick bites.

All the ingredients used by the restaurant’s chefs are sourced from nearby farms, producers and suppliers, which includes seasonal fruits and vegetables and reared meats.

There are more than 75 dishes on the menu, over 35 wines and around 20 cocktails that you can choose from. There are steaks and grills, burgers, salads and other specialities like Devon Crab Linguine to choose from.

In terms of accessibility, the restaurant is flat and has lots of room for wheelchair users and other diners who suffer from mobility problems to manoeuvre.

Conservatory Restaurant

The Conservatory Restaurant is one of the city’s most popular eateries and with it being located on North Street, it is within easy reach of the centre and its theatres, galleries and other attractions.

The food features a selection of European foods; from French and Mediterranean influences to a selection of traditional English dishes. These gourmet dishes include ingredients from the surrounding countryside and the prices of meals are affordable.

Despite parts of the building dating back to 1600 with an original Tudor panel wall being restored to its former glory, the Conservatory Restaurant is accessible and with its great location, it is the perfect place to enjoy some food before going shopping or exploring Exeter’s city centre.

Best accessible tours

There are several accessible tours on offer to visitors with mobility problems and here are some of the best.

Unique Devon Tours

Unique Devon Tours offers small, exclusive driver guided tours of Devon and beyond. The company offer a broad range of tours and create tailor-made tours for people according to their interests, preferences and abilities.

Unique Devon Tours have linked up with numerous local attractions to offer guests exclusive access or private tours. Guests are collected from and returned to their accommodation, the airport or railway station, and they organise all aspects of a group's tour, including meals, accommodation, etc.

Alex Graeme, who is a guide at Unique Devon Tours, explains how guests can get photographs taken of themselves and how the tours are accessible to those with mobility problems.

“We take photographs during the tour and send them to our guests afterwards, along with gifts of a local landscape photographic calendar and photographic postcards of Devon made using our photographs. We are very discerning about ensuring that we deliver the best possible experience for our guests, so make sure that all third parties that we work with to deliver our tours, including eateries, accommodations and attractions, are also delivering the highest possible standards.

“From the outset, we use our excellent communication skills to ascertain the capability and preferences of all our guests, and always aim to shape tours accordingly. We’re upfront with guests about which tours might be suitable for them and try our utmost to offer a broad range of tours so that we can offer something for anyone, no matter what their ability or disability. We also reiterate that each day out is flexible, so it can be adjusted during the actual day to suit the individual group. Our vehicle is a Ford Galaxy which has not had any specific adaptations, although it is a roomy vehicle, and Unique Devon Tours has had several people with mobility issues and coped perfectly well thus far.”

Red Coat Guided Tours

The Red Coat Guided Tours are operated throughout the year and the free walking tours are a great way to get an insight into Exeter.

Debbie Lewis from Visit Exeter highly recommends these tours, “Learn about Exeter’s history on a Red Coat ‘Introducing Exeter’ Tour. This one-hour circular taster tour follows a level route glimpsing at 2,000 years of history.”

Red Coat Guides will do all they can to make sure tours are as accessible as possible and for visitors with mobility problems, it is best to speak to a guide before the tour begins so they can ensure it is suitable for your individual needs.

Some of the tours you can go on include

  • Georgian Exeter
  • Exeter’s City Wall
  • Exeter Old & New
  • Medieval Exeter
  • Ghosts and legends
  • Tudor Exeter

Aerosaurus Balloons

This is a great way to explore Exeter, especially for those who cannot walk long distances or those who want the best view of the city and the surrounding countryside.

Aerosaurus Balloons have provided flights to more than 85,000 passengers to areas across the South West and the chief pilot, Chris Bailey, has even flown Sir David Attenborough over the Swiss Alps for the opening sequence of Planet Earth II.

Whilst hot air ballooning may not be the first thing that springs to mind when talking about wheelchair accessible activities, it is something visitors can do.

Aerosaurus Balloons, says, “If you have someone who is confined to a wheelchair and would like to fly in a hot air balloon in the UK, we suggest you contact Aerosaurus Balloons direct, who will be pleased to discuss your requirements.  Although we do not currently operate a ‘wheelchair friendly’ basket, we will discuss your requirements and do all we can to accommodate you where possible.”

Other activities

Look around Powderham Castle

Lying in a beautiful deer park on the banks of the River Exe, Powderham Castle is just a short distance away from the centre of Exeter.

Since opening in 1959, there have been over a million people that have explored the castle and its 600 years of history and heritage. Despite its age, the castle itself has not changed since it was first built, but there are lots of attractions on the grounds that visitors can go and see.

Powderham Castle is accessible and even attractions like the Walled Garden can be accessed by wheelchair users and those who struggle with their mobility. There is accessible parking available and the resident café is also wheelchair friendly.

The castle is also famed for running lots of music events throughout the year and in recent years it has welcomed Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Tom Jones. Check out their latest events here.

Watch some racing at Exeter Racecourse

Exeter Racecourse, situated in the Devon countryside, is one of the biggest sporting venues in the county and is one of the most picturesque too.

The course has excellent facilities and transport links, and to compliment a day of racing, there are superb hospitality and restaurant packages.

The course attracts a wide range of visitors to its race meetings and disabled spectators and those with mobility problems are well catered for at the course. Exeter Racecourse even carries out access audits to highlight the areas of the course that need improvement.

Visitors with mobility difficulties can enjoy Blue Badge parking, there is step-free access at the main entrance, there are accessible toilets and staff are fully trained to aid visitors with mobility difficulties.

Image credits: Photography Gerald RAMM, Exeter Food and Drink Trail

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only and are up to date as of the time of publishing