Newby Hall Gardens, North Yorkshire
Review by John Lea - June 2011
On a pleasant summer morning we drove through the sweeping parkland towards the garden entrance. Even though there were three ticket kiosks operating we queued for some 10 or 15 minutes. The combined concessionary tickets came to just under £15. There was an incredible number of cars already parked but we were directed to a large blue badge car park by the garden entrance. There are accessible toilets at the opposite end of that car park to the garden entrance. Inside the garden entrance was one somewhat harassed Lady taking money of some, checking tickets on others, and generally answering questions. My request for a wheelchair map was not pleasantly received. It was only handed out after a lecture on wheelchair users who don't return maps. From 10 last week she said that she was down to just one. I didn't dare to ask about scooter or wheelchair hire but seeing none I presume there was none.
In the garden, paths were hard packed fine gravel and easy on wheelchairs. The 25 acres of gardens slope down to the River Ure and because of that if you have limited walking ability or pushing a manual wheelchair you need to plan your route carefully, particularly if you want to see the incredibly long double herbaceous borders. We expected them to be spectacular in August and they were. On closer examination the plan to regenerate them over a four year span is well justified. In between the beds you walk on lawn paths therefore it is much easier to start at the top because, coming up from the bottom would be quite an effort for a manual chair. You can then return back up gravel paths but they are still a good push. Compared to many other gardens there is a marked shortage of seats for those who need to rest or just sit to enjoy the atmosphere.
Along side the river there is a fantastic and very popular children's adventure play area. If you take children then take a towel and a swimming costume for them because the water feature is there to be splashed under. The play area is separated from the river by its miniature train line, trains were running every half hour on a scenic line following the river for 1 1/4 miles. And they too were full of happy laughing children.
Although the newly built garden tea rooms were accessible they proved to be a bit of an obstacle race for a wheelchair. The long ramp up to the toilets seemed simple enough but the disabled loo fitted round my wheelchair as neatly as a teenage girl’s jeans. When I got in with my chair there was barely room to stand up and no way could I get past it to close the door. A passerby obliged. If you need to get your chair alongside the seat to do a side shuffle across or if you need a carer in with you to help then (unless you are both quite small) I suggest that you head for that toilet at the far end of the car park. And it is a long walk away.
Strangely the wheelchair entrance to the tea room is through the toilet area. With a volunteer holding the door I got in, saw that Celia was still in the food queue and looked for a table. The seating area is on two levels; no table was free on the top level, so I headed for one on the next. Out through the toilets area, down the ramp and in through another door and, of course, it had been taken. On the third level, which was the lawn across from the tea room, the few tables were all taken. After a long wait a garden seat came free on the far side of the lawn. Anyway the timing was good because Celia had also had a long wait for the food. A few more seats on the lawn area would save quite a bit of stress.
Considering the number of cars parked there must have been several hundred other visitors but we never felt crowded. (That is except around the tea rooms). On the way out it became obvious why 9 out of 10 wheelchair maps were not returned. A ‘no entry’ sign, blocking the path back to the entrance, directed us out via the gift shop and through a well-stocked plant nursery to emerge halfway down the disabled car park. Obviously 9 out of 10 people did not bother to walk back to the entrance to return their map. A simple postbox by that exit with a polite request would, I suggest, persuade 9 out of 10 people to return their maps. And without a lecture which, along with those ridiculously planned tea room wheelchair facilities, irritated me enough to spoil my day.
Many thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond to the visitor feedback.
It is obvious that the visit was on a very busy day, August is our busiest month. I am pleased that the visitor had access to the forward car park and had a wheelchair route map offered, albeit in a rather an unfriendly way. This is not the usual way in which we communicate with visitors and I apologise. We do offer motorized wheelchairs (3) and manual wheelchairs (4) on a free loan basis but I fully understand that on a busy day the visitor didn’t feel inclined to ask. These are pre-booked for those that ring in advance so could I suggest this might be a suggestion should the visitor choose to return.
The visitor mentions the railway - we do have two adapted carriages to allow those with limited mobility to enjoy a scenic ride. There are also two disabled toilets adjacent to the railway shop built around 3 years ago.
I am pleased that the “newly built” garden tea rooms appeared so as they are actually over 30 years old! We are aware that the disabled loo was installed many years ago to a very different standard to those that we installed 3 years ago at the railway. Given available funds we will improve the access and the building itself. The site is on a natural slope thus achieving an acceptable gradient is a challenge and hence the ramp access to the toilet lobby area has a door also into the restaurant.
We do encourage our visitors to exit via the gift shop as this is the most commercially advantageous route. The forward car park is adjacent to the Entrance where the visitor picked up their wheelchair map so only a few yards to return the map. Having said that it is obvious our assumptions are incorrect as the maps were not getting returned! – the post box is a good idea.
The numbers of seats in the garden is a difficult one to get right. We are a beautiful garden full of wonderful vistas and views. Seats do not add to this beauty. We have around 50 bench style seats and it may be that as our popularity grows we may have to install more in the garden but it will always be a challenge to find a seat on a very busy day.
I do hope the experiences that spoiled the visitors day are not so great that they won’t return. The gardens offer a very different “feel” on a May or June day when we are not so busy.
Crag lane, Harrogate, HG3 1QB
Telephone: 01423 565418
Review by John Lea - August 2011
Met by smiling members of staff. "Disabled toilets Sir, yes just here, let me hold the door for you." Not only were the staff helpful but Celia, being a member, has free entry and I get nodded through in the deal. There are scooters and manual wheelchairs available; and because the site lies each side of a valley bottom and brook there are separate scooter maps and wheelchair maps.
It’s some four or five years since last we visited and on that visit I was a bit disappointed that there seem to be an air of almost neglect. Perhaps I was being unfair because there had been a severe flood through the garden. Since then there's been a lot of money spent on new paths, new buildings and replanting, bringing the whole garden into absolute perfect condition. Even in a manual wheelchair you come really ignore the wheelchair map if you go down the right-hand side towards the Alpine greenhouse (it is fantastic) and below it don't miss going through the sensory garden. These paths are off the wheelchair route but you are going down bank towards the garden tea rooms so after e refreshing cuppa you can return by more gradual paths following the brook side.
Beyond the brook the paths being more steep are not recommended. It was on one of these paths, on my last visit, that I did a spectacular skid and ended in a flower bed pretending to be a garden gnome. I look more like a garden gnome now than I did then so I stayed off them.
It is one of the longest brook side gardens in the country and by following the brookside paths, which have been resurfaced, you can return up gentle slopes that are perfect for wheelchairs. There is a garden library and beyond it in that top left-hand corner is a marvellous teaching garden. Don’t miss it, there is an incredible range of shrubs and plants on display.
A group of enthusiastic volunteers were helping to prepare a brook side area for replanting, other than that the gardens were in full bloom and absolutely beautiful. There are plenty of seats all through the gardens where you can sit and enjoy the beauty. Several wildflower areas were past their best for the season but another patch, sown with annual arable flowers, was in fantastic bloom.
As well as the tea room in the garden there is also a Restaurant, accessed from just outside, that serves a full range of food. It is a real pleasure to visit these gardens in a wheelchair and would be for people with limited walking ability. The facilities are good and the garden is beautiful.
Review by Colin and Pat Dixon
Extremely disabled friendly; good hard paths, gentle slopes, plenty of disabled toilets, good shop, excellent refreshment provision, very friendly staff. This is the main RHS garden in the North with acres and acres of beautiful horticultural interest.