Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bluebell Railway with Rich

This is a slight interlude to the normal run of my adventures, but I want to write up some of the days out I've had with my cousin Richard, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. We had a lovely day out on the Bluebell Railway today, which has fantastic facilities for disabled visitors – not bad, considering it was built in the middle of the 19th Century! Rich tends to do a bit of research about accessibility when he travels, and hopefully this page will be of use to other wheelchair users visiting the railway.

The drive from Balham took about an hour and a quarter. We arrived at East Grinstead, where there is free all-day parking for disabled visitors: lots of space around the van to make sure people don't impede Rich's ramps. Just make sure you have the parking coupon (issued by the ticket office when you buy your tickets) visible on your dashboard.

The trains run by the Bluebell have amazing disabled access. Back in the day Rich used to travel in the cold, unheated parcel cage when he went between London and Tunbridge Wells – a pretty miserable experience. The disabled access carriage is light years away from that, as you can see. Great for the three of us travelling together, and it matched the other period carriages perfectly.

The line runs through the heart of Sussex for 11 miles, and takes about 45 minutes from end to end. The countryside is beautiful – I grew up in the High Weald and find the landscape stonkingly pretty, regardless of the time of year. The staff were incredibly helpful (and friendly) and were happy for us to get on and off along the line. We stopped off at Horsted Keynes where the station has a bar: a couple of hours of drinking Harvey's in the sun seemed like a very good idea.

The stations are rather beautiful with lots to look at – and they are all fully accessible for wheelchair users. Sheffield Park has the best disabled lavatory facilities – at East Grinstead we popped into the Sainsbury's opposite the station. Apparently there are plans to build a disabled-access lavatory at East Grinstead station this winter once the summer tourist traffic has quietened down – this is the railway's newest station (it opened in Spring 2013) and improvements are ongoing.

The workshops and sheds at Horsted Keynes and Sheffield Park are also accessible, and the fitters and restorers were happy to talk to us and explain their work, which is pretty impressive when you realise that some of the locomotives are over a century old! We were also allowed to have a look at a shed at the back of the yard where volunteers are building a brand new steam locomotive. Their enthusiasm and love for their work really came across.

Well done to the Bluebell Railway – for something run substantially by volunteers they've made the experience incredibly wheelchair-friendly.

Click here for the Bluebell Railway's accessibility statement.

Finally –  I'll tag future posts on accessibility as wheelchair adventures.