Happily now that restrictions are easing more of us can start planning days out again. In this article, Rough Guides pick their favourite accessible days out for booklovers. All of the places featured in this list are operating using COVID-safe measures, but please be sure to check any local restrictions before you travel.
Whether you’ve got a passion for poetry or a love of children’s literature, the UK has plenty of attractions to keep bookworms happy. From vast national libraries to little towns crammed with bookshops, we reveal the top accessible days out for bibliophiles.
Get lost for words in The British Library, London
A booklover’s paradise, this cavernous national library holds more than 170 million items. Its crown jewel is the Magna Carta, which can be seen within the Treasures of the British Library Exhibition, alongside Shakespeare’s storied First Folio and a desk that belonged to author Jane Austen. Beyond the library’s permanent displays, special exhibitions and talks cover everything from the evolution of the written word to the lives and legacies of authors such as William Wordsworth.
The book-filled building is wheelchair accessible, too, with step-free entryways, lift access to all floors and Blue Badge Parking beside one of the entrances. In the quiet Reading Rooms, tables are height-adjustable and there are also guided and tailored sessions and events for people with learning disabilities.
Have a ‘wondercrump’ time at the Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden
This Buckinghamshire museum is dedicated to late, great children’s author Roald Dahl, known for his made-up words and whimsical characters from Willy Wonka to the BFG. Here you’ll find interactive galleries dedicated to Dahl’s childhood, his career as a writer and, of course, his universally loved stories. There’s also a chance for kids to write their own tales and get stuck into some arts and crafts.
Carers are granted free admission, and you can hire a complimentary manual wheelchair if needed (it’s best to call in advance to make sure it’s available). The museum is also completely step free and there are tactile maps, a hearing loop and accessible toilets too.
Follow in the Bard’s footsteps in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is proud to be the birthplace of the Bard, and the town milks this mighty literary connection for all it’s worth. Visitors can explore the humble, half-timbered house where Shakespeare was born, and also take a peek inside the medieval home he later lived in with his family.
There’s level access to the birthplace’s ground floor, plus an external platform lift to the exhibition space (the first floor is unfortunately unsuitable for wheelchairs given the building’s historic nature). Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s New Place (his later home) is entirely wheelchair accessible and also has a quiet area for those with additional sensory needs.
If you fancy catching a show, the town also boasts several Royal Shakespeare Company playhouses: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan and The Other Place. All three are wheelchair accessible and they also have assisted performances including audio-described and “chilled” shows.
Run rhymes at the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh
If you’re a fan of Scottish poetry, add this place to your literary bucket list. The library is tipped as the “world’s leading resource for Scottish poetry” and all the big names are represented here – think Jackie Kay, Edwin Morgan and, of course, Robert Burns. Regular events range from readings to art exhibitions to creative-writing workshops.
Entrance to the library is step-free with a push pad, and all floors are accessible via lift. There are also accessible toilets, a portable hearing loop and materials available in Braille.
Go bookshop hopping in Hay-on-Wye, Brecknockshire
Picturesque Hay-on-Wye is rightfully known as Wales’ most bookish town. It’s famous for the Hay Festival, a popular literary festival that draws lauded names in the book world from Zadie Smith to David Nicholls and, of course, avid readers from across the country. This year Hay Festival is moving online, and will be running from 26 May- 6 June. Those interested can register online and then watch as many events as they’d like – for free. Most events will be available for free replay for up to 24 hours after the start time of the event. After this they will be available online on the Hay Player.
There’s more to this little town than its festival though. Hay-on-Wye is packed to the gills with bookshops, many of the quaint bookstores have level entryways too, including the most famous – the multi-storey Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which has a cinema and café to boot.
Learn about Northern Ireland’s greatest poet at Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy
Located in the dinky village of Bellaghy, this cultural centre champions the life and work of late Irish poet Seamus Heaney, known for such poems as Death of a Naturalist and Digging. Within the sleek venue you’ll find a detailed exhibition on the poet himself, plus ample concerts, film screenings and writing workshops. The café is a nice spot to pore over your favourite volume of poetry, too.
The HomePlace is fully accessible, with ramped access and a lift to the second floor. Disabled toilets are located on both levels, and there’s also car parking at both the front and back of the building.
Take a magical journey along the Narnia Trail in Rostrevor
C S Lewis’ magical Narnia captured the imaginations of kids and adults alike when The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was published in 1950 – and you can experience the magic for yourself in the woods at Rostrevor’s Kilbroney Park. Lewis holidayed in the area as a boy, and the forest has now been transformed into a shrine to his fantastical world, with sculptures dotted throughout. Look out for Aslan the lion, the White Witch and the lamppost where Lucy Pevensie first meets Mr Tumnus along the way.
The trail is geared towards families and is a great sensory activity. It’s generally flat throughout with some gentle inclines. Be aware that, given this is a woodland trail, the ground conditions may be unsuitable for wheelchair users in wet weather.
Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
Header image: © Seamus Heaney HomePlace
British Library: © Shutterstock
William Shakespeare’s birthplace: © Shutterstock
Scottish Poetry Library: © Shutterstock
Hay Festival: © Sam Hardwick
Seamus Heaney HomePlace: © Seamus Heaney HomePlace