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Accessible Days Out: The Thames Clippers river boat, Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark

Rough Guides writer Jo Logan details her family day out, visiting London’s Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark, plus her experience of the Thames Clippers river boat. 

We were lucky enough to visit our amazingly diverse city of London, but does this diversity of culture extend into the lives of people with disabilities? We were about to find out!

My family consists of my husband Mark, our daughter Ela, my parents Pam and Richard and myself. I have a fantastic tag team behind me, but that isn’t always the case for a lot of people with disabilities. So, could I navigate some of London’s best-known landmarks easily or would my tag team be working overtime?

We studied the ‘Rough Guide to Accessible Britain’ and we chose to visit the Royal Observatory, the neighbouring Cutty Sark and the Thames Clippers river boat which departed from Greenwich. For someone who is happiest with a history book in one hand and a cuppa in the other – it was no surprise that I chose a museum, the world’s oldest tea clipper and a ride along the Thames.

Now, London is no different from any other major capital, it’s busy, it’s noisy and most people are in their own happy little bubbles as they commute around the city. So, trying to be seen in wheels can sometimes be a challenge. With that in mind, you do have to rely heavily upon correct signage and the helpfulness of staff.

Thames Clippers

The Thames Clippers staff were friendly and approachable and they advised me – unprompted – that there was one stop along the route that was not suitable for wheelchair users due to the steep nature of the ramp. With this clarity, we were able to navigate our way along the Thames.

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I didn’t see any signs on the boat directing me to a disabled area, so I positioned myself at the front of the boat and made sure I had both brakes on. You will definitely need a companion to assist when embarking and disembarking because although the staff are great, they are busy with a tight schedule to work with. I found the ramps a little hairy but this didn’t affect the enjoyment of the trip. With the underground services largely out of bounds for those on wheels, I would most definitely use the river service again; it makes all the difference to the distances you need to travel between landmarks.

Because the Tower Pier stop is inaccessible, we got off at London Bridge City Pier. This was the only issue I encountered over the entire weekend. London Bridge itself is ‘step only’ access and although there is a lift, we only found it with the help of a very nice passer-by. The directions to the lift need to be positioned before you get to the ‘step only’ signs. The fact that there is a lift is brilliant but, it just needs to be better signposted to avoid a further trek to find it.

The Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory had a fully accessible car park at the top of the site so that anyone with limited mobility or any wheelchair user don’t have to negotiate the huge surrounding hills. The Observatory itself was inspiring. I was approached almost immediately by a member of staff who proceeded to advise me on where the lifts were, which took me to all levels apart from the very top, that was greatly appreciated. All the information I needed was readily available which gave me time to spend looking around the exhibits.

The Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark, for a tea lover was sacred ground! The ship is beautifully restored and easily accessed by the Thames Clippers which has a stop (Greenwich) right by the side of the food market – bonus!

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There are disabled toilets and a lift on each section of the ship, except for the very top – she’s an old ship, you’ve got to accept there are limitations! The staff were just as attentive to my needs and were quick to operate the lift for me, complete with a smile.

Overall, my experiences at the Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark and Thames Clippers river cruise were a treasured family memory and although there are some challenges, with an open mind and zest for life there was plenty of work around that ultimately created an accessible day out.

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