The Festival City Volunteer programme represents all of us in the city and beyond. We are committed to assisting all visitors negotiate the historic and hilly territory of Edinburgh. We learn a great deal from our volunteers on how we can improve the festivals experience. Here, one of our volunteers (who wanted to remain anonymous, and is not pictured in this article) describes how he both navigates and advises visitors on how to make the Edinburgh Festivals an accessible experience.
Edinburgh's age, and the fact that it is built on seven hills, makes it a bit of a challenge to get around for some. To try and get around it in a wheelchair though puts quite a different angle on it.
The pavements and roads aren’t all easy to negotiate. There are the ubiquitous potholes from the usual winter weather plus the increasing amount of wear and tear. The gradient, the camber and the cobbles of thoroughfares can add to the problem, quite significantly in some cases. Some roadworks can also hamper your progress.
There has been a gradual program of improvement over the years by the addition of dropped kerbs to pavements, which helps a lot. However, you may still find you have to double-back when you get to the end of a pavement with no dropped kerb and find another route. Some of the dropped kerbs on the Royal Mile are a major challenge such that, if you are travelling solo, you will need to reverse up them or get help from someone.
Despite these hurdles, there are a few hacks which many a wheelchair user will find useful. Edinburgh is blessed with an award winning bus system where the buses have ramps allowing access to wheelchairs. Sometimes the relative height difference between the road and the pavement can make it impossible to self-propel up the ramp without your front wheels lifting up (doing a wheelie) but there are usually other passengers willing to lend a hand.
There is one wheelchair space on each bus but if you are able to transfer onto a bus seat and fold your chair then that’s another option. I usually plan my journey so I aim to be uphill from my final destination making it easier for the last leg of the journey. For smart phone users, I can recommend downloading the app for Lothian Buses to help you plan your journey. You can even specify ‘less walking’ or ‘fewer transfers’ in the settings. Some bus stops may be closed due to road works so it could be worth checking with the driver.
Trams and black cabs in Edinburgh are all accessible too.
Another thing you may find useful is if you need to get from Market Street up to Princes Street, rather than going up Waverley Bridge, you may find it easier to cut through Waverley Station, getting a lift down to the footbridge, cross to the other side then get another lift back up to Princes Street level. Sounds long winded but it’s relatively easy. Another option is to get a lift down to the station level if you want to go there for anything else or use the disabled toilet with radar key access.
There are also numerous accessible toilets around Edinburgh including:
- City Art Centre
- Edinburgh Bus Station
- Fruitmarket Gallery
- National Museum of Scotland
- NCP Car Park, Johnstone Terrace
- Nicholson Square
- Princes Street Gardens West
- Scottish National Gallery
- Waverley Mall
- Waverley Railway Station
- and various shops, hotels, pubs and restaurants
Approximately 50% of Fringe venues are now wheelchair accessible. The Fringe app is really handy where you can set filters to specify things like wheelchair access. The app will even tell you the distance to venues but it might be worth double checking the route is an accessible one.
Shopmobility has electric mobility scooters people can borrow. They are available from a beige van which parks on Waterloo Place near Pep & Fodder so they are handy for scooting around the city centre. Call 0131 557 4123 to book. You will need proof of address and two forms of ID to use these if you are not a member already.
They are also available at the Gyle Shopping Centre Monday to Friday 10.00 -18.00, Saturday 10.00 – 17.00, Sunday 10.00 – 16.00.
They’re available at Fort Kinnaird and Cameron Toll shopping centres too at centre opening times. Use the same booking number 0131 557 4123.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh also has electric mobility scooters, which can be collected from the East Gateway on Inverleith Row if you’re travelling by bus, or the John Hope Gateway if you’re travelling by car. Book on 0131 248 2909 and remember to specify pick-up point.
Mobility scooters can be hired for longer periods from Glenmore Mobility, 108 Dalry Road, EH11 2DR. Call 0131 337 2333.
Fancy a trip to the beach? On a wheelchair? Are you kidding? No.
Portobello Beach Wheelchairs have one child’s and one adult’s beach wheelchair for free hire. Just to note, they go on the sand but are not self-propelled so you’ll need someone to push. They are available from the container in Tumbles car park next to Portobello Promenade, EH15 1DR (opposite Aldi). To book call 0300 666 0990.
Beach Wheelchairs are also available in North Berwick, EH39 4SS, call 0300 111 2112.
Last, but by no means least, euansguide.com, based in the heart of Edinburgh, is another very useful resource for accessibility.