RSPB Minsmere is a coastal reserve in Saxmundham, Suffolk. The reserve covers over 2,000 acres and is a mix of woodland, wetland, meadows, reed beds and shorelines.
The 1st thing I have to compliment them on is their access statement, their website is FANTASTIC (available here) it covers so much more than just ‘wheelchair accessible paths.
The drive to get there is down mile and miles of windy paths and narrow roads but its beautiful. The centre is next to the visitors centre and has plenty of space, the accessible parking bays are about half way across the car park. Unlike the rest of the car park the accessible bays aren’t gravel, it’s all been flattened down to make for smoother rolling, you then head down the slope to the main building. There are some loose stones and gravelly bits so watch your step.
The visitors centre is beautiful. We arrived into the centre and we were greeted by the check in/greeting/centre staff who can give guidance and maps along with a recent sightings list if you’re interested. To the right there are visitors toilets, If you head left you come to a gift shop and information booth, there is also binocular hire. The accessible bathroom is just past the gift shop on the left. The accessible bathroom was easily big enough for my manual chair and unlike most accessible bathrooms DID NOT have a mirror directly opposite the toilet! There are both fixed and drop-down rails and the door has a horizontal grab rail and easy close lock mechanism.
Continuing further into the visitors centre you come to a small café with a small but tasty GF menu and a selection of hot and cold drinks. The tables were a little close together but the did have both indoor and outdoor seating, with some benches with wheelchair spaces (although they were a bit low).
The outdoor seating/eating area has a beautiful view of the nesting sand martin colony as well as having a few well stocked feeders around the place. 🙂
After a pee break and a fix of cake and caffeine we headed back to the main entrance, after talking with the helpful (and not at all patronising staff who treated me like any other customer and actually asked if I could walk short distances rather than assuming I was paralysed). I signed up as a member (optional) and after waiting for the rain to die down me and mum headed out to see the reserve.
Since it’s a nature reserve the paths are all natural surfaces. The majority of paths are hard packed dirt and are easily smooth enough to wheel along. There was one exception, just as you leave the woodland heading towards the hides there is a bit of a sand trap.
Of the Bird Hides we visited most of the ones near the centre are accessible and the only one I that wasn’t accessible was the Bitten Hide (about 6 flights of stairs). The hides are either level access or ramped and have 2 wheelchair spaces at the front centre of each hide, they have a different window mechanism and a bit built onto the front of the hide so you can get your knees under without hitting then front of the hide. Since I’m at the stage where I can wander around a bit now so I often abandoned my chair and headed upstairs in the hides to get a better view.
The sea wall isn’t accessible, there are a few steps and the ground is mostly sand. To get to some hides you have to double back to the visitors centre then veer off as supposed to doing the loop.
The weather was beautiful for photography with good light and enough clouds to give the sky depth and drama. The occasional rain wasn’t so bad either, we just hid in the hides 🙂
A little off the beaten track is the Island Mere hide. This hide is beautifully accessible with wheelie office chairs to sit on as supposed to wooden benches, winding window mechanisms and a long boarded walkway outside that overlooks the reed beds. To get to this hide from the visitors centre is a very long walk but they do have a few accessible parking bays near by… by ‘bays’ I mean a small lay by that’s almost impossible to spot unless you’re looking for it! The staff at the centre will be able to give you directions.
We stayed until the light started to fade and it got even wetter. I had an amazing time and I’ll definitely be back again, the car park is open from dawn till dusk so you can stay for the all important sunset pics and be up early enough for the dawn chorus. For a full list of services available check out their website
Some of my favourite parts from the day include…
Someone spotted this pair of blue tits nesting in a traffic cone, I didn’t want to disturb Mrs on her nest but I couldn’t resist a very quick quiet peek!
Seeing the RSPB signature bird was also lovely! I’d never photographed avocets before and they are beautiful creatures
I also managed to do some good while out and about, in the Wildlife Hide we discovered a female chaffinch stuck inside, me and mum cornered her and I caught her as mum opened the window and we set her free.
Finally some of my favourite photos from the day including this one of a black headed gull catching a tiny fish
You can see more of my Minsmere photos on Flickr
As always, questions and comments are welcome!