On our second day at Ballachulish we decided to try and dodge the rain showers and visit the Scottish Sea Life Centre at Oban. It was featured in Rough Guide to Accessible Travel in Britain as accessible so I thought it would be fine - and have plenty of shelter if it did rain.
This Sea Life Centre is situated in a wooded area, just north of Oban. Unlike the other's we've been to, it wasn't all in one building, but spread across several buildings. The car park is about 100m or so from the main buildings and when we visited the ticket office was closed, so you had to enter through a gate with an uneven path. Once back on the main path, it was smooth enough, with a couple of uneven bits where tree roots had lifted the path. It's down a slight hill and I was a bit nervous about getting back up.
When we arrived the staff gave me a map with details of disabled access. The main aquarium was not built with disabled access in mind, so you have to enter each of three sections separately to see everything - this means doubling back against the flow of other visitors and then going round the side of the building to re-enter via a fire exit. At one point I sent the boy down some steps, saying I'd meet him down there, only to find I ended up stranded at the top of some steps at the other side of the building and had to shout across to get his attention.
The tricky bit highlighted in the Rough Guide was the ramp down to the lower level of the seal enclosure, which you also needed to use (again, against the flow of traffic) to get access to the lower level of the aquarium. It was, as warned, slightly too steep but was also uneven, which made navigating it myself even riskier. I had to ask someone for help pushing me up (and I hate this so much, my chair doesn't have push handles). Likewise the adjacent ramp up to the upper seal viewing area is very uneven as well as slightly too steep and again I felt very much at risk of tipping.
There was also a cafe, in a separate building, with disabled toilet and a lovely view over Loch Creran, and a gift shop, with a viewing platform giving views over the otter enclosure. The entrance to the latter was a little challenging (non-automatic door, plus ramp, plus threshold strip, plus recessed door mat!)
The outdoor areas were not so accessible. I couldn't get up the path to the children's play area - luckily the boy is old enough to send up on his own, but it would have been disappointing for a younger child. Likewise the Terry Nutkin Memorial Nature Trail has a narrow and steep path with steps. The boy went off exploring it on his own, as it was one of the items on the kids' quiz which earned them medals, and was gone long enough I'd started to worry about how to go find him.
All in all we had a good day and I managed to see everything and not permanently lose the boy. I wouldn't like to visit when they were busy, because of the difficulties doubling back and going against the flow of traffic. Unfortunately, though, I don't think it's quite as accessible as the Rough Guide writers think.
My two pieces of advice to the management are:
- Fix the ramp at the seal enclosure - I was at serious risk of flipping over and that probably means it's dangerous for mobility scooters and potentially buggies. The combination of uneven surfaces and a steep incline are a real problem.
- Please, please, please, when you're doing a trail for kids, don't include any parts of your site which aren't accessible. Had I had a younger child, or had my child been the one in the wheelchair, they wouldn't have completed it and there would have been tears.
Oh and the hill to the car park? I made it back up that unaided. And very proudly so!
Apologies for the lack of pictures.