Stourhead seasonal sensory trail

Stourhead gardens is one of the most popular of the National Trust estates. Described as a living work of art, each year the eighteenth- Century garden attracts thousands of visitors who follow the Italian tour around a central lake, passing by temples, grottoes and a rich mix of exotic trees and shrubs. A new sensory trail means that visitors with disabilities can enjoy a richer and more accessible experience at the gardens.

We developed the sensory trail with the National Trust, the first time they have installed such a facility in one of their gardens and one of the first times a sensory trail has been created on this scale for any garden in the UK. Stourhead won an internal 'Access for All Award' for the Sensory Trail.

Stourhead gardens, Wiltshire

Our approach

The trail was designed to guide visitors through the garden using touch, smell, sight and hearing. It was important that the trail should not impact on the heritage landscape and so it was designed to rely solely on a printed guide and map, with no signage within the gardens.

The trail guide was to be enjoyed by a wide range of users: children, parents, groups or individuals and we used the Ekarv method of writing readable text. We also tried to strike a balance between sharing information and allowing the visitor to explore. The last thing we wanted was for visitors to follow the trail with their noses buried in the guide. The guide should enrich the visitor experience, not act as a barrier to it.

The project took place over 18 months to ensure time for the development of ideas, comparative consultation sessions, and research into the provisions of information and inclusive techniques.

The key criteria for the trail were:

  • It should be inclusive
  • It should make allowances for the seasonal aspects of the sites
  • It should be portable to minimise the impact of additional interpretation in the landscape
  • It should be written in plain language
  • The process should be consultation-led
  • The process should be transferable to other sites

The beneficiaries of the project were identified as:

  • People with learning difficulties
  • People with sensory impairments
  • Older people
  • People with impaired mobility
  • Children
  • Family groups
  • Non English speakers

The process

The process of creating the trail involved the following steps:

  • Consulting with people
  • Identifying the highlights of the site
  • Overcoming barriers to access
  • Working out what information to include
  • Identifying useful formats

Members of the development group test the trailWe tested the guide with beneficiary groups during its development, offering a draft version to visitors to Stourhead, and asking them to comment on its use. We changed many elements of the guide in response to the feedback we received from these users.

We used sensory mapping to locate areas of richness and interviewed key garden staff. The second phase of the project was to deliver a ‘guide to the guide’. This set out the process by which other similar properties will be able to create their own guides. We kept the development process as straightforward as possible so that it was easily replicable.

The consultation work took place on site at key stages of the design process. Local groups with disabilities and of all ages were invited to take part in structured consultation sessions. We used several tools including Sensory Mapping to identify sensory highlights that would form the stopping points on the trail. They discussed the design and content of the information and tested its effectiveness and usability when visiting the site.

The project involved people from different areas within the National Trust and this was a key factor in making the project a success. It was important to talk to everyone involved; from people on the ground who can advise on content and the highlights of a site, those developing marketing and education materials, and the people responsible for budgets, visitor management and staff awareness.

Features of the trail

Visually impaired man using new sensory trail audio guideThe final trail was made available in Plain English, Widgit, Braille and Audio.

The paper version was produced in A5 format to make it easy to carry. The design was in black and white so that the trail could be printed with an ordinary office printer. Illustrations were used throughout to support the identification of stops along the trail and were line drawings that were designed to provide maximum contrast.

In addition we kept the layout simple with clear white space between text and pictures, and with body text of 14pt.

Benefits of the trail

  • Broadening the audience
  • Spreading seasonal interest
  • Encouraging repeat visits
  • Enhancing visitor experience
  • Fulfilling legislative responsibilities
  • Greater staff and volunteer satisfaction

The Seasonal trail at Stourhead was launched on the 23rd of May 2006.