This time a trip to Ruthin Gaol, the first Pentonville style prison in the UK, tucked away in the picturesque historical town of Ruthin, North Wales! Yet another local attraction we have somehow seemed to miss, and in fact winner of a Visit Wales hidden gem award for 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Originally built as a ‘House of Correction ‘ in the 1650s , it has a colourful history, finally closing as a prison in 1916. Following extensive renovation work in 2002 it re-opened as a unique visitor experience, where you can learn about life in the Victorian Prison system (and hopefully have your one and only experience of being inside a real prison).
Apologies if my historical facts are a bit off, not always easy to read and digest information boards when your eyes are somewhere in the back of your head looking for the great escaper…
This time our trip also included my Dad, a sometimes wheelchair user, so we also needed to see how a prison wing constructed in 1878 would accommodate modern wheels. I contacted the Gaol in advance to find out where the parking is, and how good access is for wheelchairs as there isn’t too much information on this online.
When you arrive at Ruthin Gaol, the disabled parking is situated inside the lower gate and level access is via the upper gate (a very short walk).
From the moment you arrive at the Gaol, you couldn’t ask for a warmer welcome from the two ladies in the shop/reception! Entry is very reasonable (£14 for a family ticket) and disabled visitors can be accompanied by a carer with free entry.
There are lovely activities for the children who were presented with a clipboard detective trail for the Gaol. For the older children there is a genealogy style trail which is both fun whilst searching for the faces, but also really interesting in terms of finding out about inmates. For the younger ones there is a teddy bear trail searching for 6 different teddies hidden inside the Gaol.
I’m not going to say too much about the history as you go around or add too many photos as it’s much more fun to explore these yourself!
It was suggested we start in the basement, so we took the lift down from reception. The lift is big enough for 1 wheelchair and 1 extra person. The steps down are fairly steep and curve halfway down, but there is a solid handrail.
It’s fair to say there is a bit of a wow factor when you enter into the basement. There are lots of different cells and things to look at, a schoolroom area for the unfortunate children who had to go into prison with their parents, a dressing up area, lots of historical artefacts, information boards…..I could go on and on!
Unfortunately the doorways into the cells are too narrow for a modern wheelchair to fit through but there really isn’t any way these could be adapted! You still have a good view into the cells and lots of information and artefacts are in the main area. The slate floor is slightly uneven and may be a slight trip hazard, but a wheelchair can still be pushed with ease.
At the far end of the basement is another lift which takes you to the upper floor, or a steel staircase with a handrail on one side. A wow factor greets you on the upper level! Again lots to see up here, and interestingly a modern cell to compare with the cells seen downstairs. There is also a cell with information on the period during World War II when the Gaol was used as a munitions factory.
You then retrace your steps back to reception, where there are steps down to the kitchen, or wheelchair access is via an outside ramp. There is one small area which is not wheelchair accessible.
Finally a return trip to the shop where the big and small one received a sticker and postcard for completing their trails, and ripped me off for the obligatory gift shop tat (always the highlight of any visit).
On a very wet and grey day this was a great way to spend an interesting and fun hour or two. No easy task finding an attraction which is enjoyable and interesting for the whole age range, and has wheelchair/disabled access. Ruthin Gaol definitely ticks those boxes, and the warm welcome you receive and clear explanations of how to negotiate the building really do help.
The Gaol also has themed ghost hunting evenings (if you dare), storytelling sessions in the summer holidays, or Halloween events in October half-term.
Access for wheelchairs is generally good, many areas are quite narrow so you may need to check in advance if using a powered wheelchair or mobility scooter. There is no accessible toilet within the Gaol but there are disabled toilets in Market Street. Unfortunately there are no local Changing Places facilities.
Beware if you have a wobbly escaper, or even a non-wobbly little escaper. There is open access to various sets of steps and it’s a little dark downstairs so you have to keep a close eye.
A brilliant trip if you are looking to entertain a wide range of ages, great for a wet day but there is also a picnic area outside reception in the exercise yard. A lovely park just down the road and delicious chips across the road! Ruthin is also worth a wander around, a lovely historical town with cafes and independent shops. Some pavements are quite narrow and the road up from the Gaol is quite steep for a wheelchair so you may need to move your car.
Prepare to be spooked, entertained and warmly welcomed; and don’t worry you won’t have to eat Welsh porridge as long as you behave….