GTW lists the top visitor centres, heritage attractions, parks and eateries that all go that extra mile to make coach drivers feel appreciated

Credit Beamish 17787599846_6ef1f139c8_o

Beamish

The success of any group outing is dependent on many things – not least your chosen venue’s attitude to coaches. Make the parking easy, provide lots of easily-walkable drop-off points and offer the driver free entry and a meal, and you’ve set the scene for a productive trip. Luckily, the UK’s top tourism destinations are driving the way (if you’ll excuse the pun) in coach-friendliness. From widely-known attractions, such as Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace – a previous winner of the ‘Most coach friendly historic attraction’ award – to regional garden centres and pubs, more and more venues are seeing the value of keeping the coach driver happy. One such place is the hugely popular ‘Living museum of the North,’ Beamish, based in County Durham. There’s free hardstanding parking for coaches, discounted rates for pre-booked groups of 15 people or more, and free admission for both the group travel organiser and the coach driver. The staff at Beamish will also lay on a free promotional DVD and leaflets to help GTOs plan their trip, and coach drivers are well catered for, with hospitality laid on. Its coach-friendly attitude is just one of the many reasons why Beamish makes for a winning day out. Set in 300 acres of countryside, the open air museum is home to a replica market town, railway station, 1940s farm, pit village and more. Special events are held throughout the year, and Beamish will be hosting its annual Agricultural Show next month (from York's CHOCOLATE Story - Bar MakingSeptember 17-20, 2015), recreating the feel of a typical country show from the early 1900s. Find out more at www.beamish.org.uk Also flying the flag for Britain’s rich historical past (albeit rich in the calorific sense) is York’s Chocolate Story, which offers groups a sweet-tasting trip through the past few decades of UK chocolate making. Full details of all its group benefits can be found on the website – see yorkschocolatestory.com – but to give you a ‘taste’ of what’s on offer, coach drivers can enjoy free admission and complimentary refreshments in the attraction’s Chocolate Bar.

Steeped in history, Doddington Hall & Gardens in Lincolnshire specialises in catering for groups and prides itself on its exclusive private guided tours. Its coach-friendly attitude extends to easy, free parking, free entry to the house and gardens for coach drivers, as well as free tea, coffee or cake for drivers in the recently refurbished Coach House. Dating back to the 1500s, Doddington Hall is now a much-loved family home, and its owners are keen to share the Hall’s history with groups, as well as throwing open the estate’s doors to allow visitors of all ages the chance to explore the grounds, farm shop and more. The venue is hosting a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) event on September 17, 2015, where garden-loving groups can join the Hall’s head gardener, David Logan, to share his thoughts on pruning techniques. The morning workshop costs just £12 for RHS members (£15 for non-members). For more on this, and other upcoming events at the Hall, visit doddingtonhall.com

Borde_Hill_House,_closeup_from_rear_garden,_Mar_2012 Credit Caraig Synders

Borde Hill House

Continuing the group-friendly horticultural theme is award-winning botanic garden Borde Hill in the heart of Sussex (see www.bordehill.co.uk). Set in more than 200 acres of traditional parkland, it’s home to an Elizabethan Tudor mansion, Borde Hill House, which forms the backdrop for a stunning 17-acre formal garden, which flows in a series of linked ‘garden rooms’, from the traditional Rose Garden to the exotic Paradise Walk.
Borde Hill has a dedicated coach park, group discounts are available, and groups are offered an introduction to the garden and all the facilities on offer at the attraction on arrival, as well as a map to help them plan their day.

If you’re thinking of making a weekend of it and combining one of the UK’s many botanical gardens with a one- or two-night stay, you might consider a stop-over at one of Jupiter Hotels’ historic buildings. From the elegant Grade II listed Mercure Brighton Seafront Hotel to the Mercure Edinburgh City Princes Street Hotel, the luxury chain has a number of group-friendly deals all year round. Find out more at www.jupiterhotels.co.uk

If talk of the UK’s finest gardens has inspired you to book a more practical group trip, it’s worth exploring the many gardening ‘supermarkets’ dotted around the country. Gone are the days when garden centres were simply a place you went to invest in some bedding plants. Now they’ve evolved into multi-entertainment centres, with cafes, restaurants, children’s entertainment, home and gardenware stores and more.

PTWGC Team Photo 12th March

Wyvedale Garden Centre

Keen to entice groups to explore what its UK-wide network of garden centres has to offer is the Wyevale group. Visitor of all ages can shop for plants and garden furniture, before relaxing in one of Wyevale’s may cafes and restaurants, with offers including a ‘two main courses for £10’ deal, as well as breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Wyevale is Britain’s largest garden centre chain, with 147 locations across England and Wales – more than 100 of which have restaurants. A large chunk of Wyevale’s centres are well suited to coach groups, with ample coach parking and the operational capacity to serve large groups.  Visit its website at www.wyevalegardencentres.co.uk to access its online store locator, plan your group visit and contact each centre direct. Other group-friendly garden centres that are happy to welcome coaches include Dobbies Garden Centres, with stores across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland (see www.dobbies.com); and Van Hage, with centres in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire (see www.vanhage.co.uk).

As our Christmas feature on page 60 goes to show, outdoor and indoor markets are always a group favourite, and many venues go out of their way to cater for coach groups, including the popular Romford Market in Essex. With more than 150 traders pitching their stalls every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday throughout the year, come rain or shine, groups can shop for jewellery, clothes, toys, food, pet accessories and more. One of the UK’s oldest street fairs, Romford Market dates back almost 800 years, when traders bought and sold sheep, as opposed to fruit and veg. Now, it caters for groups of all ages and sizes, with plenty of places to sit, relax, eat and drink, as well as take advantage of the shopping that’s on offer.
Maps, directions and information for coach drivers can be found on the website, see www.romford-market.co.uk Other coach-friendly markets include Catterick Market in North Yorkshire – hailed as the largest Sunday market in the north of England, see www.catterickracecoursesundaymarket.co.uk – and Bury Market in Lancashire, see www.burymarket.com

One of the few visitor attractions where groups get to stay on board the coach while a lion walks past the window, West Midland Safari & Leisure Park’s Safari Drive-Through is a chance for coach drivers to steer past the park’s southern white rhinos, zebras, giraffes, tigers and more as they drive through the African Plains, Wild Asia, the Carnivore section and Elephant Valley, without having to stray far from the M6!
The park’s coach driver incentives include group discounts and free parking. Find out more at www.wmsp.co.uk
Drivers are also well catered for at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire (see www.woburnsafari.co.uk), with free coach parking once they’ve driven through the safari trail and dropped their group off to explore the cafes, restaurants, farm park and indoor play centre. Or head further south for a trip to Longleat House, Safari & Adventure Park (www.longleat.co.uk), which offers coach drivers free admission, a free meal voucher, plenty of free parking and easy drop off points. See the website for full details of the group benefits on offer.