Friday, 17 December 2010

Panto season – oh yes it is!

A principal boy played by a woman, a dame played by a man, chants of “He’s behind you!”, two men in a horse costume, a good fairy, an evil villain, and the obligatory guest celebrity – it can only mean one thing, the panto season is upon us again!

A wide variety of performances can be enjoyed in the West Country this year – here are a few notables, with places to stay for each:

In Truro, the Good Fairy's best magic is tested to the extreme in Sleeping Beauty at the Hall for Cornwall. With a little help from the audience, we think she’ll prevail. A peaceful nap awaits at Nansavallan Farmhouse.

TV's Sandra Dickinson takes the lead in Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (pictured) at the Exeter Corn Exchange. Off to Swallow Barn Cottage you go.

At the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, squeaky-voiced comedian Joe Pasquale stars as Muddles in another production of Sleeping Beauty – or should that be ‘Squeaking Beauty’… Admire the ever-changing scenes at Riverside.

Dick Whittington is the choice at Exmouth Pavillion, with a ‘daring, thigh-slapping adventure’ guaranteed. It’s the cat’s whiskers at The Quay

The good folk at the Flavel Theatre in Dartmouth will perform Cinderella – the popular tale of a pretty young girl who lived with her father, stepmother and ugly stepsisters. Will she find her glass slipper – and her Prince? Have a ball at Oak Tree.

Celebrity spotters might be interested in another performance of Cinderella, at the Playhouse in Weston Super Mare, starring Coronation Street's Sean Wilson, Eternal's Kelle Bryan and A Touch of Frost's John Lyons. Back to Glebe Cottage before midnight!

And last but not least, another performance of Cinderella at the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth, stars Carry On and Corrie star Amanda Barrie, Last of the Summer Wine’s Tom Owen and Chris Jarvis from CBeebies.  Don’t lose your slippers at Poppy Cottage (pictured above). 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Go large in 2011 with one of our big houses…

For those with bigger broods or grand ambitions, a big house can provide enough space for a special family reunion, a weekend with friends, or even a wedding. The West Country has a fantastic array of huge houses in beautiful locations, and we're lucky enough to have a wide variety of them on our books.

Secluded farmhouses, historic manor houses, vast converted barns, seaside houses overlooking delightful beaches - all are available to rent through Helpful Holidays for your exclusive use.

Don't be fooled by the name, because Little Bocombe in north Devon sleeps 14 in a big detached house and separate cottage chalet. This Arts and Crafts style Grade II listed house is comfortable and very welcoming. It has a proper big house feel, with a big hall-cum-dining room with original floorboards, and an equally big fitted kitchen with an oil-fired Aga. Two sitting rooms, both with open fires, have lovely garden views. Upstairs there's four bedrooms, with another two in the cottage chalet. There's a spacious feel outside too, with the property surrounded by 9 acres of mature gardens, daffodil woods and pasture.

Sheafhayne, in east Devon, is a superbly positioned, Grade II listed, Elizabethan manor house, formerly Sir Francis Drake’s shooting lodge. This is an incredibly grand place. As soon as you enter through the big stone entrance porch and heavy ribbed oak door, you'll see why it was likened by the Sunday Times to ‘a full-sized game of Cluedo’. 24 people can be easily housed amongst these regal surroundings, which include a huge, medieval, walk-in ornamental fireplace, a billiard room, William Morris-designed wallpaper, a piano, a four door Aga, a proper old-fashioned larder/wine store and former butler’s pantry, four staircases, eleven bedrooms, five bathrooms and four shower-rooms. You could easily get lost in here!

Brimpts Farm is set on the hillside above Dartmeet, Dartmoor, and is one of five ancient tenements of the moor, passing to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1307. 700 acres of forests, tors, stone circles, East Dart river and open moor encircle a farmhouse and a huge, L-shaped, detached barn which has been converted into accommodation for as many as 32 people if you are prepared to bunk up, otherwise for 20 very comfortably. Part of the joy of staying here is the range of activities available, including farm tours by Landrover, climbing and abseiling instruction, guided walks, mountain biking tours, pony riding and orienteering, all set in the most beautiful countryside. If you prefer more gentle recreation, the farm has a number of scenic walks and a large hot tub and sauna to relax in.

Read more about our big houses and find one that's just right for your special occasion. They are very popular throughout the year, so be sure to book well in advance.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tretawn, a gem in north Cornwall...

Tretawn is a handsome 16th/17th century manor house surrounded by five acres of garden and woodland, just outside St Kew in north Cornwall.

Sleeping 14, the house is spacious and comfortable with a warm, homely atmosphere. It is steeped in history with many original features and has retained all of its charm and character despite modernisation.

Its caring owners have just added a brand new swimming pool, complete with changing room and shower, for guests to enjoy. The pool is connected to the original games room, and together with the lounge, creates an excellent recreation area. Outside, there's more than enough space for energetic youngsters or a gentle stroll.

There's plenty to keep you entertained at this property, but you're also in an ideal spot to explore further afield. Spend a day on the beach at splendid Polzeath or more intimate Port Gaverne, visit legendary Tintagel Castle or perhaps cycle along the Camel Trail from Wadebridge to Padstow?

Tretawn is an exceptional family house, very private and ideal for large gatherings and celebrations.

Read the comments of holidaymakers who have stayed here.

Christmas dinner with a difference...

Should you want to try something a little different with your Christmas dinner this year, we’ve noticed a couple of suggestions in the media recently…

Heston Blumenthal launched his ‘Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding’ in Waitrose – as the name suggests, a traditional Christmas pudding but with a whole candied orange inside.

Demand for the pud proved so great that it has practically sold out, leading to some enterprising souls offering them up for sale on eBay. Not really the Christmas spirit?

We’re guessing that you won’t want to fork out unnecessarily, so perhaps have a go at making it yourself?

The recent cold spell has played havoc with this year’s sprout crop with reports of frozen solid sprouts impossible to harvest. But that’s not all - cauliflowers are also at risk from the snow and frost. You’d be forgiven for being confused, however, as other reports suggest that the cold weather is a Godsend, and that this year’s sprouts will taste sweeter than ever!

If you’d rather give the sprouts a miss, another supermarket chain is suggesting we experiment with our veg on Christmas Day to brighten up the table. Sainsbury’s is selling Spanish-grown bunches of golden, white and Chioggia (candy-striped) varieties of baby beetroot, once popular with the Victorians.

Are you planning to try anything new this Christmas? Or are you a staunch traditionalist? Let us know!

It's not too late to get away this Christmas. We've big houses with large dining tables for grand gatherings or cosy cottages for peaceful indulgence.

View a list of our holiday cottages available over Christmas.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Royal wedding breaks...

The extra bank holiday on Friday 29th April 2011 is the perfect excuse to get away for a break in the West Country. Whether you plan to watch or escape the celebrations is, of course, up to you. Here are a couple of ideas...

Watch the wedding...

Gather together friends and family and book this luxurious country house for 25 people near Newton Abbot in south Devon and watch the royal wedding in style on their new big screen, high definition TV. Western House (pictured above) is available from Thursday 28th April so you can all settle in the night before, ready for the big day’s viewing. Afterwards, you can celebrate with a professionally catered party (extra), have a sing-song around the piano, take a dip in the indoor heated pool and play a game of snooker or table football in the games room. The family pet is welcome too.

Escape the wedding...

Hide away in a former Georgian bathing house for two secluded in trees beside the tranquil River Dart in south Devon. There’s no TV or mobile reception to distract you; the only sounds will be the noise of the water, the breeze in the trees, passing boats and the occasional seal. Approached by half a mile of rough track, The Bathing House (pictured above) is set within the 550 acre Sharpham Estate, near Ashprington, which is best known for its small vineyard. Steps lead down to a riverside terrace where you can sit and watch the local wildlife; herons, shelducks, kingfishers and egrets can be spotted along the tidal shore.

Try our advanced search to find just the right place for a relaxing break.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Interview with Gorgs Geikie – Part 2

Helpful Holidays has been sponsoring the British number one Lady Pistol Shooter Georgina ‘Gorgs’ Geikie for the past year – here’s part two of our interview with this young Olympic hopeful.

We were interested to get an insight into Gorgs’ training regime: “I do 3 or 4 hours a day of fitness training, which could be a mixture of working out in the gym, running and even horseriding. I shoot for 1.5 hours per day. But there’s a lot more to it than that – shooting is 95% psychology. You have to train your body and mind to react under pressure exactly as you want them to – to simply fire a shot. To do that you have to be completely in the moment, keep it as simple as possible. That’s not as easy as it sounds – when the pressure’s on, and noise is all around, absolute clarity and concentration is so important.”

After winning a bronze medal in Delhi, Gorgs’ sights are understandably firmly set on our home Olympics in 2012. “If I could win one tournament it would be the London 2012 Olympics. First I need to qualify for the GBR Team in order to be able to compete in World Cup competitions next year. Qualifying for the Olympics will be really hard - final selections are made at the start of 2012 and there’s only space for one from my event. But I can do it – and what’s more, I can win gold.”

Gorgs’ task has been made tougher with the news that funding has been reduced, meaning she has to rely heavily on sponsors to pay for her travel and training costs. “Sponsorship enables me to continue training and competing nationally and internationally. The first event next year is in Australia, so costs for that are quite high. All help is really gratefully received – without it I wouldn’t be able to continue competing.”

Helpful Holidays has been proud to be a sponsor of such an exciting and dedicated young talent – we wish Gorgs the very best for 2011 – and of course 2012!

Find out more about Gorgs by visiting her website: You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Michael Caines' Magic Mulled Wine...

What a treat! Celebrity chef Michael Caines has given us his magic mulled wine recipe to share with you. A perfect winter warmer...


2 oranges
1 lemon
4 cloves
A pinch of cinnamon powder
2 cinnamon sticks
A pinch of Chinese five spice
50g caster sugar
1 cup of water
50ml Grand Marnier
750ml full bodied red wine


• Slice the lemon and one of the oranges, then stud the remaining orange with the cloves.
• Dissolve the sugar into the cup of water.
• Pour the wine into a saucepan with the studded orange, stir in the sugared water and spices then take to a moderate heat and leave for ten minutes. Do not boil the wine.
• Before serving, remove the studded orange, add the Grand Marnier and citrus slices and pour into a pre-heated glass punch bowl and garnish with the cinnamon sticks.

Michael Caines MBE is Executive Head Chef at two Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park, not far from our home in Chagford. Recently voted the 'UK's Top Restaurant' by the readers of the Sunday Times and Harden’s restaurant guides, it achieved a magnificent 9.86 out of 10 overall rating and diners drenched it in praise with terms such as ‘flawless’ and ‘luxurious and welcoming’.

Special winter offer at Gidleigh Park

Experience fine dining at Gidleigh for yourself on a winter break in the New Year. There will be a very special lunch offer running from 16th January to 31st March 2011 with two courses for only £29.00 per person and three courses for £39.50 per person. (This offer excludes February 12th, 13th and 14th).

View our holiday cottages in Chagford for an invigorating (and mouth-watering!) winter break.