Monday, 31 January 2011

Helpful Holidays supports the Marine Conservation Society...

Sandcastles, a dip in the sea and ice cream on the shore are exactly what the British beach visit is about, so Helpful Holidays has chosen to help protect the UK coastline by supporting the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) throughout 2011. We recently caught up with our friends at MCS to learn more about their history and current campaigns.

MCS is the UK charity that cares for our seas, shores and wildlife. By raising awareness and funds, MCS is able to help tackle important issues like marine protection, sustainable fisheries and ensuring our beaches and seawater become cleaner.

High profile support has always been important to the charity, with HRH The Prince of Wales taking on the role of President in 1978, when the charity was just a year old and called the Underwater Conservation Society. MCS said: "We started life, miles from the sea, in a garden shed in Ross-on-Wye belonging to founder member, Dr Bob Earll. The important thing then, as now, was the people supporting it."

Diver Magazine’s Bernard Eaton and project officers Dr Charles Sheppard and Dr Bob Earll had a real passion for the coast, as did Professor David Bellamy, a keen diver, environmental campaigner and botanist, who lent his support to the team.

Since changing its name to the Marine Conservation Society in 1983, the charity has grown steadily. Now, it is the go-to organisation for information on clean beaches, sustainable fishing and marine life protection. What started as the Golden List of Beaches is now the Good Beach Guide: an online Bible for beach goers who want to ensure the seas they visit are clean and safe to bathe in.

Last year, the website was revamped, reflecting its popularity as a reference point for tourists; it gets up to 100,000 hits a month in peak holiday season. Holidaymakers are spoilt in the South West with 126 MCS recommended beaches to choose from.

The charity depends entirely on the generosity and enthusiasm of supporters. We were delighted to be able to recently donate £10,000 from our charitable fund to go towards key projects, including the Good Beach Guide and Beachwatch. You can make a donation to MCS when you book a holiday through Helpful Holidays.

You can also donate direct to MCS, become a member and help spread the word about the good work of this charity by following them on Twitter or by liking MCS on Facebook.

Look out later this week for a second post outlining some of MCS's current campaigns and how you can get involved.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Fun and fresh air at half-term...

It's not long until half term and there's still time to escape to the glorious West Country for some fun and fresh air.

Exploring the coast is an adventure in itself and there are plenty of family attractions in the area with special events to keep you entertained during the school holiday. Here are some ideas for places to stay; you'll be hard pushed to feel bored...

At Goonhavern, two miles inland from Perranporth’s fine sandy beach on Cornwall’s north coast is a large granite, granary barn converted into holiday homes with shared used of a games barn and 10 acres of grounds with a children’s play area. Sleeping four and six, both Beech and Elm have lovely long views across meadows to the sea. (Nearby: Blue Reef Aquarium; Dairyland Farm World)

Up on Exmoor, 2½ miles from the little pebble beach at dramatic Heddons Mouth (pictured above), is Heale Farm Cottage near Parracombe. A roomy family house sleeping five with a shared table tennis games barn and 40 acres of pasture, streams, wild wood and moorland which you are welcome to explore. (Nearby: Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park; Exmoor Zoo)

Or how about this lovely old listed farmhouse in Harleston, a peaceful retreat just over a mile from Slapton Sands in the South Hams? Sleeping ten, it has an indoor swimming pool and 2 acres of garden. You can take the footpath from the house through Slapton Nature Reserve down to the sea. (Nearby: Woodlands Leisure Park; Dartmouth Castle)

View a list of all our holiday cottages available during half term or give us a call on 01647 433593 and we'll help you find the perfect spot.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A helpful way to explore the area…

Time on holiday is short and too valuable to waste on research. So, we asked ourselves, what else can we do to help our holidaymakers plan what to see and do in advance?

Our exciting new ‘explore the area’ map fits the bill!

If you’re looking for lots of ideas, it’s a fast and easy way to see what’s on the doorstep of your holiday home and further afield. If you have a particular interest, say golf or visiting gardens (Trevarno Estate pictured left), you can personalise your search for just those activities.

There’s such a wealth of diverse choice in the West Country. We’ve added all sorts of attractions, from well known family theme parks and historic houses, to lesser known animal sanctuaries you might otherwise overlook (Dartmoor Miniature Pony Centre pictured right). There are activity centres ranging from gentle cycling to adrenalin-fuelled water-sports, and when you need some refreshment, we’ve made some suggestions for places to eat and drink too.

Special events are on the way soon to help you track down those food festivals, sailing regattas and quirky local customs!

To take a look, visit the property details page of any of our 600 holiday cottages featured across Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. Each attraction is plotted on the map with contact details, a brief description and a link to its website so you can easily access extra information.

Holidaymakers aren’t the only ones to benefit. We’re keen to support the South West tourism industry and the map is an ideal way to help promote local businesses, large and small. Over 18,000 holidays were booked with Helpful Holidays last year, so it’s a great opportunity to spread the word and generate new visitors.

There’s also an opportunity for attractions to join the Helpful Holidays Affiliate Scheme and earn revenue from online booking referrals. For more information, please email

New attractions, activity centres and places to eat and drink are being added all the time, and suggestions for inclusion are welcome via the link beneath the map.

Happy exploring!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

From castles to cosy cottages…

Magnificent architecture, stunning rooms and oodles of history. These grand country houses, castles and estates are a stones' throw from our holiday cottages and a perfect day out.

Caerhays Castle and Gardens (pictured) in Cornwall is an entire estate worth perusing. Owned by the Williams family, it is located in a sheltered valley overlooking Porthluney Cove on the south Cornish coast equidistant from Truro and St Austell. The fascinating garden, open from mid February to early June, benefited from the finds of plant hunters in China around the turn of the 20th century. Stay at this elegant early Victorian house in Fowey and enjoy your very own lovely, long estuary views.

Forde Abbey and Gardens (pictured) in Chard, Somerset is another family home and county jewel. Once a Cistercian monastery, it has more than 900 years of history and 30 acres of award-winning gardens. Stay close by at the fairytale-looking thatched and aptly named Gingerbread House. The hexagonal Grade II listed home on the edge of woods can't help but boost the holiday magic.

Sherbourne Castle in Dorset was built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and was the stately home of the Digby family since 1617. Visitors will see a variety of decorative styles from over 400 years of English history. Pack even more variety into your visit by staying out on the coast, at the Grade II listed thatched Dormouse Cottage in Burton Bradstock.

The National Trust looks after Arlington Court (pictured), near Barnstaple in north Devon. Another prime example of an English family estate, it houses much loved collections of everything from model ships to shells. The tea room makes good use of the produce from the thriving walled kitchen garden and the grounds even include an ancient heronry and a Carriage Museum, complete with working horses and stables. A short trot along the coast is the hamlet of Higher Clovelly and this Grade II listed cottage, converted along with the neighbouring buildings that once made up a Victorian ‘Model Farm’. Beautiful panoramic views over countryside to Bideford Bay beyond.

If you fancy visiting a grand house in the West Country it’s easy to find which of our properties are nearby – just head to our Advanced Search page or call us on 01647 433593.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Places to go, attractions to see…

Getting away from it all is great but it’s also good to know there are things to see and do, if and when you feel like it. You’re spoilt for choice in the West Country, so we’ve hand picked some holiday cottages close to spectacular scenery and attractions to whet your appetite…

First up is the brilliant pairing of this converted old smithy cottage and the Arthurian history-filled Tintagel Castle. The cottage is just a mile from the castle, and only two fields back from the spectacular coastal path, meaning you can walk easily to Trebarthwith Strand's big sandy low-tide beach. Or, walk all the way to Boscastle if you're feeling super fit! The cottage has a cosy open plan kitchen and lounge with a woodburner to welcome you after your exertions.

Wookey Hole Caves in Wells, Somerset, has been a favourite for West Country visitors for years and, judging by the feedback, the same can be said of Glebe Cottage in Wookey. The quiet village includes pubs, a working watermill with tearoom and adventure playground. Glebe Cottage is tucked away on the edge of Wookey, smartly renovated and sharing a meandering garden with the property's owner. The interior includes original beams, a large fireplace and French windows to open-sided porch. The famous Wookey Hole Caves are just 2 miles away, the Cheddar Gorge and Caves 8 miles, the city of Wells 3 miles and Glastonbury 8 miles.

This dear little cottage in Devon, full of character and charm, seems the perfect place for nature lovers who can reach the nearby Buckfast Butterflies and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary easily from Buckfastleigh. These 18th century cottages were built for mill workers. The owner has nurtured the property and brought out its best features, including a living area with lots of beams and a double bedroom with pretty views over the town. The sanctuary offers a fun and educational experience, and afterwards, the rest of Dartmoor is yours to explore.

Take a trip in to Dorchester from Poppy Cottage in Charlton Marshall but be sure to take a picnic. It's a great spot for teddy bear enthusiasts young and old, as the Dorset Teddy Bear Museum is a short drive away. Built in 1860, the mid-terrace flint and brick property has a real ‘own home’ feeling to it. Sit out in the enclosed garden and enjoy the roses, clematis and trees. It is also on the Stour Valley Way, so good for walking.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Valentine's getaways…

Selecting the perfect location for a Valentine's getaway is all about personality, whether you want somewhere to cosy up and admire the idyllic view or a sanctuary to come home to at the end of a day adventuring with your better half. These character-laden properties can cater for a range of preferences and each offers a romantic setting, too.

A couples' favourite has to be The Music Room at Aveton Gifford, an old village beside the River Avon in the South Hams. As one of two very special conversions on a family estate, this remarkable Grade II listed former music room uses its history and charm to create a dramatic yet tranquil setting. The long room and its stained glass windows easily conjure images of concerts and performances, while the stage itself now houses a four poster bed. With sandy beaches, coves and pretty thatched buildings and golf courses, you don't have to go far in Aveton Gifford for scenery. You might like to take a walk to The Oyster Shack, just two miles away – oysters are an aphrodisiac too good to miss on Valentine's Day!
If you're looking for a seaside retreat, bring your walking boots to Cliff End in Whitsand Bay, south Cornwall. This property is an aptly named, newly built chalet around 30 foot above the beach on the very edge of Tregonhawke Cliff. A large enclosed deck along the front is great for ship watching when you’re not surfing and there’s a footpath down to the sandy beach. And when you have made the most of the beautiful surroundings, you can cosy up inside in the fresh and modern interior or perhaps visit Buckland Abbey a short drive away.
Tucked away among the scattered houses and cottages of the village Kestle Mill, north Cornwall, is Sunrise Cottage, a pretty little stone and cob cottage, thought to be 17th century or older. The flower-filled garden creates the perfect entrance to a thoughtfully prepared holiday home. The bathroom includes a jacuzzi-style bath and if there is time to venture out and about after a bit of R&R with your loved one, Kestle Mill is well positioned (near Newquay and St Austell) for coastal visits or touring. Elizabethan Trerice House is around a mile away and the Eden Project 10 miles.
Rose Cottage, a detached gothic-style gatehouse on Dartmoor will strike a chord with the old romantic. Situated just inside the main entrance gates to Bovey Castle (a renowned hotel), and just two miles from North Bovey, the property has views over the 18 hole championship golf course and is two lane-miles from the spectacular open moor around Manaton or Moretonhampstead. With the elegant hall, ornate ironwork doors to the dining room and the big round glass table encircled by mullioned windows, the scene is instantly set for a romantic break. All guests are welcome to enjoy the hotel’s pool, sauna, steam room and gym. For those who want to venture outside the grounds, the Ring of Bells Inn, North Bovey, is a popular watering hole for locals and visitors alike, with food served daily.
If you fancy spending Valentine's in the West Country, see this page or call us on 01647 433593.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Forthcoming events in the South West…

This is the best time of year to try something new, somewhere new, and the South West has some fantastic options to whet your appetite from the soothing prospect of hot pasties and cream tea to the craziness of an authentic wassail.

If you haven't wassailed, you haven't lived. Best remedy this with a visit to Charity Wassail! with The Mangledwurzels in Watchfield, Somerset on 15th January. Burnham-On-Sea Rotary Club, in association with Rich’s Farmhouse Cider, are holding their annual Wassail to raise money for charity. A wassail is traditionally held to ensure a good apple crop for the coming year. Proceeds go to the National Blind Children’s Society and The Gateway Club. Hog roast and mulled hot cider available. You’ll find it more peaceful at D183a

You can also join in the traditional cider apple blessing at Stoke Gabriel on 15th January in the community orchard. Listen to folk music, storytelling and watch the Mummers players, while sipping some vintage cider. Take some cider back to C4 (pictured)

Feel righteous about the countryside by helping a Ranger for a day at Exmoor National Park. Carry out practical conservation work with an Exmoor National Park Ranger on 16th January. A minibus can pick you up from Minehead, Dulverton and Lynmouth areas by arrangement. All tools and instruction on their safe use will be provided. Make F43 your Ranger HQ

The culinary delights of Christmas were great, but perhaps your thoughts are now turning to a bit of exercise? North Dartmoor is high, wild and soaked in legend. Join the Peaks and Pixies ramble on 30th January on Okehampton Moor and visit the home of the Dartmoor pixies and the highest point in southern England. See where you’re going from A143 (pictured)

See how creative wartime cooks came up with ration-friendly Sunday dinners at a Wartime Sunday Lunch at Trelissick Garden, Cornwall (pictured). On 30th January you can see what was served to soldiers, nurses and visitors as Trelissick looks back to its role during the Second World War. We’ll meet again at S242

For somewhere a little wilder, the coast at Hartland is just perfect and from Hartland Abbey you can wander on snowdrop paths mingled with daffodils and perhaps early camellias down to the beach. Return to a delicious hot pasty and a cream tea in aid of St Nectan’s Church at Stoke on 6th and 13th February. Wander back to K29

There’s a hidden valley on Exmoor where snowdrops bloom in their thousands beside the river Avill. To get there, use the Park and Ride service from Wheddon Cross, available from 5th until 27th February. If you do decide to visit, please make a donation to help ensure the future of this service. The Coleridge Way isn’t far from there, so there’s the added benefit of some great walking on the nearby hills and moors. Plant your hopes at F270

If you fancy attending an event in the West Country it’s easy to find which of our properties are nearby – just head to our Advanced Search page or call us on 01647 433593.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Yelpful Holidays for you and your dog...

For most people who own a dog, a holiday wouldn’t be truly enjoyable unless man’s best friend comes too. Taking your dog on holiday is likely to broaden rather than limit your West Country experience, whether setting out on long rambling walks together or settling down by the fire in a country pub.

The heather-clad hills and tors of Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor are a challenge worth the climb when you and your dog survey the miles of open space from ‘the top of the world’. Your dog will enjoy a day of rummaging and rabbity scents, and in the bar afterwards you’ll meet like-minded pet owners happy to share shaggy-dog stories.

Helpful Holidays offers many holiday cottages where your dog is welcome in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Smart apartments and cosy cottages sit right beside the most beautiful of the many dog-friendly beaches in the region. Here we’ve picked a few suitable cottages and coupled them up with good walks nearby.

Dune View nestles by the dunes at Rose and is handily placed for the huge sandy beach at Perran Sands – a fantastic expanse to get any dog belting along at full speed and sniffing enthusiastically around rock pools. This sturdy detached stone cottage sleeps six and has a large, enclosed garden. This long walk takes in Perran Beach and Holywell.

For those who prefer an inland refuge, Weddicott Barn is a stunning barn conversion with an indoor heated swimming pool. It sleeps ten and is located just a mile from Chagford, which makes it an excellent base for exploring Dartmoor. Here’s a good winter walk from Chagford by BBC Radio Devon’s Michael Chequer.

The Old Stables in lush South Hams farmland above the River Avon valley sleeps four and has a good-sized, enclosed, semi-walled garden. This local walk will take you through fabulous local scenery; once in Totnes, seek out the Maltsters Arms pub which keeps a dog biscuit barrel on the bar and has a river for swimming. 

It’s easy to find which of our properties allow pets – just head to our Advanced Search page and select the ‘Pets allowed - Yes' option. Many of us at Helpful Holidays are dog owners too, so do call us on 01647 433593 for a chat and tips on how to make your West Country holiday with your dog a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Join in St Ives Feast in Cornwall on 6th and 7th February

Stay in a cottage in far west Cornwall from Saturday 5th February and join in the fun at St Ives Feast. On the 6th, a spectacular parade weaves through the cobbled streets with musicians, local residents and children wearing ivy in remembrance of St Eia, the patron saint of St Ives, who is said to have travelled to Cornwall from Ireland on a boat of ivy. 

The Feast Day on 7th February features a unique tradition - Hurling of the Silver Ball or Cornish Hurling when contestants try to keep possession of a small wooden ball coated in silver.

Within easy walking distance of the festivities, but in a quiet no through road, is this stylish modern house for six priced at £324 for the week.  

We’ve lots of holiday homes in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset for you to choose from. We’ve visited and star rated them all and can tell you about each one in detail. To find just the right holiday cottage, use our advanced search or call us on 01647 433593.