Friday, 25 February 2011

Wade into West Country watersports…

Watersports are big news in the West Country. Fancy dipping your toes in? From leisurely pursuits to adrenalin-fuelled sports, here are some suggestions for you water babies…

For a high-octane buzz, try the newest adventure -coasteering. It's a mix of running, climbing, diving, sea swimming and cliff jumping that leads you into sea caves, over rocky cliffs and even face to face with seals! North Cornwall's EBO Adventure runs sessions led by experienced guides and its location offers countless brilliant views when you need to stop for breath! Put your tired feet up at Seascape on Pentire Head near Newquay.

Of course, Newquay is known for its surfing hotspots at Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay but just a short distance along the coast are the popular beaches of Rock and Polzeath. The latter is home to Surf’s Up Surf School. Venture back inland to Rose Cottage in woodland-surrounded St Kew for a change of scene.

Down in south Devon at picturesque Bigbury-on-Sea, as well as surfing, how about trying some stand-up paddle boarding with Venus Riders? We’ve plenty of stunning apartments right on the beach so you can get an early start.

Another hybrid watersport has taken the West Country by storm in recent years - kite boarding. Also known as kite surfing, it combines wakeboarding, snowboarding, surfing, windsurfing and power kiting and can be a fast and furious hobby. Paracademy Extreme in Portland, Dorset, is a long established school for anyone wanting to try this out. The nearby village of Burton Bradstock, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is home to Dormouse Cottage, an ideal place for curling up in the evenings.

The view of the South West coastline from a sea kayak is unrivalled. Add to that the peace and tranquility of a paddle-powered boat and you have a great day out. So pick your location and we’ll help you find a holiday cottage nearby, like this spacious apartment with superb watery views in Falmouth, where Sea Kayaking Cornwall is based. If you prefer calmer waters, the river Dart is ideal for fun canoeing expeditions.

Swap arm power for wind power and try a spot of sailing. The South Hams is a popular destination with a variety of schools and courses. Dinghy sailing in Salcombe is a fitting way to acquaint yourself with the area. Moor up and watch life sail by at stunning O’Sullivan House in an enviable spot on the water’s edge with panoramic views.

Wreck diving is fascinating for both new and seasoned divers. Marine life takes over and transforms the sunken vessels in to mysterious underwater homes waiting to be explored. Experienced divers might like the idea of chartering a dive boat such as Blue Turtle which operates in Devon and Dorset. Jurassic Coast Diving offers a wreck diver course and this three-story townhouse in Exmouth is ideally located for those wanting to be right on the coast.

Have you got a favourite West Country location for watersports? Let us know and we’ll help you search for a cosy place to stay nearby where you can brush the sand from your toes and dry out.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Messing about on the river…

The Greenbank Fal River Festival, which will run from May 27th to June 5th, is all about celebrating life on the river Fal in Cornwall.

This fantastic 10 day festival is a not-for-profit community festival, attracting more than 100,000 people to over 150 events ranging from music & drama, the arts & heritage to gig racing, swimming, walking and lots more.

For the third year running, Helpful Holidays will be sponsoring the first Saturday of the festival which is the first full day of the event following on from the launch night on Friday 27th May. Our day will see the popular “Cornwall’s Clubs & Charities” event, or “C3” as it has become known, which enables charities to showcase their services to raise funds and awareness in Events Square.

The festival was established in 2006 and will be running for its 6th year in 2011. It is a real chance to embrace the places, people, history, culture and industry that are connected by this very Cornish river. With its diverse mix of events taking place at dozens of locations around the river Fal, the festival offers something for everyone.

We’re proud to put our name to this excellent event, which is enjoyed by so many and in an area where we have a large number of holiday homes.

You can follow the festival on Facebook and on Twitter. We hope to see you there!.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Get active on land in the West Country…

The West Country's stunning scenery isn't just for looking at. Many people like to use the rugged landscape, open moors and woody enclaves as an integral part of their active regime. Here’s a taste of the diverse activities on offer…

You can get your heart and your legs pumping on any number of cycle routes across Dartmoor. The landscape changes from mile to mile, so cycling is a great way to pack in as many sights as possible. There’s cycle hire for the whole family right on the Granite Way Cycle Trail. Rest your weary legs at Ludgate Cottage near Haytor Vale and admire the view.

Holidaying close to nature can bring out the ‘Ray Mears’ side in the best of us, so why not sign up to a bushcraft workshop on Exmoor? You can learn all the survival skills needed in order to spend a night in the woods and find out how some of the tricks used by our ancestors can still be applied today. Enjoy the home comforts at Melton House (pictured) in Dulverton at the end of your busy day.

Blokarting is a great way to whizz around the vast sandy beaches revealed when the tide is low in Cornwall. This sport, enjoyed from a tri-wheeled kart with a sail to catch wind power, is particularly popular at Perranporth, Gwithian and Watergate Bay on the north Cornwall coast. Let the wind out of your sails at Dale Cottage in the unspoilt town of St Agnes.

With its famous ponies, who wouldn't be inspired to explore Dartmoor on horse back? There are plenty of escorted horse rides ranging from gentle for the novice to adventurous for the more experienced. Stay at The Farmhouse on Burnville Farm near Lydford and there’s stabling and grazing for your own horses if you want to bring them with you.

If your little monkeys like the idea of swinging from trees, Go Ape is the place for you. Described as a ‘high-wire forest adventure’, this is a giant obstacle course up in the trees using ladders, walkways, zip wires, bridges and tunnels made of wood. Head back to terra firma and a pretty woodland walk at Cherries (pictured) in Olchard.

The Cheddar Gorge in Somerset is a must-see... but have you considered looking at it from a different angle? This is one of the few places in the country where you can just turn up and go rock climbing, abseiling and even caving beneath the Mendip Hills. There’s a soft landing and warm welcome at Glebe Cottage in Wookey.

It goes without saying that the West Country is ideal for walking with 630 miles of the South West Coast Path and expanses of spectacular moorland to discover. And then, of course, there’s fishing, golf, ballooning, falconry, clay pigeon shooting…

Something for everyone – what’s your idea of fun? Look out for our post later in the week on activities for all you water babies out there.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

There when you need them...

The Devon Air Ambulance Trust (DAAT) is one of our main charities and over the years we've raised over £15,000 to help keep its two helicopters flying and support the critical work of its dedicated team.

DAAT was our chosen charity for 2010 so we were delighted to meet up with them recently to present a cheque for £1,712 to supplement the trauma training manikin donated early last year. As well as donations by staff, the fundraising effort is kindly supported by our holidaymakers throughout the year and Helpful Holidays matches the total raised. A big thank you to all involved.

We've first hand experience of the DAAT's excellent work too. My colleague, Christine Phillips, explains, “We are based here on Dartmoor and no less than three of our members of staff have been airlifted so it is a charity that is very close to our hearts. My own daughter, Merryn, was just two weeks old when she needed airlifting from Dartmoor to Exeter Hospital last autumn. You never think you will need the Air Ambulances yourself but, when you do, it is so reassuring to know that they are there. We live and work in a beautiful but remote part of the county and the speed with which the helicopters and medical crew can reach us really does make a difference.”

Caroline Creer, Director of Fundraising for Devon Air Ambulance Trust said, “We are very grateful to all at Helpful Holidays for their superb support. It is certainly a coincidence that we have been able to assist in three emergencies for them directly, but, whether it be for residents of our beautiful county or for holidaymakers enjoying the area, we are thankful for the generosity shown by the staff and customers of Helpful Holidays.”

Pictured above, left to right: Helen Mackie, Devon Air Ambulance Paramedic involved in the rescue of little Merryn; Christine Phillips and daughter, Merryn and Helen Hayes of Helpful Holidays.

For further information on DAAT and the wonderful work they do, please visit their website or follow their news on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Enjoy the authentic taste of Dartmoor…

Farming in the heart of Devon is all about a passion for food, from the landscape it comes from to the way it is nurtured. That's why Dartmoor Farmers Association is the proud owner of three new awards, praising its methods and results in authentic beef and lamb production.

The association was recently crowned Gold and Silver Winner at the prestigious Taste of the West Awards and was given the inaugural ’Business of the Month Award’ from Dartmoor First. To receive the latter, entrants must demonstrate high regard for ‘a sense of place’, relating to landscape and diversity, for ‘a precious resource’, which covers waste, energy and water use, and for a ‘living landscape’, relating to the economical, social and transportation impact of their work.

The association’s 50 individual hill farms produce high quality beef and lamb, available at local butchers and in many of the pubs and restaurants throughout the area. Dartmoor Farmers ‘real beef and lamb’ can also be delivered straight to your front door throughout the UK by a courier meat box scheme.

For Dartmoor visitors wanting to sample a variety of tasty local produce, the Moretonhampstead Food Festival on 5th March is an unmissable showcase. Highlights include support from celebrity chefs Michael Caines (from the two Michelin star Gidleigh Park) and Jane Baxter from Riverford (author of many books and regular columnist in national newspapers). There’s also a 'Ready Steady Cook' event involving chefs from local restaurants and cooking demonstrations, including a children’s event in the 'Riverford Kitchen'. Click here for a list of exhibitors.

If you’re inspired to watch life on a farm, Weddicott Barn (pictured) in Chagford is perfect. It sleeps ten, so bring family and friends to enjoy the 70 acre traditional Dartmoor farm with its wildlife, wild flowers and half-acre pond. The indoor heated pool is an added bonus! You can take sourcing local food to the extreme with private brown trout fishing on the river Erme included in the price of a stay at lovely Clock House, near Ivybridge. Or how about a spot of classy dining-in after a shopping spree at the local farmers’ market? The ornate dining area and well equipped kitchen at luxurious Maristow Barton in Milton Combe are ideal for self catering in style.

We’ve over 80 holiday cottages on Dartmoor and good food is never far away.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

We know how to pick them...

We've been busy finding more good places for happy holidays in the West Country.

Our first colour supplement of 2011 features 44 self-catering cottages and country houses sleeping from 2 to 48 guests in a variety of scenic locations, many with stunning views across rolling countryside or out to sea.

As always, we've star rated and inspected them all and can wholeheartedly recommend them. Our telephone team (01647 433593) are all experienced property visitors and will be delighted to guide you.

Highlights include a stunning house for 12 overlooking Mevagissey harbour on Cornwall’s south coast and a magnificent 300 year old stone-built house sleeping eight with views of Restronguet Creek, west Cornwall.

There’s also a great choice of smaller places such as a beautifully furnished 18th century detached cottage near Newquay and a Grade II listed house on Dartmoor converted from barns, both sleeping six. Also on Dartmoor is a recently refurbished granite cottage for four on an estate built for the Jameson whisky family, while for couples seeking a romantic getaway, there’s the former Georgian bathing house (pictured) beside the river Dart in Devon’s South Hams. Prices range from £209 to £3,612 per week.

Don't forget, if you'd like to curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea, our 2011 brochure and our new supplement, you can request a free copy online or by calling us on 01647 433535.

With a discerning eye, we're always on the look out for new properties to add to our portfolio. We hope you like our latest selection.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

In praise of Dartmoor…

Dartmoor is an undeniable national treasure, a natural phenomenon that everyone has heard of, but for those who have yet to visit, what can you expect?

2011 marks the 60th anniversary of Dartmoor becoming a national park. It stretches 368 square miles, making it the largest area of open country in southern England. Is it welcoming? Breathtaking? Hilly? Desolate? Wild? It's all of those things and experienced visitors to this magnificent area of natural beauty will advise you to be prepared - that means taking sensible walking shoes and maps, as well as a camera and a sense of adventure.

Heather clad moorland, valleys, waterfalls, forests and reservoirs - the ever changing landscape is captivating all year round. Even winter has a beauty of its own, captured here in this stunning short film from the Dartmoor National Park Authority:

It is, of course, a paradise for walkers with countless inspiring trails to follow. One of the wonderful things about this great expanse of outdoors is the variety of things to do. From climbing stone tors, canoeing down the river Dart and exploring on horseback to visiting the pretty villages and historic market towns to enjoy a cream tea, a bustling farmers’ market or some local arts and crafts.

The wildlife is another major attraction (who can resist getting up close to the Dartmoor ponies?) but perhaps a lesser known highlight is the archaeological wealth of the area. It boasts some of the best sites in Western Europe including burial chambers, stone circles and large ceremonial upright standing stones called menhirs. Time Team celebrated their 200th dig on the moor earlier this month. The High Moorland Visitor Centre in Princetown will be able to direct you to some of the most significant sites.

And what about historical buildings? Castle Drogo, dramatically situated above the Teign Gorge, was the last castle to be built in England and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens who also added his signature style to its formal gardens. This rich heritage helps to maintain the mystical feel of the national park and keeps the many myths and legends of Dartmoor alive.

We’ve over 80 holiday cottages on Dartmoor, many of which welcome pets, so whether you’re a first time visitor or an avid fan, you’re sure to find a perfect base to explore this magical place.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Waterside adventure or relaxation?

Do you want adventure or relaxation on your next holiday? The West Country has locations to cater for both and we'll help you find a holiday cottage you'll look forward to getting home to at the end of each day.

Salcombe in the South Hams, a yacht haven beautifully sited at the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary, offers outdoor activities galore. How about a spot of
wreck diving in search of gold, power boating or learning to sail? Perhaps a more leisurely boat trip exploring the many creeks, a walk along the pretty coast path or a visit to the gardens of inventor Otto Overbeck? Countless sandy bays and waterside pubs provide an excuse to relax outdoors, as well.

And when the mood takes you to spend a day lounging at home, Hazeldene (sleeps four) is a fabulous, easy base. Once you have stopped to admire the sea view from the decked garden area (pictured above) it will be hard to tear yourself away... but it is so close to the beach at North Sands, you may be tempted to dip your toes in the sparkling estuary waters. It's easy to see why this refurbished and carefully furnished apartment is the owners' much loved bolt hole.

Nestled away in Feock in Cornwall's Med is Cuttle Cottage (sleeps seven, pictured right) with beautiful views over Restronguet Creek. Although it's only 5 miles from the cathedral city of Truro and 7 miles from the harbour town of Falmouth, this delightful cottage is a peaceful retreat. The welcoming woodburning stove and waterside views make this an ideal place to while away the hours. If you're looking for time away from the kitchen, treat yourselves to a meal at the nearby Pandora Inn - it won Pub of the Year in the 2010 Cornwall Tourism Awards.

There's no time to get bored here either. At the nearby Point Quay children can enjoy swimming and boats can be launched. Sailing, windsurfing and canoeing lessons are all available close by, as well as fishing, riding, golf and plenty of creek-side walks for land lovers. Trelissick Garden is well worth a visit and the King Harry Ferry transports cars and pedestrians from this finger of land to the pretty Roseland Peninsula.

We'll help you find your perfect balance of adventure and relaxation. For more ideas, take a look at our other holiday cottages in Salcombe and holiday cottages in Feock or give our team a call on 01647 433593.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Romantic walks and cottages to match…

Relaxing walks with spectacular views and cosy cottages go hand-in-hand in the West Country, making it the ideal place for a last minute Valentine's treat or a romantic break at any time of the year.

This walk in Porlock Weir, Somerset, has an air of mystery about it, taking in Culbone Church - England's smallest complete church - and the nearby Fairytale Tunnels. Trek past Ash Farm, where Samuel Taylor Coleridge was said to be staying when he wrote Kubla Khan. Nearing the end of the walk, in the hillside above, are the ruins of Lady Lovelace's elaborate fairytale mansion. What better namesake could prepare you for your trip back to Milbanke and its lovely sea views? The coastal footpath hidden behind the cottage leads through woodlands, past former garden terraces and under old tunnels once connected to the main house. An ideal location for walkers, nature lovers and silence seekers.

walk along the secluded coves and beaches of Lansallos, Cornwall, will take you in the footsteps of smugglers. The cart tracks where contraband was brought inland and the coastline itself are evocative scenes, while Lansalllos waterfall adds a dramatic twist. Venture back inland to Hobb Cottage on the side of a deep valley full of wildlife and flora. Perfectly private and picturesque.

The Tarka Trail cuts through the unspoilt Devon countryside by tracking old railways. It was described by Henry Williamson in his classic novel ‘Tarka the Otter’ first published in 1927. With over 30 miles of walks, you will appreciate coming home to Monks: a delightful, 300-year-old, detached, thatched cottage in Petrockstowe.

How about making your loved one feel like absolute royalty by popping the question at Castle Drogo? A walk on Dartmoor from Fingle Bridge to the castle will build a sense of occasion as the romantic scene unfolds before you. Retreat to this picture-postcard cottage in Drewsteignton and celebrate with a glass of champagne in front of the open fire.

Take a look through our cottages still available over Valentine’s to find a special place for a romantic break.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Escape to magical Mevagissey…

Mevagissey gives a taste of traditional Cornwall, complete with the authentic hustle and bustle of an active fishing village harbour.
Watching the boats - and the world - go by from the sun terrace of this stunning Victorian house with panoramic views of the harbour is a unique way to view the village. The house sleeps 12 and has just been lovingly re-invented with relaxation in mind.
The surrounds make this easy: the property itself is south-south-west-facing and has a sloping shrub-filled garden with a unique courtyard and pond with a bronze central fountain, within the walls of a former stone chapel. Inside, the decor is elegant and in tune with its heritage. The high quality finish includes slate floors and custom-made furniture and the owner has thought of everything to keep guests entertained, from a television with SKY and Blu-ray DVD to a Bose CD/radio with IPod docking station.
The glazed doors on the main living area make the most of the home's outstanding views while the big fitted kitchen and dining room, an Aga and two dishwashers, granite worktops and walk-in larder make cooking and entertaining easy.
Both large bedrooms in the main house have en suite bathrooms with roll-top baths. There’s also a garden house with its own terrace and superb views, a galley kitchenette and two bedrooms.
Situated on the south Cornwall coastline, Mevagissey has a rich history, with much of it very well preserved. The narrow streets are well worth meandering around and the cafes and restuarants offer some good locally-sourced food and drink. Sandy beaches and headland walks plus boat trips for fishing are just some of the activities synonymous with this part of Cornwall. You don't have to go far for Cornish attractions, either. The Lost Gardens of Heligan is just two miles away, the Eden Project (pictured) nine miles and St Austell town six miles.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Marine conservation - how you can help...

From clearing up beach litter and cooking up sustainable fish recipes to nominating a coastal area for protection, part two of our interview with the Marine Conservation Society looks at the different ways to help out.

Helpful Holidays knows how important the UK's beaches and marine habitats are to holidaymakers and residents alike so we have made MCS our chosen charity for 2011.

MCS is currently campaigning for Marine Protected Areas off the UK coasts, including 12 sites in the South West such as St Mawes and Babbacombe Bay. It has created a website,, where you can add your vote of support for the recommended sites and help safeguard the future of a top holiday spot or recommend a marine area that you think needs extra protection. If you’ve seen activities like trawling and dredging off the coast, this campaign is a way to lobby for these activities to be restricted, enabling the sea bed and fish stocks to recover.

MCS said: "It's very important that the public get on board. If people staying at cottages through Helpful Holidays have a marine area they love and want to put it forward for protection, they can have their voice heard on our website. We also encourage the public to take part in our wildlife surveys too. Have fun spotting turtles, jellyfish and basking sharks while you're on holiday! MCS uses the data to build up a picture of marine wildlife activity around UK coasts."

Channel 4's The Big Fish Fight series has raised issues at the heart of MCS's operations. The charity said: "A high profile series on Channel 4 and the involvement of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in particular in taking this Fish Fight to the masses, helps our cause no end.

"We've been campaigning against the practice of discarding – throwing perfectly good fish back in the sea dead – for a number of years. Hugh is very passionate about what he’s discovered and that helps what we are trying to do enormously. Alongside our downloadable, at-a-glance sustainable seafood guide, people have taken heed of the TV shows and we know that sales of fish often discarded have gone up in supermarkets, which is great news."

To keep up the good work, the charity suggests we all try something new at the fish counter; by opting for less popular fish like coley, pollock and whiting, we can relieve the pressure on falling fish stocks like cod, tuna and salmon.

Another easy way to help – avoid using plastic bags, pick up litter you see and take your own litter home with you. We all know litter gets dropped and looks unsightly but do we realise the fatal consequences it can have for our wildlife?

MCS said: "Litter has become a massive problem. Our Beachwatch event has taken place every year for 16 years, with up to 6,000 volunteers every year going out onto beaches, clearing litter and recording data. In that time, we have seen a 121% increase in the amount of plastic rubbish we’ve found. That's really all down to our increased use of plastics and the fact we are an increasingly throw-away society. Small changes can make a big difference."

Funds from Helpful Holidays will go towards key projects. 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 the MCS page on Facebook.