Thursday, 28 July 2011

Dartmoor – a good place for ‘appy’ holidays!

Are you one of those people who are always checking their smartphone? Browsing the web, updating Facebook, emailing or using one of the many available apps?

We were interested to hear about a new iPhone app from the Dartmoor Partnership, which aims to make Dartmoor more accessible by providing a wealth of tourist information to the visitor whilst in-location.

A first for a national park, first for a rural area and first for the South West, the app enables visitors to see where they are in relation to accommodation, attractions, eateries and events around them. So, if you’re at the end of a walk, you can find out where the nearest pub is and how to get there, right from the middle of the moor or the top of a tor!

The interactive guide is clearly presented in easy-to-use scrolling pages of imagery and content. We’re especially pleased that the app includes 40 of our Dartmoor holiday cottages.

For those of you using an iPhone to take your holiday photos, there are some interesting apps to make your photos look a bit different. We’ve researched a few for you:

Polperro taken using Hipstamatic. Original photo
First up is Hipstamatic (pictured) - if you want to make your photos look just like your parents' family album from the ‘70s, this could be the app for you.

Another is ColorSplash, which lets you use your finger as a brush to "paint" sections of your image black and white, or to bring back the original colour.

Postcard replaces the need to hunt down a card, a stamp and a post box to send your holiday mementoes. There’s no need to sign up, just download the app and create a personalised ‘postcard’ from your holiday snaps to email to friends and family back home.

And finally, Tiltshift enables you to add a number of effects to your photos to make the subjects look like miniatures. The app works best on shots with lots going on in the middle-distance. The app also offers vignetting - a reduction of an image's brightness or saturation at the edges.

We hope you enjoy exploring Dartmoor. If you’ve used any of the above apps to enhance your holiday experience, let us know, and if you’ve used any we haven’t included, please do share your recommendations!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Spielberg on Dartmoor: “An abundance of natural beauty”

Are you a set-jetter? No, we haven’t got our tongues twisted. Set-jetting is the trend of travelling to destinations that are used as movie locations. And it looks like our very own Dartmoor might be the next set-jetting hotspot!

After extensive filming in Dartmoor, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's First World War adventure novel for children, War Horse, is due to be released in cinemas in January 2012.

Spielberg praised the beauty of the Dartmoor countryside: "I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor... And, with two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me."

Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, War Horse begins in Devon with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him.

When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets – British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter – before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land.

Filming on Dartmoor started in August 2010 and locations included the small village of Meavy and near Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Ditsworthy Warren House, an isolated Grade II listed building near Sheepstor, served as the Narracott family's farmhouse.

You can watch the official trailer here:

You can also watch a photo montage of the crew filming on location here:

We’ve over 80 fabulous holiday cottages on Dartmoor so come and visit this magical place to create your own visual memories and tales to tell.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Beach life…

We were thrilled last week when so many of our followers shared their beach recommendations. We'd like to extend the theme into this week by asking: What do you love to do on the beach? Are you an intrepid sandcastle-builder? A slave to your suntan? A voracious reader?

If it’s the latter, maybe you’ll be interested in this top ten list of Summer Beach Books from Red Magazine or BBC Radio 4’s Book at Beachtime? Or, take a different perspective on beach reading and discover 30 books that are actually about beaches.

You can top up your sandcastle skills by watching this video: How to build the perfect sandcastle or get inspiration from this amazing sand sculpture that was built on the beach at St Ives.

There’s also plenty of wildlife to see, if you look in the right places. This guide from the Devon Wildlife Trust gives information on local species and their habitats. If you’re a fan of rock pools, here’s a list of five top places to go rock pooling in Cornwall, and you might find this splash-proof guide useful for identifying what you see.

For maximum entertainment, this list of ten best beach games from the Independent will keep everyone occupied and will no doubt cause some envious glances from your beach neighbours. There are plenty of watersports to tempt all ages and abilities too - dip in your toes or dive in head first!

Perhaps you like to use your beach time to brush up on your Yoga technique? Find a tranquil spot, stretch those muscles and breathe in the fresh sea air. If you’re happier in a group, try this option.

So, it’s time to grab your sun lotion and shades and enjoy some beach life in the West Country but before you go, do take a moment to read this beach safety advice from the RNLI.

If you’re still planning a last minute break, take a look at our holiday cottages within a mile of a sandy beach which are still available this August. Don’t forget to give our telephone team a call on 01647 433593 if you need any help finding just the right place.

Happy holidays!

We've been nominated for a British Travel Award!

Fantastic news! Helpful Holidays has been nominated by the British Travel Awards in the Best UK cottage/self catering booking company (UK properties) category. We're delighted to be shortlisted amongst the very top national UK agencies.

The British Travel Awards are acknowledged as the most definitive and largest monitor of public opinion on the performance of travel and tourism providers. Shortlisted companies are nominated by travel industry professionals, but it is the leisure holidaymakers whose votes finally determine the winners. The results will be announced at a glittering ceremony on Wednesday 2nd November at the Battersea Evolution in Battersea Park, London.

Welcoming the unexpected accolade, our General Manager, Moray Bowater, said, “This is a great credit to our team and home owners, as well as a testament to the level of service and quality of properties offered by Helpful Holidays overall. Our holidaymakers and home owners’ views are at the very heart of the awards programme and we’re seeking their support by asking them to cast their votes. If our service has met or exceeded their expectations, they can register and vote online; as a thank you for their time, they will be entered automatically into a prize draw with the chance of winning some great holidays and other rewards.”

The British Travel Awards are widely considered to be the ‘Oscars’ of the travel industry. BTA’s Chief Executive, Lorraine Barnes Burton, said, “It’s the largest awards programme in the UK, created to reward travel companies, and the winning accolade is the benchmark for excellence when it comes to finding out who really is the best in the business of travel for the UK consumer.”

We’re one of 13 companies nominated in this category, most of which are big, national players covering the whole of the UK. So we need your votes if we’re to win!

Please support us by clicking the voting button below. Please tell your friends and family to vote too, your votes could make all the difference.
You don't need to vote in all the categories, just those which interest you.

You'll find our category under the question
"Who are the best hotels and accommodation booking companies?".

The deadline is 30th September 2011.

Thank you!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sea views and sandy beaches…

There’s something special about a sea view. It can be mesmerising to watch the rolling waves, and chart the progress of toy-like boats as they inch their way across the blue horizon.

Of course, a sea view can often mean a sandy beach close by, and many of our cottages offer both. Here’s a selection of our holiday homes within just one mile of a sandy beach with availability this August…

20 yards from Bigbury-on-Sea's big and splendid sandy beach is Apartment 27. From the top floor of  this truly excellent and greatly appreciated development of 29 high quality apartments, of which we let 15, the views are simply stunning. Gaze over the sea to the south and west, and at low tide a huge expanse of smooth washed yellow sand reaching to Burgh Island. The island's jolly pub, The Pilchard, is fun to visit (via a long-legged sea tractor at high tide). Also nearby, you’ll find good windsurfing and fine cliffs for walking and sea-bird watching.

Set back from Charmouth’s main street and about seven minutes walk from the long sandy/pebble beach, the Old Manor House is a beautifully and carefully refurbished 16th century Grade II listed home. This is a wonderful, owner loved property and a perfect base for exploring this lovely area at any time of year – nearby are the ‘Jurassic Coast’ cliffs (a World Heritage Site) famous for fossils, historic Lyme Regis and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage HQ.

About a mile up from Crackington Haven’s low-tide sand beach, you’ll find cosy Thatch Cottage, a picture postcard, 18th century semi-detached thatch and cob cottage. An unspoilt hamlet, it’s an ideal spot for families, with a gently shelving beach in an enclosed bay and pony-trekking and fishing nearby. Only the road separates the beach from a couple of shops, a charming café and a pub with an excellent restaurant.

On Pentire Head, midway between the long, sparkling sandy beaches of Fistral and Crantock, is Seascape, a second-floor apartment overlooking the sea at the front and Fistral Bay from the back. It’s a great location, just a five minute walk to the beach or the restaurant/bar on Pentire Head for refreshments before you embark on a stunning walk along miles of National Trust Coastline. Newquay is close by with its beaches – all five of them – magnificent for everything from sandcastling to surfing. Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall restaurant at Watergate Bay is just four miles away.

If you’re yearning to be beside the sea this summer, take a look at the rest of our  holiday cottages within a mile of sandy beach which are still available in August. Don’t forget to give our telephone team a call on 01647 433593 if you need any help with your search.

Friday, 15 July 2011

What’s your idea of beach heaven?

What’s the most essential ingredient for a great summer holiday? Many would argue that it’s the beach.

We’re lucky that the West Country is blessed with some of the finest – and cleanest – beaches in the UK. We think they should stay that way, so we’re proud to support the Marine Conservation Society.

Carbis Bay, North Cornwall
There are beaches to suit every preference, from secret coves to expanses of surf-washed sand. We decided to ask our followers on Twitter and Facebook for their recommendations.

On Twitter, @TISJOU (Julie R from Hampshire) said: “When we visit Cornwall kids like to visit Crackington Haven - nice little beach and they love the rock pools there!”

@dineathome (Trevor Bayfield) reckons for one of the best surfing beaches in a south west gale, Kennack Sands is hard to beat.

@bigmarv99 recommends Slapton Sands, with “a beautiful beach and good coffee at Seabreeze Cafe.”

@101polly (Polly Crossman) says “Daymer Bay on the Camel Estuary at low tide on a sunny day is unbeatable (but round the corner away from the crowds!)” Good local knowledge there!

And @chapelstcottage (Devon) likes “Hartland quay because it's so rugged, and Peppercombe or Bucks mills as so remote.”

Bigbury on Sea, South Devon
We asked the same question on Facebook, and got some more really helpful tips:

Alison Wright nominated two beaches: "Blackpool Sands in Devon for a beautiful horse-shoe beach, very easy flat access and close parking, and the most brilliant (licensed) beach cafe ever. Also Porthcurno Beach at the end of England - near to Sennen Cove. Again great beach cafe, very large beach so lots of things always going on!" 

Angie Wright also commented, recommending "Wembury Beach, lovely rock pools, great sand, lovely views and a super cafe!" 

Another recommendation was: “Widemouth Bay: amazing surf, laid back, non-commercial (but good cafe), great rock-pooling, feels like you are miles from anywhere, great for all ages. However if I have to give my absolute fave, it has to be Sennen and no need to explain the reasons for that one - amazing!”

Julie Beighton plumped for “Crantock. Beautiful sand and dunes. River running into sea. Like Margaret river in Western Australia.”

We decided to see if we could determine the most important factor when choosing a West Country beach to visit, so we created a Facebook poll – top answers so far: a friendly beach café and rock pools to explore. You can see the beaches in Devon and Cornwall that made it into our top ten in this Facebook photo album.

We’d love to hear about your favourite West Country beaches, so do leave a comment below and take part in our poll!

You might also like to browse our holiday cottages near a sandy beach!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Forget camping: go 'gramping'…

We’ve noticed a new trend this year. It seems that many more holidaymakers are making multigenerational bookings for their summer holidays.

Research (for has shown that 75% of families with young children are going 'gramping' in 2011. As families pull together to support each other, practically and financially, grandchildren can benefit tremendously - sharing meals with the extended family, spending quiet time with Granny, or going fishing with Gramps. Meanwhile, Mum and Dad gain some much needed 'time out' and the chance to spend some quality time with their parents. Holidaying in larger groups can also bring down the cost per person too.

Sound appealing? If so, Helpful Holidays has 65 holiday homes, sleeping eight or more, currently available to book this August, all suitable for some top class ‘gramping’! Here are a couple of examples…

A mile from Raddington, just south of Exmoor National Park, is The Granary, a handsome, south-facing, detached house with lovely long views over peaceful countryside. It has been created from an 18th century granary with flair, style and an eye to detail. Inside there’s a large living room, with plenty of space for everyone to sit – and there’s even a piano for family sing-alongs. Outside, you’ll find 60 acres of countryside with unrestricted walking. There’s also a 70 foot long games barn with table tennis and darts – perfect for family tournaments. You can save 25% during August, so it’s just £137 per person per week when eight share.

Or how about spoiling yourselves with a 5 star retreat? About a mile inland from Branscombe, one of the prettiest villages on the south coast, is fabulous Edge House, a beautifully built, detached, New England-style property. Everything in this house is on a grand scale with spacious interiors and expansive views. It also has that all important games room with pool table and table tennis for some competitive play. There are five bedrooms, all with their own TV, so everyone can disappear for their own private time if needed! Nearby, the Donkey Sanctuary makes for a fun and worthwhile visit, as does Pecorama with its famous modern railway exhibition – great for kids and just as interesting for Dad and Grandad! During August, it’s £238 per person per week based on nine sharing.

We’ve lots of larger holiday cottages suitable for ‘gramping’ so email us on or call on 01647 433593 if you need help finding just the right place for a memorable family holiday.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Scenic walks…

Time and again our holidaymakers tell us that they love walking in the West Country. With 630 miles of South West Coast Path, rugged moorland (Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor) and countless picturesque villages and towns to explore, there’s plenty of inspiring choice.

Where to start? Here are our top ten walks, chosen for their ease, stunning scenery (plenty of photo opportunities!) and places to stop along the route for refreshments.

1. Chagford to Steps Bridge via Castle Drogo – from our home town beside the river Teign down to Steps Bridge. Lunch and a drink at picturesque Fingle Bridge. A detour to Castle Drogo is worth the climb. View holiday cottages in Dartmoor

2. Galmpton to Kingswear to Dartmouth to Greenway – beside the Dart from Galmpton down to Kingswear. Ferry across to Dartmouth. Thereʼs an hourly ferry from Dartmouth to Dittisham and over the river to Greenway (Agatha Christie), then back along the river to Galmpton. Lots of interesting stopping/lunch points. View holiday cottages in the South Hams

3. Doone Country – up Badgworthy Water to the Doone Valley beside the picturesque stream. View holiday cottages in Exmoor

4. Taste of Dartmoor – from Two Bridges up the West Dart valley, past Wistmanʼs Wood to Higher White Tor, back for tea at the Two Bridges Hotel.  View holiday cottages in Dartmoor

5. Noss Mayo and the Coastal Path – Lord Revelstoke's Drive – almost flat. Starting and ending in Noss Mayo (good pub), this walk takes in some of the coastal path – good views – and, in summer, the most beautiful yachting/boating scenes in Devon. View holiday cottages in the South Hams

6. Kingsand around Rame Head – pretty villages, magnificent views, a lonely 10th century chapel and a pub at the end… View holiday cottages in South Cornwall

7. Helford, St Antony in Meneage, Manaccan and back – easy walking along the banks of the beautiful Helford River. View holiday cottages in Cornwall’s Med

8. Landʼs End, Sennen, Coastal Path to Botallack and pick up – itʼs quite a long walk, so best to get someone to drive round and pick up in Botallack (pub). View holiday cottages in End of England

And two longer walks...

9. The Camel Trail – walk it or cycle it – Padstow to Bodmin and Blisland. Blisland has a good pub and the trail follows the route of the old railway line, hugging the river Camel most of the way to Padstow. Bridge Bike Hire in Wadebridge offers (surprise, surprise) bike hire and a car park – perfect. View holiday cottages in North Cornwall

10. Two Castles Trail – Okehampton Castle to Launceston Castle – The Royal Oak at Bridestowe for lunch. Beautiful views over the western edge of Dartmoor and down into Cornwall. View holiday cottages in Devon’s River Country

Let us know if you've tried any of these walks, and remember to let us know your favourites too!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Keen snapper? Enter our photo competition!

Are you one of those people who love to take a million photos while you’re on holiday? The camera is glued to your hand and you snap at every opportunity so you don’t miss a thing. Or, are you a much more considered photographer – tripod and multiple lenses in your rucksack, prepared to wait hours for the perfect shot?

Perhaps you’re a digital convert, employing apps and tools like Hipstamatic or ColorSplash to bring maximum enhancement to your holiday images? Or, you’re a staunch traditionalist, preferring to work your way through rolls of film and long, careful hours in the darkroom?

Either way, if you love taking snaps whilst on holiday, why not enter our photo competition on Facebook?

The winning photo will feature in our marketing material for 2012. Last year, the winning shot was used on the front cover of our dog friendly mini-brochure! We loved this picture – compositionally brilliant, and really good fun!

To enter, simply post your photo on our Facebook wall by the end of September 2011. Visit our Facebook page for competition details and to see what we’re chatting about this week – and don’t forget to ‘like’ us while you’re there!

Do accompany your submissions with a short comment – it’s always interesting to hear the stories behind the photos. And if you like the snaps that others have posted, let them know – feedback’s a wonderful thing!

Friday, 1 July 2011

In praise of south Cornwall...

South Cornwall is the West Country at its most gentle and lovely: deep, wooded valleys between sheep and cattle-grazed fields, long sandy beaches, high headlands and pretty fishing villages.

There’s plenty to see and do – from grand historical National Trust properties Buckland Abbey, Lanhydrock House and Cotehele, to the modern wonder that is the Eden Project.

If you’re feeling active, the aptly named Adrenalin Quarry boasts the UK’s longest, highest and fastest zipwire. Similarly, Tree Surfers also offers zip wires, in addition to a high ropes course, archery and mountain biking. For something a little more sedate, Canoe Tamar allows you to manoeuvre your own Canadian canoe along the river Tamar in complete safety, travelling at your own speed on a gently flowing river with a qualified guide.

And if you’re heading to the area in July and August you might like to try the literary and musical delights of the Port Eliot Festival or the family-friendly Liskeard Country Show.

Of course, we’ve many fantastic cottages in the area:

On the outskirts of the tiny village of Lanreath and its cosy pub is Tresawson Farm, a detached, 18th century cottage situated at the end of 350 yards of private lane and looking serenely out over an acre of beautifully kept garden. Inside, it is newly decorated and refurbished and stylish. A large conservatory with impressive views, a large open plan lounge and dining room and a colourful, modern kitchen make this a favourite base for exploring the area.

Pleydon, a spacious 16th century detached stone farmhouse is situated beside a tree-shaded lane on the hillside just east of the pretty fishing village of Polperro. It’s a lovely homely cottage with lots of original features. Polperro is one of Cornwall’s most famous villages, wedged into a tiny gap in the cliffs, with a very pretty harbour, narrow streets, old slate-roofed cottages, pubs, restaurants and shops, and no cars allowed!  

Just east of Pensilva, a large moorland village with origins in Cornwall’s tin mining history, is Christmas Cottage, a recently built, ‘upside down’ detached house. Situated in a wonderfully private, deeply wooded location, the property has stunning long rural views over 24 acres of woods and paddocks, full of birdsong and wildlife and over which you are welcome to walk. Inside is contemporary and comfortable, with lots of sunlight through French windows. A very romantic spot and an excellent base for walking.

We’ve just taken on two stylish new properties in the area as well – The Sealoft in Talland Bay, just a few hundred yards from the cliff path, and Beach Way in Cawsand, virtually opposite the beach.

Click here to see a list of all our other cottages within the area.

If you need any help searching for a cottage or planning your summer holiday with us, do give our friendly bookings team a call on 01647 433593 or email on