Thursday, 29 March 2012

Spring gardens in the West Country…

Picture courtesy of Cornwall Wildlife Trust
The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. 
George Bernard Shaw 

My neighbour asked if he could use my lawnmower and I told him of course he could, so long as he didn't take it out of my garden. 
Eric Morecambe 

What’s your attitude to gardening? Are you a green-fingered enthusiast, happiest when potting and pruning, or do you prefer to admire someone else’s handiwork rather than get your own hands dirty?

Either way, you’re bound to find plenty to admire and to inspire you in the West Country this spring and summer, from grand National Trust gardens to beautiful parks and private gardens. And many of our holiday cottages also have exceptional gardens of their own!

It’s Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s 50th Anniversary this year and to celebrate, garden owners throughout Cornwall will be throwing open their doors and sharing their beautiful gardens with the public. From majestic estates to intimate cottage gardens, you can read more details here.

It’s also the 100th Cornwall Spring Flower Show this weekend. Held at Boconnoc Estate near Lostwithiel, the show features 156 competitive classes covering ten different categories: trees and shrubs, magnolias, camellias, rhododendrons, herbaceous and bulbs, pot plants, alpines, floral art, photography and children’s competitions.

Take a look at our new West Country Houses, Castles and Gardens mini brochure for some more ideas on places to visit and places to stay nearby.

If you’ve already booked a holiday with us,  you can browse our list of top 10 gardens and houses in our ‘What Shall We Do Today?’ guide. We’ve also lots of gardens and houses on our ‘Explore the Area’ website map, so be sure to use the ‘attractions’ and ‘events’ map filters to see what’s near your favourite cottage.

Many of the attractions host activities for children over the Easter holidays too – for example, families staying in a holiday cottage in Devon will be able to embark on a traditional Easter egg hunt around the grounds of Escot in Ottery St Mary, one of the county's best-loved estates.

Here’s a final bit of visual inspiration from Visit Cornwall to come and enjoy the stunning displays of spring flowers in this part of the world:

Call us on 01647 433593 and we’ll help you find the best cottage as a base for your West Country house, castle and garden trail.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Our new Green Cottages Scheme…

Do you ‘think green’ when booking a holiday? Being environmentally aware is second nature to us at Helpful Holidays. We want to reduce the contribution running our business may make to global warming and to provide information for our customers who are looking to holiday in a more environmentally sensitive way.

That’s why we’re delighted to introduce our new Green Cottages Scheme to promote sustainability. We’ve identified a number of our holiday homes as having features which help them reduce their impact on the environment – without compromising your comfort (we’re not into a ‘hair shirt’ approach).

In order to qualify, we assess each cottage against a list of 69 criteria. Particular regard is given to energy, pollution and water, as well as the environmental effect on local wildlife and landscapes. Beneficial features such as solar and wind power, a natural spring or borehole water supply and electric vehicle charging points are highly rated. In addition, we look at whether the cottage owners have provided information on public transport, bike hire, walking routes, farmers’ markets and car-free days out.

Among the holiday homes qualifying for the Green Cottages Scheme are two cottages sleeping four near Honiton in east Devon. Converted from barns, Whitcombe Cottage and Swallows Cottage are set on a 135 acre working farm with horses, chickens, Devon cattle and sheep. Heating and hot water are piped to the cottages and farmhouse from solar panels and a log boiler, which is fed with coppiced wood from the sustainably managed farm woodland; there is also spring water.

In far west Cornwall near Germoe, on a 15 acre smallholding deep in ancient flower-filled lanes, is Mazeys Cottage, a single-storey holiday home with high ceilings and exposed beams. 

Solar panels, a small wind turbine and modern insulation make this cottage very comfortable and ecologically friendly; there are also lovely walks from the door.

Great for local wildlife watching are two little detached thatched cottages sleeping three converted from old barns near Crowan, also on Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula. East Barn and West Barn are set in 10 acres of grounds and bluebell copse; at dusk guests can watch the barn owls hunt from their nearby roost.

Eleven cottages currently carry our green tree symbol with more joining the initiative in the near future, so look out for this symbol in our 2013 brochure and on our website.

Call us on 01647 433593 to chat with our team or download our Green Cottages guide to find out more.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A food & drink lovers’ paradise...

What nicer way to relax than in a sunny, time-forgotten cottage garden with a good book and a glass of something chilled and sparkling produced nearby in a West Country vineyard?

Devon and Cornwall have long been known as the home of pasties and cream teas and, whilst these icons of traditional culture are still cherished by visitors and those who live here, the food and drink industry of the West Country has exploded recently, with imaginative and award-winning producers springing up all over.

Our fresh seafood, fine meat, early soft fruits and vegetables, eclectic dairy produce and artisan baking have been discovered by the best chefs, taking centre stage in the finest restaurants and earning the South West a well-deserved reputation as a food lovers’ paradise. Real ale, award-winning wines and traditional cider and juice from local orchards are served justly with great pride in most local pubs. 

Come and discover the innovative bakeries, vineyards, creameries, breweries, orchards, farm shops, farmers’ markets and foodie attractions of the South West, where you can meet producers, taste their fare, then select your favourites (or even harvest your own). Then take time to conjure those fresh ingredients into your own culinary masterpiece in the comfort of your well equipped holiday cottage. Or perhaps indulge in some professional tuition at one of the highly regarded cookery schools to hone your skills? And for a night off, book a chef to come to you whilst you relax with family and friends in one of our bigger holiday homes.

Jamie Oliver
Or, if you prefer to eat out, from restaurants with Michelin stars and those made famous by Rick Stein (Padstow), Jamie Oliver (Fifteen, Watergate Bay), Michael Caines (Gidleigh Park, Chagford) and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage Canteens in Plymouth and Axminster) in which to celebrate special occasions, to places for everyday treats, such as the beachside Venus Caf├ęs, there’s something for all budgets.

For foodie inspiration, there are plenty of festivals and events to schedule into your West Country holiday. Hot on the heels of the Moretonhampstead Festival of Food, Drink and the Arts, the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink will make your mouth water from 13th to 15th April, St Ives Food and Drink Festival will be cooking up a storm from 21st to 28th May, and English Wine Week coincides with the Diamond Jubilee and May half-term this year, so you’ll find unmissable tours and tasting events at many vineyards between 28th May and 5th June, to name but a few.

When you book with Helpful Holidays, we send you our ‘What shall we do today?’ guide which is full of valuable savings vouchers and advice on the best places to eat, farmers’ markets, walks, beaches and events to help you plan and enjoy your holidays. 

Lots of information can also be found on our ‘Explore the Area’ website map. We do recommend you confirm directions and opening dates and times with restaurants, food producers and attractions when planning your trip.

Whether it’s a special meal in one of the renowned restaurants on a short break or a week-long food, wine and real ale trail, you’ll be made very welcome in the West Country. And, at the end of your break, don’t forget to pack a tasty hamper and a few bottles to share back home with family and friends!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A recipe for a perfect spring break!

Spring is here – time to take a break to relax and recharge. The ingredients: some quiet time to enjoy each other’s company, a few invigorating walks, an eyeful of inspiring scenery and plenty of energising fresh air. Mix together with the May Day and The Queen’s Jubilee bank holidays coming up, and you have a perfect spring break.

Here are a couple of superb getaways where the two of you can escape the crowds…

The Music Room, a mile from Aveton Gifford in the South Hams and deep amongst rolling hills and quiet narrow lanes, is a wonderfully atmospheric and individual property – as its name suggests, this is a former music room, and a Grade II listed one at that. The sense of space inside is amazing, with high, high ceilings and huge stained glass windows but it’s still easy to make it cosy by lighting the woodburner. A wonderful and extraordinary place to escape to, any time.

You’re close to Kingsbridge and Salcombe for conveniences, restaurants, good shops and, of course, boat trips and estuary life in general– and don’t miss the explosion of spring flowers in the gardens at Overbeck’s. The area also has plenty of country pubs to welcome you after romantic walks exploring the excellent stretch of coast or the many pretty villages.

1 Shippen Cottages, a mile north of Wilmington, in east Devon, peacefully hidden in spring flower-filled lanes, is a modern and stylish retreat converted from a former milking parlour and shippen, across the lane from the friendly owners’ farmhouse. The cottage is smart throughout with a south-facing suntrap deck outside, ideal for enjoying the tranquil valley views and soothing birdsong.

Venturing out, you’ll find the picturesque location excellent for meandering, walks in 10 acres of wildflower meadows, heath and woodland, where you can watch the wildlife and follow the river to nearby Cotleigh - and you can take your four-legged friend too! Further afield, you’re surrounded by pretty hamlets and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the edge of the Blackdown Hills – a feast for the eyes in springtime.

Alternatively, use our Advanced Search to find just the right place to stay for a spring break or give our knowledgeable telephone team a call on 01647 433593 for some help.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pretty thatched cottages for an Easter break…

Spring is in the air. The days are growing longer and brighter as the Easter holidays and all those bank holidays hover on the horizon. Spring flowers spread their cheering colours and it’s a great time to escape to the West Country for a spring break. And what could be more charming than a characterful, thatched cottage as a base?

Woolley Cottage, a handsome, Grade II listed, detached, thatched house which has been extended from its 18th century beginnings, is beautifully situated amongst a hamlet of dwellings around a tiny green and scattered farms on the magnificent northern coastal borders of Cornwall and Devon. There’s some real character here: plenty of low lintels, flagstone floors and thick stone/cob walls make it a handsome house inside and out. The games shed, with table tennis, darts and toys, is great for some competitive family fun. It’s a smashing house with bags of space for everyone in a beautiful, unspoilt area – just a few miles from the cliffs and cobbles of Clovelly, vast sandy beaches at Bude and family friendly attractions.

You’ll feel like your prayers have been answered when you arrive at 1 Priory Cottages, an ancient, Grade II listed, thatched cottage once linked to the Cistercian monks of Brightley Priory. This is a place blessed with peace and quiet, set back from the quiet road and in a very pretty and unexplored area. Full of beams and ancient wobbly walls inside, with a huge, enclosed, level, lawned garden with terraced area outside. Once you’ve had your fill of quiet contemplation, just a mile and a half away you’ll find the town of Okehampton, with cinema, golf, tennis, leisure centre and cycle route. Plus you’re close to Dartmoor’s northern edge – terrific walking country and more family friendly attractions such as Castle Drogo and The Miniature Pony Centre.

Or how about gorgeous, thatched, Grade II listed Dunscombe Cottage two miles west of Branscombe, one of the prettiest villages on the south coast of Devon? A number of footpaths lead from the cottage, including one to a coastal path and fine pebbly beach less than a mile away. Once you’re back from the beach, a large, very pretty, enclosed, shrub-filled lawned garden awaits, with lots of space for ball games or just relaxing. And inside, make yourself at home amongst the simple white cob walls, low lintels, heavy beams and original blackened oak spiral staircase. There’s plenty to see and do nearby - it’s well worth taking a trip to the lovely seaside harbour town of Lyme Regis and the famous 'Jurassic' fossil coast, just 10 miles away.

Each cottage still has one week available during the Easter school holidays, but be quick! If you fancy a family break over Easter, call our friendly telephone team for a chat on 01647 433593, or browse our other holiday cottages with Easter availability and book online.