Friday, 24 August 2012

Explore exquisite Exmoor…

Valley of the Rocks. Image credit: Mr D. Healy
Exmoor, the exquisite National Park beside the sea: wooded river valleys, dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, heather hills and sandy beaches; sheep, red deer, ponies and wheeling buzzards; rose-covered cottages, pretty villages and good food pubs. There’s so much to explore. Here are some of our favourite attractions…

The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, which connects Lynton to neighbouring Lynmouth, offers a unique perspective (you may have seen this photo posted on our Facebook page). Opened on Easter Monday in 1890, the railway has been in continuous use ever since with spectacular views of Exmoor and the north Devon coastline as you glide up and down the 862 foot length of track. Railway fans can also visit the nearby Lynton & Barnstaple Railway or West Somerset Railway. Alight at F57.

For more breathtaking views, don’t miss a walk or drive through the Valley of the Rocks on Lynton’s edge or a climb up to Dunkery Beacon (Exmoor’s highest hill) overlooking stunning Porlock Vale. In early spring, a stroll through Snowdrop Valley near Wheddon Cross is lovely. Put your feet up at F101.

Dunster Castle (Image from
Not many villages can lay claim to an imposing castle. Dating back to the 11th century (Norman times), Dunster Castle boasts sub-tropical gardens and superb views toward the Bristol channel, the Quantock hills and up to the moors. The agricultural show on the castle lawns and ‘Dunster by Candlelight’ are both super events to catch. A warm welcome awaits at F45.

Inland, in the beautiful river Barle valley, you’ll find the tiny town of Dulverton (popular with artists) and nearby, the ancient clapper bridge at Tarr Steps. This is one of the oldest things you’ll ever lay eyes (let alone feet) on: the bridge possibly dates to around 1000BC. The stone slabs weigh up to one to two tons apiece and span 180 feet (55m) across the river. Hop over to F10.

You’ll find a number of family-friendly wildlife attractions on Exmoor too. The Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre offers the opportunity to interact with birds of prey in a safe environment. As well as owls and hawks, the centre has eagles, kookaburra and palm nut vultures. Make your nest at F32.

Browse our holiday cottages in Exmoor to find the perfect base from which to explore.  We’ll be taking a look at the wealth of outdoor activities on offer in Exmoor in a future blog.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Let Devon’s artists show you around the county…

Get creative with your exploration of the West Country and take part in Devon Open Studios - the largest annual arts event in Devon, which runs from 8th to 23rd September. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to see the artist in their own habitat – watch them work, buy their art direct or try their medium yourself in some of the most beautiful, unexplored parts of Devon.

Helpful Holidays is sponsoring the event for another year and has again funded five places through the Emerging Artist Bursary initiative, which aims to nurture and encourage new talent to take the next steps in their career.

Adrian Innocent, our marketing manager, met the bursary winners at Lee Wood Small Holding - a centre linking people with the land through art. The winning artists’ work covers many disciplines from furniture and print making to painting, ceramics and installations.

Watch Adrian talk about our involvement with Devon Open Studios here:

Each winner has also prepared a video. Shelley Castle takes inspiration from her workspace – an extraordinary hexagonal game larder on the Flete Estate in south Devon, where she is artist in residence. Birds and feathers feature heavily in her work, as she explains.

Stephen Bennett is a writer, poet and potter. He incorporates text in his ceramics and the Devon Open Studios will showcase his expressive ceramic heads.

Fi Smart hopes to increase public awareness of printmaking when they visit her studio in west Devon. She is particularly interested in the different processes involved in producing various types of prints and the endless ways they can be combined and modified.

Peter Lanyon combines traditional fine furniture making skills with modern tools and technologies. The shape of the bench you see in his video gives an indication of the resulting style.

Hilary O'Dwyer will hold her open studio at Bicton eaRTH Centre. The wood used for her sculptures undergoes a burning process for preservation.

Take a look at our Devon holiday cottages available during the event, and then use this map and the free event guide to plan which studios you’d like to visit. 

Bookings made via the Devon holiday cottages link on this blog or via the link on the Devon Artist Network website will help fund the Open Studios event next year.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Gorgs, the Olympian!

Georgina (Gorgs) Geikie, British number one ladies pistol shooter, has fulfilled her dream of representing Team GB at the Olympics – and we, along with her vast network of supporters, are so very proud of her.

After taking part in the opening ceremony, Gorgs competed in two events: the 10m Pistol on 29th July and the 25m Sport Pistol on 1st August.
A crowd of us from Helpful Holidays went to watch Gorgs compete in her second event at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. The atmosphere was amazing – quite emotional to see someone you know competing.

Competition was incredibly tough on the day with very little separating individual scores. Gorgs didn’t manage to qualify for the finals sadly. Her performance, by her own admission, didn’t match her ability and she found the whole spectacle of competing at the Olympics in front of a home crowd quite overwhelming.

But simply being selected to compete at the Olympics is a massive achievement in itself – Great Britain hasn’t had a pistol shooter at the Olympics in 80 years.

You can begin to appreciate the hard work and dedication required once you take on board that pistol shooters were banned from training in the UK from 1997 and Gorgs had to travel to Switzerland, up until a special Olympic dispensation two years ago when pistol shooting was allowed at a handful of UK ranges. This still meant that Gorgs had to travel from Devon to Dorset or Surrey to train. A definite disadvantage compared to her international competitors who can not only start at a younger age but also train at their local club range.
It was great to have a chance to cheer Gorgs on and speak to her after her event – she is clearly enjoying the whole Olympic experience and already has her sights set on Rio 2016!

Well done, Gorgs!

You can read personal updates from Gorgs on her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Keep up the 2012 celebrations with an August Bank Holiday getaway…

The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games have given great cause for celebration… but what next?

That great British tradition, the Bank Holiday, is just weeks away (27th August), so plan a getaway to an idyllic West Country holiday cottage and celebrate our stunning countryside and coastline.

Head to Beaminster near Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and you’ll be perfectly located to enjoy some of the West Country’s best examples of natural history. The unspoilt beach of West Bay and the ancient historic market town of Bridport, complete with cinema and arts centre, are a short drive away and Beaminster’s own busy town centre make it a thriving holiday destination. Pretty Fiddlesticks Cottage has a 30% discount for Bank Holiday week. Sleeps 4. Pet friendly.

Combe Martin on the edge of Exmoor is home to Little Foxes – a peaceful place with terrific views. Rock pools and surfing beaches, a wildlife park and coastal walks, plus golf at nearby Saunton and a nature reserve at Braunton Burrows make this far more than a holiday on the moors. With Ilfracombe just seven miles away, trips to town and across to Lundy Island add to the possibilities. Sleeps 4. Pet friendly.

Boscastle in north Cornwall is a treat for walkers: cliff and wooded valley walks offer spectacular scenery. The low-tide sandy beach at Bossiney has a bigger sister at Trebarwith Strand, which is a good spot for surfing. Fuchsia Cottage, an 18th Century detached cottage at the top of the village, has long views out to sea from its enclosed garden. Perfect for that Bank Holiday sunshine we all have our fingers crossed for! Sleeps 4. Sorry, no pets.

Or how about postcard-pretty Hay Cottage in the South Hams, just under two miles from fashionable Salcombe? There are superb cliff walks near Hope Cove to enjoy and lots of creeks and sandy bays along the Kingsbridge estuary to explore; a tremendous variety of beautiful places and things to see and do in the area. There’s a 20% discount Bank Holiday week. Sleeps 6. Pet friendly.

For more last minute cottages with August Bank Holiday availability, click here.