Sunday, 28 July 2013

Zoom Around the West Country and Sample the Tour of Britain

Chris Froome’s Tour de France win is just one reason West Country holidays are so cycling-focussed this year.

Devon is hosting the sixth stage of the Tour of Britain this September, so keen cyclists and even fair weather friends of the bike can try out the route before the competitors.

The 85-mile stretch between Sidmouth and Haytor is ranked as difficult and given recent sunny weather, anyone attempting it will no doubt fancy stopping for several refreshment breaks at any number of villages, towns and beauty spots. It is expected that only the most fit and experienced cyclists would attempt to complete the entire stage. The route map is available on the official tour website.

Setting off from Sidmouth, cyclists then head north to Honiton, taking in Willand, Tiverton, Bickleigh, Stoke Cannon, Exeter and the Exe Estuary. Then it’s on to Dartmoor National Park, Chudleigh, Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey, with the stage coming to an end at Haytor.

Cycling has long been a popular way to see the West Country, with dozens of well-established routes other than this available. The success of Chris Froome last week and previous achievements of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott have no doubt added to the number of visitors arriving with bikes and helmets or hiring them during their stay.

The West Country Way takes you from Cornwall to the River Avon. It incorporates the Camel Trail, Tarka Trail, Avon Cycleway and the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. This route is 240 miles long, 70 miles of which are traffic free.

The Cornish Way, from Land’s End to Bude, gives you a choice of which parts of the county you want to see – via Rick Stein’s Padstow or the Eden Project’s St Austell? It splits at Truro and joins into one again at Bodmin. It is 122 miles long, of which 29 are traffic free.

The Devon Coast to Coast from Ilfracombe to Plymouth is 102 miles long, 71 without traffic, and is rated moderate in difficulty. The Tarka Trail is a comparatively modest-sounding 46 miles with an easy rating. A child-friendly ride is The Granite Way between Okehampton and Lydford. It is 11 miles long and is rated easy.

GPS cycling routes in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset will keep you on track.

To plan your next visit to the West Country and to find a holiday home, go to

Thursday, 18 July 2013

See the West Country in Glorious Sunshine

Yes, Summer really is here and the good weather looks set to continue.

If you were in the West Country now, how would you be lapping up the good weather, cooling down and seeing the sights? We’ve a few suggestions.

Water sports are big in the South West and when the sun is shining, they’re even more popular than usual. Cooling down can be twinned with fun and learning a new skill, with surfing lessons at any number of popular beaches including Fistral in Newquay.

Paddle boarding is a more leisurely sport. It can be enjoyed on the sea or waterways across the region but if it’s your first go, a good place to start is with Venus Riders at Blackpool Sands in South Devon.

Any section of the South West Coast Path can be enjoyed at your own pace but an evening stroll shows it in a different light, with beautiful sunsets, seascapes and the calming down of nature all around you. See the Summer Strolls section of the South West Coast Path website for inspiration and don’t forget to take a bottle of water per person, a sun hat and sun screen, even towards the end of the day.

This is the first long heatwave since 2006 and new record temperatures are being set but forecasters have said it could continue for quite some time. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and follow guidance for keeping cool to be sure you can make the most of the good weather and see the West Country at its best.

For special offers on holiday cottage availability in the West Country for July and August, click here.

For Information call Helpful Holidays on 01647 433593. To plan your next visit to the West Country and to find a holiday home, go to

Photo courtesy FuturePresent.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Michael Caines' Lobster Fricassée

Highly acclaimed Michael Caines MBE is Executive Head Chef at Gidleigh Park in our home town of Chagford on Dartmoor and he's kindly given us his delicious recipe Fricassée of Cornish or Brixham Lobster with summer vegetables and herbs - yum!

Fricassée of Cornish or Brixham Lobster with summer vegetables and herbs  

Serves 4 people 

4 x 500g live lobsters 
12 x baby carrots
12 x baby fennel 
12 x asparagus tips
Spring cabbage
50g broad beans 
50g peas

Lobster Bisque 
1kg lobster carcasses
500ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml Cognac 
100g carrots, finely chopped
100g onions, finely chopped
100g fennel, finely chopped
½ clove garlic, chopped
5g whole white peppercorns
5g coriander seeds, crushed
5g cumin seeds, crushed
5g cardamom seeds, crushed
1 star anise, crushed
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme
250g plum tomatoes, chopped 
200ml water
30g tomato purée

To finish the bisque
100g unsalted butter
A little lemon juice
Salt and pepper

To serve
Olive oil
Chopped fresh tarragon
Picked tarragon, chervil and chives to garnish

• Firstly, kill the lobsters by pressing a sharp knife into the lobsters’ head about an inch or an inch and a half from between the eyes towards the tail. Press down until the blade goes all the way through to the cutting board and draw the knife towards the eyes. Now remove the tails and claws. Blanch the tails in boiling water for 30 seconds only, and then place into iced water. Bring the hot water back up to the boil and then add the lobster claws, bring to the boil again, cook for 3 minutes then place in the iced water. 

Peel the lobster tail to remove the tail meat and crack the claws to remove the claw meat, keeping the claws as whole as possible. Place the lobster meat on a tray for later use.   

• Next make the lobster bisque. Place a roasting tray in a pre-heated oven at 200°C/gas 7. Heat 400ml of the olive oil and then add the lobster carcasses, roast for 30 minutes (do not let them burn) and then remove from the heat. 

Deglaze with the Cognac. Then in a stainless steel pan, sweat the carrots, onions, fennel and garlic in the remaining 100ml of olive oil for 10 minutes and cook without colouring. Add the spices and herbs and cook for a further 5 minutes. 

Now add the tomato purée, fresh tomatoes and water and cook out for a further 10 minutes. Then add the roasted carcasses and the juices and add enough water to be below the top of the carcasses then bring to the boil. Simmer and cook for 20 minutes then pass through a colander and leave to drain well. Then pass through a fine sieve, Taste and adjust seasoning. Just before you are ready to serve, heat 200ml of lobster bisque and the unsalted butter and blend with a hand blender until frothy. Season with salt, pepper and a drop of lemon juice. 

• Cook the vegetables in boiling salted water, or in a steamer.  Peel the broad beans to remove the bitter skins. 

• To prepare the dish for serving, heat some olive oil in two separate non-stick frying pans (one for the tail and the other for the claws), and carefully add the lobster. 

Place the pans in the oven at 200 °C / gas 7 for 2 minutes, then turn the lobster over and add some chopped tarragon and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes. Slice the lobster tail into 6 pieces and dress around the bowl or plate, place the claw meat into the middle and then scatter the vegetables around. Heat and froth the sauce as previously described and spoon around the dish. 

Drizzle some of the cooking oil around and sprinkle the picked herbs over the dish to finish. 


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Help Us Win Gold at the ‘Travel Oscars’ and You Could Win Too!

We are thrilled to have been nominated for a prestigious British Travel Award for the third year running! As proud silver winners of the "Best UK Holiday Cottage/Self Catering Booking Company" category for two years in a row, we are going for gold in 2013.

To win, we need the support of all our customers but it’s not a one way street. By voting, voters are entered into a BTA prize draw with some great travel prizes, including holiday vouchers, sea and river cruises, cross-channel ferry tickets, car hire packages and more. The prize chest is being added to all the time.

It is, however, a very tough competition. We're one of several companies nominated for this category, some of which are national players marketing cottages across the country, so we need your votes now if we're to have a chance of winning. Please support us by clicking here to register your vote.

The British Travel Awards are widely considered the "Oscars" of the travel industry, so we'd love to do well, especially because it means the people who stay in the cottages and places we know and love, love them too. Please ask your friends and family to vote too - your votes could make all the difference. The closing date for voting is 30th September.

Here is how to vote. It takes just a couple of minutes (Please note there's no need to vote in every category, just those in which you're interested).

• Click here to open the voting area of the BTA website.

• Enter your details on the voting registration form and click "Submit".

• You'll arrive at the voting form headed "How to complete the form".

• Scroll down and click the heading, "Who are the best UK holiday companies and tourist attractions?"

• Select and click the "Best UK Holiday Cottage/Self Catering Booking Company" category from the drop-down menu.

• Select and click "Helpful Holidays" from the list of nominations.

• Scroll down the page to click on the "Submit" button to complete your vote.
Please note there's no need to vote in every category, just those in which you're interested.

Thank you for taking the time to vote for Helpful Holidays. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Towan Cross: Our New Holiday Favourite

Filling the paddling pool
This is a guest post from James & Claire Allen of our social media agency Brewhouse.

We holiday in the West Country every year and last week, we found the best cottage yet.

Location was a big factor: as a family holiday and after a long drive (broken up with a welcome stop at the Royal Cornwall Show), we needed scenery on our doorstep and things to do just a short drive away. On Cornwall’s north coast, with views over green hills and out to tin mines and the beach at Porthtowan just a couple of minutes away, Towan Cross was a perfect spot for us.

The cottage itself was brilliantly presented and equipped. We couldn’t understand how the owner could ever tear themself away long enough to let other people stay there. We had enough sun to enjoy the well-tended garden and patio, plus a few grey skies that made us retreat to the warmth of the conservatory. We hardly minded – we still had the view!

Making friends at the Eden Project
Being seasoned visitors to the West Country, we have our preferences for day trips but we also like to try something different every time. Local attractions are really getting the knack of keeping us interested: the Eden Project must have been one of the first to give year-round tickets – pay once and visit as many times as you like for the year. So much changes each season, it’s well worth the price.

Trebah Garden is another favourite of ours – family friendly, full of wildlife and history. It too has started a multi-visit ticket. We paid once and could go again during the same week. This worked perfectly on our last day when we wanted a cream tea and somewhere for the little one to play (we may have had a few goes on the zip-wire, too).

Porthtowan beach and the Blue Bar have always been a favourite of mine since discovering them a decade ago but we also heard about the Hidden Hut at Porthcurnick Beach on the Roseland, a slightly longer drive away.

But the cottage truly made this holiday: outside space for the toddler, a freestanding bath for mummy and her book, a barbecue we never quite got around to using and a Rayburn we were more than happy to get to grips with. We may just have to break our habit of staying in a different cottage every time.