Friday, 28 February 2014

The South West's Best Food Festivals

Following the announcement that the TorqEat festival in Torquay, Devon, has been extended to two days this year, we take a look at some of the other top food events that will be tempting the tastebuds of holidaymakers visiting the South West in 2014:

Porthleven Food & Music Festival

Each year, the beautiful seaside town of Porthleven in Cornwall is inundated by 18,000 hungry foodies keen to sample some of the artisanal produce on offer at the many stalls.

A line-up of top-name chefs will also be in attendance to show people how to improve their cooking, including festival patron Antony Worrall Thompson, while a varied line-up of musicians will be taking to both the stage and the streets to keep people entertained throughout the event.

This year's sixth-annual extravaganza is taking place on April 26th from 10am until 11pm, under the banner 'Local Food, Global Stage', so you can really make a whole day of it. A couple of special events featuring music, food and drink will bookend the main festival itself, so attend those too if you've got the stamina.

Bridport Food Festival

Now in its 11th year, the Bridport Food Festival has firmly established itself as one of the leading food events in Dorset and the South West. And unlike some of the West Country's other foodie events that run for a single day or weekend, Bridport's version offers a whole week's worth of gastronomic delights.

This year's festivities are happening between June 8th and 14th, with the main event at Asker Meadows taking place on the final day. In the build up to the finale, a wide range of food-and-drink-related activities will be taking place. Last year, these ranged from brewery tours to pub quizzes and from Nordic seafood dinners to Indian cookery masterclasses.

Somerset Cheese, Cider and Moozic Fest

As you might have guessed from the name, this annual gathering at Cricketer Farm in Nether Stowey features a veritable smorgasbord of cheese, cider and music served up over a long weekend in June (20th-22nd in 2014).

New for this year is the Big Weekender, a special festival experience limited to 50 people, which will give these lucky visitors access to exclusive activities including a one-off Cider & Cheese Fest Steam Engine ride on the West Somerset Railway.

This unique cider and cheese tasting trip, will journey through spectacular countryside from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead and back again.

Exeter Food & Drink Festival

TorqEat isn't the only big food event taking place in 2014. Between April 24th and 27th, the city of Exeter will be coming alive for its annual Food & Drink Festival featuring two days of gastronomic fun, plus three After Dark Party Nights.

During the day, browse the goods on offer from 100 artisan producers and enjoy masterclasses and demos from top chefs, and then once the sun has gone down, experience top live music, high-quality regional grub from the 'food-to-go' stalls and a large choice of local ales and ciders.

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Enter Our 2014 Poetry Competition

Are you one of those creative types who thinks in rhymes? A budding Wordsworth? Maybe you like to wax lyrical about a stunning scene, or the people you meet on your travels. If that sounds like you, why not enter our poetry competition?

Anyone taking a holiday with us can enter, all you have to do is send us your poem - in any style or form you prefer - lovingly created whilst on holiday at one of our holiday homes.

You could win a £400 Helpful Holidays voucher, so entering is well worth the effort.

We've received some impressive entries so far, and the usual standard for all competitions is excellent. Do send your submissions with a short comment – it’s always interesting to hear the stories behind the poems. To enter, post your poem to us at the address below by the end of September:

2013 Poetry Competition
Helpful Holidays
Mill Street, Chagford
Devon TQ13 8AW

Or, send your submission to, with 2014 Poetry Competition as the subject.

If you're not a poet don't worry - we run a different competition every year, last year was 
painting, the year before a photography competition. 

We look forward to being entertained by your verse!

Photo credit

Friday, 21 February 2014

Judge West Country Food Favourites for Yourself – Award Winners Announced Monday

Foodies in the West Country have got even more reason than usual to be salivating at tasty local offerings.

The best producers, restaurants and food-related services are eagerly anticipating who will have been voted one step ahead of other gastronomy-geared local businesses and announced winners in the ‘food’ magazine’s Reader Awards 2014.

We know as well as you do that the glory of food isn’t just in the eating. It’s in the making, planning and fantasising…and then the eating! That’s why we have sponsored the Cookery Schools category.

The South West is blessed with some of the best chefs, restaurants, food products, cafes, pubs and cookery schools in the country. Holidaymakers are not just keen to seek and taste, they are inquisitive and they want to learn how it’s done, with a helping hand from the best teachers.

The finalists in the category we have sponsored are Ashburton Cookery School, Ashburton; Rick Stein’s Seafood School, Padstow; River Cottage Cookery School, Axminster.

The most voted for categories were Best Restaurant, Local Cookery School and Local Food Hero. food editor Jo Rees said when the finalists were announced: “These are very strong contenders, and each of them a worthy winner in their own right. Unfortunately only one in each category will walk away with the award at the ceremony at Yeo Valley on February 24.

“What’s most exciting is to see is the array of brilliant food and drink businesses in the South West. We continue to lead the way as a region in the industry – and it goes from strength to strength.”

The action will be followed live on the night by @food_mag's 70,000 Twitter followers using the hashtag #FoodReaderAwards.

To find holiday cottages near these food finalists go to the Helpful Holidays website or call 01647 433593.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Steaming into Spring in the West Country

Steam trains in the West Country give an important glance into the past and a look at how the countryside operated. Once one of the main methods of transport, now one of their favourite uses is to mark special occasions and the West Country has found many reasons to celebrate this Spring.

South Devon Railway holds two Winter Steam gala weekends, the 15th-16th and the 22nd-23rd February. Billed as a great way to ‘Shake off the winter blues and enjoy two weekends of traditional branch line style trains’, they will be popular with steam train enthusiasts new and old, as well as those wanting to try this traditional method of galloping through the rolling hills.

To find out departure times and for tickets information, go to The South Devon Railway website.

Snowdrop Valley is part of a hidden private estate on Exmoor. Giving the vision of this carpet of spring flowers a little more magic, West Somerset Railway hosts a Snowdrops and Steam eventdeparting from Bishops Lydeard station, from the 15th-23rd February. It also holds a Spring Steam Gala. For information of locomotives to feature in this event and other highlights, keep an eye on the events page.

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is looking ahead to Mother’s Day on 30th March, when all accompanied mums will travel free, while on South Devon Railway, tickets are being sold for a Mother’s Day cream tea in the special dining train, leaving Buckfastleigh at 4.15pm. (Booking essential).

Find your perfect holiday cottage on the Helpful Holidays website or call 01647 433593.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Spring Gardens in the West County

Spring is on its way! Really, it is! The lighter evenings are the boldest sign yet that the murky winter is about to give way to bright colours and warmer temperatures. If you need proof, get along to these West Country gardens, which are eagerly preparing for your visit.

Snowdrop Valley is open now for visitors to its beautiful carpet of snowdrops that bloom throughout February each year. The privately owned estate is in a hidden part of Exmoor, close to Wheddon Cross, and has not suffered flooding so its display stands to serve as a true harbinger of spring, with its gleaming white petals and lush green leaves brightening any day. The valley is complete with cafes, tearooms and an aptly named pub for such a place of such natural beauty – the Rest and Be Thankful Inn.

Forde Abbey in Charde, Somerset, is another vision, with access to their gardens for Snowdrop Weekends until 23rdFebruary. The venue also has a Crocus Week from 1st-9th March.

Pencarrow near Bodmin in Cornwall holds the second of its Snowdrop Sundays on 16th February. The event is held in support of a local charity, the Merlin MS Centre.

Daffodils are already starting to spear through the ground in some places. Don’t miss Daffodil Day at Hartland Abbey on 16th March. These particular clusters of colour have history – some were planted as long as 150 years ago, and are kept company by camellias, hellebores, early spring bulbs, mimosas and wild primroses and violets.

And if April is your window of opportunity for a Spring break, head to Bluebell Sundays at Hartland Abbey, on the 20th and 27th April.

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Love the West Country this Valentine’s Day

Roses, chocolates and a romantic meal are Valentine’s Day staples so maybe this is the year to liven them up by choosing a romantic setting to complete the picture.

A couple’s retreat in the West Country gives time for walking, talking, taking in the views and getting away from it all and there are still some magical locations to choose from for Valentine’s week.

The Music Room in Aveton Gifford, South Hams, is a former chapel and venue for music events, as the name suggests. Light a fire in the wood burner and bathe in the glow from the stained glass window before taking a stroll around the romantic grounds. There is even a special offer for Valentine’s week – hurry to the website and watch the video tour.

The Bathing House (pictured above) in Ashprington in Devon is like a scene from a film: pretty white house with a balcony overlooking the River Dart. Situated on the 550 acre, Capability Brown-designed Sharpham Estate, you can take walks here or join in a wine tasting session. You can chose whether that comes before or after a good few hours watching the river go by with your loved one.

If your other half would melt at the idea of a beach chalet, try Seagulls Nest on Whitsand Bay. Uninterrupted views of the bay in South Cornwall make cosy dinners by the window spectacular, whatever is on the menu. A great location for Coastal Path fans.

The Linhay in the tiny hamlet of East Ash near Throwleigh on Dartmoor is perfect for lovers of walking, sitting close to the Mariners’ Way walk, while this small detached cottage at St Agnes, near Newquay in Cornwall, shouts cosy couple’s getaway.

The Bothy at Parracombe, Exmoor, is a private, single-storey cottage with French windows overlooking its little wild garden with stream. The four poster bed adds an air of traditional romance.

Whichever of our cottages you choose, you’ll be spoilt for choice with local produce to indulge your partner’s tastes. Sparkling English wine from Camel Valley vineyard, handmade chocolates and meals out at the restaurants of Jamie Oliver’s in Newquay and Rick Stein’s in Padstow: Valentine’s Day 2014 will be one to remember.

For more information on West Country cottages to sleep two during Valentine’s week, go to the Helpful Holidays website or call 01647 433593.