Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Jon Vernon's favourite Dartmoor cycling trails

Our IT manager Jon Vernon is a keen mountain biker. Here are some of his recommendations for pedalling across Dartmoor...

The news that Singletrack magazine have this month named Dartmoor as one of the top 5 mountain biking destinations in Britain will not come as a huge surprise for anyone whose ridden here. Despite its relative lack of elevation - the highest point of Dartmoor is “only” 621m - there are very few riding spots in these isles where you can experience such a great mix of technical terrain, wide sweeping views and challenging climbs in such a relatively compact area.

Ancient native woodland, rugged, windswept tors, rushing river valleys, mysterious prehistoric remains – it’s all here, and even for a novice rider, a mountain bike is the perfect way to get a real sense of the drama of the moor – quite simply you can get to places on a bike which you wouldn’t get to by car and which would take too long to cover on foot.

These are some of my favourite trails on the moor – handily, most are within half an hour or so of Helpful Holidays HQ here in Chagford!

Lustleigh Cleave

The jewel in the crown of Dartmoor riding and one which I’m lucky enough to be able to ride to from my front door. The steep-sided, heavily wooded valley of the River Bovey has a myriad of trails ranging from insanely fast, open moorland singletrack to sinuous wooded paths to boulder-strewn, technical downhill. The descent from Hunter’s Tor to Foxworthy Bridge via the infamous Nutcracker has it all and is, for my money, one of the best in the area. The southern side of the valley also has some fantastic trails radiating out from Water. You could easily spend a whole day of riding here and never cross your own tyre tracks. It’s a stunningly beautiful area,  particularly in spring – with the ancient trees and moss covered stones giving it a very mystical feel.

Bennet’s Cross, Vitifer Mine & Challacombe

This is my regular, swift after work loop in the summer – just brilliant after a spell of dry weather. The descent from the car part at Bennett’s Cross through the Vitifer mine workings is probably one of the most fun kilometres of trail anywhere on the high moor. It starts with a rather inauspicious roll over some tussocky, boggy ground before filtering down to a narrow, hard-packed ribbon of rollercoaster trail which twists through the spoil heaps, pits and leats of the old tin mine. Care needs to be taken though - a couple of sections are quite exposed, running close to a narrow gorge and the flooded workings.

The trail opens out to a beautiful spot near a clear bubbling stream, the site of the old miner’s drying house. From here follow the trail down the valley to Soussons Down via a second disused mine at Golden Dagger before contouring around to the medieval settlement of Challacombe then back up the neighbouring valley to Headland Warren. The bronze age settlement of Grimspound is well worth a short diversion here. After that, the pain of a short sharp climb up to Birch Tor is more than made up for by the fast, technical descent back down to the mine. Finish up with a well-deserved pint outside the Warren House – it claims, in Dartmoor, to have the biggest beer garden in the world!

This route can also be extended to an epic full day ride to Lustleigh Cleave by following the trail over the moor to Natsworthy via Grimspound and then on to Jays Grave, Hound Tor and Water.

Princetown / Burrator Loop

Another classic Dartmoor loop, and one which is fun to ride even in the wet. Park in Princetown and follow the bridleway next to the Plume of Feathers – the hard packed trail over South Hessary Tor is fast and fun, with a few technical challenges thrown in from the many water bars and drainage channels. The route then drops down the very aptly named Rocky Road towards Burrator, before joining a bridleway running downhill close to the mysterious Crazy Well Pool, reputed to be bottomless and the source of much local legend.

This section of trail is known by local riders, rather melodramatically, as the Widowmaker for its tendency to unseat the unwary if ridden too fast. Don’t let that put you off - it’s not particularly technical but does need to be treated with respect - in particular you need to avoid getting distracted by the stunning views!

There are two options for the return leg from Burrator – the first is along the level and well-marked trail which follows the route of the old railway line out to Kings Tor – this is a stunning ride in itself, suitable for all the family and with expansive views of the moor and Plymouth Sound to the south.

Alternatively, for the more adventurous, it’s possible to strike off across the moor to the east from Sheepstor to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine and the very remote Nun’s Cross farm before rejoining the trail at South Hessary Tor. This route covers some genuinely wild country and is best left for a clear day and those riders with good navigation skills, map and compass.

Teign Gorge / Hunters Path

From Fingle Bridge a good wide track runs in both directions along the south bank of the Teign through the lovely Fingle woods. Despite a couple of bumpy sections, this is a great option for all the family with some lovely picnic spots en route. To the east, the trail can be ridden all the way to Dunsford with options to explore the upper reaches of the valley on trails which have recently been reinstated by the Woodland Trust and National Trust.

For more enthusiastic riders, to the west, and on the opposite side of the river there is a great, short loop along the Hunter’s Path which clings precipitously to the edge of the gorge near Castle Drogo in its early sections before crossing Sharp Tor. The right hand fork in the trail after Hunting Gate plunges down a rooty descent to Fingle Bridge. Even better is the left hand fork which offers a sublime section of singletrack through Drewston Wood before climbing back up to Drewsteignton.

Stepping Stones Route

This one is best left for dry weather for obvious reasons as it involves 6 river crossings in the East and West Dart valleys. Whilst requiring a bit of bike portage in places, it takes in some stunning riverside and woodland scenery and feels like a proper adventure. Starting from Bellever Forest the first river crossing comes after a technical descent to Laughter Hole. There is a short climb to Babeny before a fast downhill and a second crossing below Brimpts Wood, the lush vegetation of the valley giving this section of the ride an almost tropical feel in the summer. The route shortly passes one of HH’s properties at Brimpts Farm before continuing on the road to Hexworthy. There is then a beast of a road climb to the Forest Inn before following the minor around to the right and down to meet the bridleway and a further series of stepping stones at Sherberton. The return leg is an enjoyable blast over the open moor from Dunnabridge Pound and back through the forest to the car park.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Fal River Festival 2014

We’re sponsoring the Saturday (for the 4th year in succession) of – the Fal River festival, a fantastic not-for-profit 10 day community festival encompassing over 150 events varying from music & drama, the arts & heritage to gig racing, swimming, walking & lots more.

Each year more than 100,000 people attend a range of different events helping raise a whopping £75,000 for charity while enjoying 3,000 pints of ale, lager and cider!

Katie Treseder, our local Property Manager, and marketing manager Adrian Innocent will be flying the HH flag on Events Square (right by the Maritime Museum) all day Saturday. Pop along for a chance to win a signed print of St Mawes by West Country artist Sara Nunan – see flyer above – by subscribing to our newsletter.

Day 2 of the Festival includes the Fal Fish Festival, also on Events Square, where you can see all the delights of Cornwall's very best seafood.

There’s also the Flushing & Mylor Pilot Gig Club Regatta, where you can see traditional pilot gig racing. Racing starts from 10.30am.

Or how about Art in a BOX – for those artistically inclined, you can collect a box from Flushing Village Stores to create your own piece of art in. These will then be stacked as a ʻWall of Artʼ in the window of ʻThe Old Bakeryʼ opposite Flushing Stores, on Trefusis Road.

The festival was established in 2006 and will be running for its 9th year in 2014. It's a chance to embrace the places, people, history, culture, sport & industry that are connected by this very Cornish river. The festival offers something for everyone and is the perfect opportunity to engage with life on the river and discover some of its fascinating history.

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Gara Rock: From Coastguard Station to Coastal Retreat

The beauty of Gara Rock has been captured in a video highlighting the dramatic and privileged cliff top position this development of West Country holiday apartments and holiday cottages holds.

Once a coastguard station, Gara Rock’s spectacular location made it a perfect place for a holiday development, with sea and headland views of Prawle Point and beyond Salcombe Estuary to Bolt Trail. The video, filmed by a visiting journalist, captures perfectly the unique location of Gara Rock and the natural setting the development was created to enjoy.

Its life as a lookout point for the safety of those at sea is remembered in the thatched hut that remains, while the 12 apartments and five cottages and the relaxed café restaurant are contemporary, but fitting, in style.

Walkers get the best views of the area, with the South West Coast Path running immediately below the development, hugging the coastline to the west, passing accessible coves en route to East Portlemouth (and the ferry to Salcombe and beyond), and eastwards towards East Prawle and Start Point. A footpath winds down the 550 yards from Gara Rock to unspoilt, sandy Rickham Cove, which is ideal for a spot of rock pooling.

Staying at Gara Rock includes use of the indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room and an outdoor pool from the end of May until the end of September. The sun terrace, complete with sun loungers, can feel Mediterranean when the West Country’s milder weather brings summer sunshine.

The restaurant is positioned to make the most of the sea view, with a curved wall of windows looking out to the Atlantic and a terrace for relaxed dining in the open. The menu has an Italian influence and includes many locally sourced foods.

Each apartment and cottage has sensational sea views; some have small balconies, others their own terraces overlooking the coastline. Inside, they are individual and finished to a high standard with well-equipped kitchens and smart bath or shower rooms. There are steps down from the car park. We currently let two cottages and four apartments.
To find out more about availability at Gara Rock, go to the Helpful Holidays website or call 01647 433593.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

We take joint top place in the Which? UK self-catering Customer Satisfaction Survey for the third year in succession

We're delighted to have been awarded joint first place in the Which? Travel members’ survey of UK self-catering accommodation achieving Recommended Provider status for three years in succession with a very high customer score of 95%.

We were awarded five out of five stars in almost every category; this included a top rating for properties matching their descriptions.

To find the best UK self-catering accommodation members of the Which? online connect panel were asked to complete a survey about their experience of using a UK self-catering accommodation company in the past year on everything from cleanliness to value for money. The results were based 1,753 customer experiences. Helpful Holidays achieved the highest number of stars across the various categories impressing members with the quality of its information, photography and value for money.

Moray Bowater, General Manager, Helpful Holidays said: “We’re very happy to receive this valuable award for the third year in succession. Although we get the commendation, most credit must go to the steadfast team of Helpful Holidays owners and caretakers whose dependable efforts deliver the promises we make to holidaymakers. Without their thoughtfulness and dedication it’s unlikely we would achieve any awards and certainly not a recurring Which? Recommended Provider status. We remain totally focussed on making customers happy and we’re delighted so many owners of outstanding holiday homes share that aim and want to join the Helpful Holidays family”.

Lorna Cowan, Editor, Which? Travel added; "Helpful Holidays has proved to be a continued hit with Which? members for three years. Its impressive customer score and maximum five-star rating in ten out of the thirteen feature categories shows just how well members rate the company and the properties it offers.”

Helpful Holidays has nearly 700 places to stay in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset ranging from romantic retreats for two up to big country houses sleeping a maximum of 47 guests. All the properties are regularly and carefully inspected and star rated by the agency’s own team so they can advise holidaymakers honestly through first-hand experience. Holidaymakers can always speak to someone who has visited any property and get answers to questions the website or brochure might not answer. Many of the places are exceptionally plush and the agency has a deserved reputation for offering big and beautiful houses.

Every property on has a map showing attractions, activities, events and eateries nearby plus a full and frank description, lots of photographs and, in some cases, a video or audio tour; most also have a number of independent reviews by holidaymakers so guests know what to expect and can plan their holidays with confidence.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Take a Holiday to Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall

Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall has been featured across the national press since the television adaptation of her novel Jamaica Inn hit screens over Easter.

Landscapes, seascapes and the Jamaica Inn itself have been pictured in all their glory in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, in particular showing off Fowey where the author first stayed.

The scenes that inspired Du Maurier’s writing are breathtaking and, if the adaptation of just one of her books has given West Country visitors a taste for her writing or for the county itself, there is a brilliant opportunity coming up to learn more about both.

Fowey Festival of Words and Music (May 10 to 17) will feature experts in conversation about Daphne’s Cornwall. Du Maurier died in Fowey in 1989.

Other stopping points on the Du Maurier pilgrimage include Jamaica Inn in Bolventor, Bodmin, which inspired Du Maurier's book of the same name, first published in 1936 and later made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

The Inn has welcomed travellers crossing Bodmin Moor for nearly 300 years and includes a hotel, restaurant and smugglers’ museum.

Du Maurier fans will recognise the name Frenchman’s Creek on the Helford River as the title of another Du Maurier novel. It is also where she honeymooned, despite the spot 
inspiring a pirate story rather than a romance.

Menabilly, just outside Fowey, was the author’s home for 25 years and was said to have shaped the fictional estate Manderley in her most celebrated work, Rebecca.

To find holiday cottages near each of these locations, go to the Helpful Holidays website or call 01647 433593.


Photo Credit: JaviC