Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Beautiful Blooms Battle it Out...

Bluebells - photo courtesy of Cosmo_71

Do you have a favourite wildflower? 

The wild plant conservation charity, Plantlife, has launched a survey to discover the nation’s favourite, but oh, what a choice! A shortlist of 25 species has been drawn up, and the West Country is blessed with a host of blooming leading contenders.

From Somerset and Dorset, across Devon to the end of Cornwall, wildflowers thrive in our ancient hedgerows and gently farmed fields. Take a trip west and before you even arrive at your holiday home you’ll be welcomed en route by blowsy clouds of cow parsley and cheery oxeye daisies.
Wildflowers are wonderfully evocative, markers of the cycle of seasons, stirring innocent memories of childhood picnics, country walks and daisy chain necklaces.

Some have terrific fragrance: the heady musk of wild honeysuckle, often scented before spotted when wandering a lane on a summer’s evening; the incongruously tropical coconut perfume of vivid yellow gorse flower on a moorland slope; the subtle but unmistakable sweetness of the delicate pink dog rose. 

It’s no coincidence that many of the blooms heading the race for victory are the heralds of spring and early summer. Drifts of snowdrops, shy swarms of lemon-yellow primroses and carpets of vivid bluebells regenerate and fill us with optimism for sunshiny days ahead.

Shippen Cottages
Many of our holiday homes are hidden sanctuaries where you can lose yourself in nature. Picnic tables in organic wildflower meadows invite you to unpack a hamper of goodies at 1 and 2 Shippen Cottages in Wilmington, and West Huckham Barn, a 200-year-old Exmoor cottage, is deep in the unspoiled Quarme Valley full of flowers. South Barn is a haven for nature lovers, with a natural area of ponds and wildflowers; stroll at dusk for evening flower scents and stars emerging in a huge, unpolluted sky.  We’ve lots more countryside havens; do ask us if you’d like help finding your perfect place.  

South Barn
Political party leaders have battled it out and election fever has left us oft-times jaded – what better antidote than seeing the snakes head fritillary go head to head with the lesser celandine and ticking a box for your favourite wild blossom? Visit www.plantlife.org.uk to vote.  

Friday, 8 May 2015

Explore folklore and magic in Cornwall

Tintagel Castle, photo courtesy of Robert Linsdell

Cornwall has long been the seat of some of Britain's most dearly-loved myths and legends. Indeed, King Arthur himself is often said to have been born of the Cornish people in folklore traditions. 

For holidaymakers spending time in Cornwall, there are plenty of opportunities to really get immersed in this history by visiting a range of attractions. 

The Arthurian Centre

Situated in Slaughterbridge near the medieval market town of Camelford - considered by many to be the site of the legendary castle Camelot - the Arthurian Centre is set in the 20 acres of land surrounding King Arthur's Stone. This stone - and a battle that reputedly took place at the site it commemorates - is dated to the earliest stories as far back as 540. 
Visitors are given the opportunity to walk through the Camlann Battlefield where Arthur and his nemesis Mordred met for their final battle. An exhibition room is filled with panels detailing this history, as well as a video presentation. 

Brass rubbing, a children's quiz, and a nature trail ensure there is something for everyone. Entry is £3.50 for adults, £3 for concessions, £2 for children aged six to 16, and £10 for a family ticket covering two adults and up to four children. 

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle is set on the rugged North Cornwall coast, offering spectacular views over its fascinating ruins. Coupled with a stunning beach cafe, this is an ideal family day out. 

Steeped in myth and mystery, the site is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur - and there is also the opportunity to visit Merlin's Cave nearby. The castle also features strongly in the tale of Tristan and Isolde. Its history stretches back as far as the Roman occupation of Britain and is one of the most iconic attractions in the South West. 

Steep stone steps, stout walls and rugged windswept cliff edges encircle the great hall that characterise the spectacular remains of the 13th century castle. A packed events programme is maintained throughout the year, offering plenty of fun for families, with event themes including Fighting Knights, Grand Medieval Jousts and Pirates Attack. 

Entry is £6.10 for adults, £5.50 for concessions, £3.70 and £15.90 for family groups. 

The Museum of Witchcraft

Cornwall's roots in folklore and magic don't rest purely on King Arthur - as demonstrated by the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, North Cornwall. 

This houses the largest collection of witchcraft-related artefacts in the world, including more than 2,000 objects on display. 

There is also a naturally-occurring spring and shrine, a range of activities for children, sections on healing, Christian magic, Pagan beliefs, charms, curses, Cornish 'piskies', and a lot more. 

Guided tours are available and ticket prices are £5 for adults and £4 for children and concessions. 

Read more information on our inspected and star-rated Cornwall Holiday Cottages

Friday, 1 May 2015

Farm-friendly fodder at Darts Farm Shop

Photo courtesy of Jacob Spinks
One of the most well-known and tempting features of the West Country is its edible produce. Eggs, pies, pasties, cider and cheese are just a few of the foodstuffs that are freshly made around the region and if you head down to Darts Farm Shop, you will find a collection of the best seasonal products sourced from local growers…

Based in Exeter, the shop has been open for nearly 40 years and recently won the accolade of ‘Best Farm Shop in the UK.’ This honour is extremely well-deserved with the shop entirely dedicated to stocking food which has been grown, reared, baked or caught locally. As a working farm, baker, deli, cider marker and lifestyle shop, Darts Farm offers an all-encompassing authentic local experience. With pick-your-own fruit and vegetables, fishing ponds, a number of animals and a Maize maze, this is a great family attraction. It is also a lovely place to simply have a stroll among the West Country landscapes and crop fields.

Fruit and vegetables are collected daily from the surrounding fields to be sold in the shop or used in dishes at the on-site restaurant. As another purveyor of fine foods, the restaurant’s menu includes traditional favourites such as Devon sausage and mash, home cooked casseroles and Devonshire cream teas. There is also a selection of local ale and cider.

The site is also home to the magnificent Food Hall, which brings together produce from the best local suppliers and specialist artisan retailers. The award-winning range of luxury includes many homemade products, the caliber of which reflects the care and passion that has gone into their creation.

The on-site master butcher sells entirely traceable meat, and also have their own herd of native Devonshire cattle, slow-reared to produce the highest quality beef. Elsewhere, the Fish Shed produces delicious fish and chips with all fish caught and landed within 12 hours of serving.
The Darts Farm Shop is based in the old town of Topsham within easy reach of many of our cottages. We have a two-bedroom apartment in the town close to the antiques shops, pubs riverside walks, cycle routes and boat trips, as well as birdwatching at the RSPB reserve. The spacious, second-floor property includes a comfortable living area and compact kitchen with lovely countryside views.

Just nine kilometers outside Topsham in the red-stone hamlet of Poltimore, you will find our gorgeous three-bedroom property, Mallard Cottage, which set in the private grounds of an organic farm. Just ten minutes from Exeter, this cottage boasts a peaceful location and bright, fresh ambience. Sleeping six, this welcoming home includes communal gardens with trampolines, slides, swings, climbing frame, picnic table and barbecue, as well as a games barn with a small pool table and darts board. The smart interiors include stripped flooring, original stable doors and spiral staircases.

Another great property local to Darts Farm is our charming two-bed ‘upside down cottage’ in the pretty village of Lympstone. Sleeping four, the property is situated on a cobblestone street and features a balcony with views of the estuary and Powderham Castle in the distance. The picturesque surrounding area takes in local pubs, shops and shingle beaches, as well as the Exe estuary - the ideal spot for windsurfers.