You’ll be spoiled for choice on a visit to South Devon, as Sue Parslow discovered recently.
Stately Homes, animal attractions, castles, steam trains, botanical gardens, two beautiful coastlines – Devon has them all and more. Here’s just a selection to give you a taste of this wonderful region.
Salmon pink Killerton House retains the feel of a family home with lit fires and sofas you can sit on. Enter via a huge arched oak door then wander through from the entrance hall to the Music Room with its grand piano and large, ornate organ. The Long Corridor is hung with portraits including young Gladstone and Lord Shafesbury. On into the library and you’ll find bookshelves containing books old and new on topics relating to the family’s interests and can be handled and read in situ. The dining room is laid as ready for mystery important guests and portraits of family ancestors look on.
Step up the elegant oak staircase to immerse yourself in the National Trust’s biggest fashion collection. A friend of Paulise de Bush, a collector of historic costume, identified the house as an ideal home for her cache of clothes and accessories in the 1970s, not long before Killerton was opened to the public for the first time. Visitors can see the outfits displayed in a changing programme of themed exhibitions.
The oldest item is a man’s waistcoat dating back to 1690 and the collection ranges from workaday items to glamorous evening wear from the 20th century. This year’s exhibition is ‘Fashion to Dye for’ which follows the development of colours through specially selected garments.
Killerton has beautiful gardens and parkland to explore. Look out for the underground Ice House, Bear’s Hut and the Beech Walk.
Delicious meals are to be had in the Kitchen Restaurant or Stables Café – with lovely things to tempt you in the shop and plant centre too!
Sir Richard Acland, 15th Baronet gave the 17,000 acres of family estates at Killerton and Holnicote in West Somerset to the National Trust in 1943. It came about following his formation of the Common Wealth Party and was the largest acquisition in the Trust’s history.
Group rates to come…
In the 19th century Morwellham, near Tavistock, was a thriving inland port on the River Tamar where the copper mined close by were loaded onto sailing ships and exported. Queen Victoria herself visited here in 1856. Today the site has World Heritage status and visitors can get a real feel of what it was like to live and work in the village in its heyday.
Explore the cottages and watch traditional craftsmen at work before climbing aboard the mine train to head underground into the copper mine itself. As the train clanks along and heads into the darkness you’ll gain an appreciation of the working conditions boys and men endured. Driver Mark stops periodically to explain the techniques used and the significance of the industry. Museum,
Once back out into the open air you should check out the period shop, museum and school room, among the many elements to explore, before heading to the Ship Inn for a meal or a hot drink.
If you were a fan of BBC TV’s Edwardian Farm, you’ll enjoy wandering around the farmhouse used by the series, and meet some of the animals too.
Open all year round, there’s a calendar of themed events and this August sees the 160th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s visit so there are steam punk celebrations with music.
Call 01822 832766 or email firstname.lastname@example.org www.morwellham.org
Keen photographers should not miss an opportunity to visit Becky Falls woodland park. Here you can follow rocky trails around a series of waterfalls, stopping to look around and take in the scenery.
Becky Falls opened to the public in 1903 and has been inspiring visiting poets, writers, artists and – and groups – ever since. It’s a designated SSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) owing to the rare flora and fauna that grow here.
Appropriate footwear is essential as some steps are steep and, depending on the route, there are rocks to scramble over. The easiest route takes just half-an-hour or so. Afterwards, reward your exertion in the cafeteria that serves cream teas, hot and cold meals.
Before you leave you might want to say hello to Becky Fall’s collection of creatures, from owls to meerkats, and friendly furries in the children’s petting zoo. (School visits with an educational slant are catered for.)
Call 01647 221259 or email email@example.com Did you know? Poet Rupert Brooke and writer Virginia Woolf both stayed at Becky Falls. www.beckyfalls.com
Cream Tea at the Castle
It’s good to make time for the finer things in life, and a cream tea in the sumptuous surroundings of Dartmoor’s Bovey Castle will really tick that box. This grand hotel which is set in a country estate with an 18-hole golf course, outdoor pursuits centre, and top-notch spa, recently underwent a £2million transformation including a renovation of the entire ground floor creating smart restaurants and public rooms with sumptuous decoration and furnishings which you will be able to experience for yourself as you enjoy your choice of tea with freshly baked scones, jam and clotted cream as you take in the sweeping views of the National Park beyond. www.boveycastle.com
You don’t have to be into horses to be charmed by the cheeky little ponies at the Miniature Pony Centre. It is the perfect place to stop for a cup of tea or light lunch on route to the moors. A café overlooks a large paddock containing Joanna Ginsberg’s herd of friendly small ponies and you can simply watch them graze and play. Elsewhere on the farm, you can meet miniature donkeys, goats, sheep, Kunekune pigs, ducks and chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs – and skinny pigs, their hairless cousins! And, not for the fainthearted, there are African Land Snails and Giant Millipedes too – no doubt fascinating for children who can also enjoy six play areas including trampolines and zipwires!
The centre organises displays and informative talks and there’s a large room that’s ideal for group use. For groups of 15 or more, the entrance fee is £6 and there are discounts for educational groups too.
Open until the end of October. For more information call 01647 432400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.miniatureponycentre.com
Steam Train Excursions
You can’t help but feel a buzz of excitement as a steam train pulls into the station. If you have the chance to travel in an observation car at the rear of the train, do it! On the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Boat Company it’s just a £2 extra to pay and well worth it for the thrill of the panoramic view it affords as you travel through the Devon countryside and along the coast.
We travelled from Paignton to Kingswear where we were able to step onto the passenger ferry to cross the river and explore Dartmouth with its pastel-coloured terrace houses and arty shops.
There is a vast range of options for travel and themed trips along with combinations of river and sea trips. For example, the award-winning Round Robin trip lasts two-and-a-half hours and visits the towns of Paignton, Dartmouth and Totnes travelling on a steam train, a boat up the river and a bus. Commentary is provided.
Groups of 20 or more get a 10 per cent discount and you can reserve your seats and travel together. Check out the website – you’ll be amazed by the options available.
Call 01803 555872 or email email@example.com www.dartmouthrailriver.co.uk
Devon’s Darling Donkeys
Who could resist the baleful eyes of a donkey? The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, is a successful well-established charity which has done a huge amount of good work for donkeys in the UK and abroad, and also for children through its Donkey Assisted Therapy scheme.
It’s a hugely popular venue for a good day out. Your visit will include plenty of the ‘ahhh’ factor with the chance to stroke friendly donkeys and the opportunity to walk through the charity’s gardens and grounds with views out to the coast – both highly therapeutic ways to spend a day. Talking of spending, because entry to the site is free, anything you spend while you are there will help pay for the care and welfare of donkeys.
Enjoy breakfast, lunch or a cream tea in the Hayloft Restaurant where groups of 20 or more are offered a discount, or grab a snack at the Takeaway Hut.
The Sanctuary is open 365 days of the year. Call 01935 578222 www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk
Best Western Passage House Hotel, Kingsteignton, Newton Abbot.
The hotel has a picturesque outlook over the Teign estuary. First impressions are of a bright, airy newly refurbished hotel. There is a spacious lobby which opens out into a bar area with sofas, a dining area beside picture windows overlooking the water, and to the right the dining room.
I was impressed by the attractive swimming pool, with a sauna and steam room, and a small, but well equipped gym, all free for use by guests (8am to 5pm). There’s also a mini spa, perfect for a revitalizing facial or manicure!
The Swan room, my bedroom for the night, appropriately had a pair of towels shaped into swans beak to beak on the bed. A nice touch. The bathroom seemed to be brand new and I liked the fact the light went on and off automatically.
The room was decorated in a boutique-hotel style with a generously sized drawers and a wardrobe containing a full-sized ironing board, an iron, a fan and bathrobes! A sliding door led out onto a patio with table and two chairs overlooking the river – ideal for a spot of early morning birdwatching!
The restaurant’s evening menu had plenty of choice and included a set price option. Breakfast was taken in the sunshine looking out on the estuary – very relaxing.
This hotel also offers lodge accommodation and has its own 17th century inn, perfect for after dinner drinks or a more informal meal. It has conference facilities and ample space for parking.
Passage House Hotel has three stars and bronze Green Tourism award.
Best Western’s groups advisors will be able to help if you are booking accommodation for 12 or more. Ask about special offers and free place deals. Call 0844 387 6400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Group rates start from £38pp bed and breakfast and £54pp dinner, bed and breakfast. (There is a single supplement of £15pp.)
Derwent Hotel, Torquay
The hotel lobby had quite a buzz to it as we walked in as guests were gathering to go into the dining room. The receptionist welcomed us, giving directions to a range of facilities. With a smile she told us that one night was not enough to appreciate all of this venue’s attributes.
The hotel is on Belgrave Road, a short walk from the sea front, with its partner hotels beside and behind it. Together they form a resort with so much under one extended roof that guests probably don’t feel the need to be anywhere else.
Numerous facilities include a 25m indoor pool (which is the best above ground pool in the area), sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi, a fitness studio and 40-station gym and a spa. A huge four rink indoor bowls arena, entertainment room, and bar. There is a bistro and a shop, a laundrette, conference rooms and no less than four ballrooms!
This is the place to come if you and your group like to be active, especially if you share a passion for bowls or dancing. TLH is used by bowlers enjoying a break together or for tours. (The company has 20 years of experience in hosting and organising bowls breaks!)
Themed breaks include dinner, bed and breakfast, as well as evening entertainment such as live music, dancing and bingo.
Just as we didn’t have enough time to appreciate all that the hotel had to offer, the space on this page does not allow me the space to list all of the possible types of break available here. It’s worth having a look at the website or ordering a brochure!
My companion and I were welcomed by friendly waiting staff and sampled the three-course meal. Next morning we were shown to the same table and enjoyed a buffet breakfast with a huge choice from fresh fruit and yoghurt through to a full English! Our double bedrooms had ensuite shower rooms and were clean and comfortable.
TLH Derwent Hotel has two stars (companion hotels Carlton, Toorak and Victoria are three star).
Group discounts (for 20 plus) are available. Prices start from £35 a night including bed and breakfast. Call 01803 400500 or email email@example.com
Our thanks to Anne Blackham of The Devon Association of Tourist Attractions (DATA) for arranging the trip. Contact DATA for details of 40 places to visit in Devon. Call 07905 291567 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.lotstodo.co.uk