Holly Cave details stunning seaside resorts, theatres and touring shows, numerous harbourside attractions and historic heritage sites suitable for a group visit to the South West
These coming summer months are the perfect time to visit the South West of England. Home to some of Britain’s most beloved harbour towns, visit the area for famous films and the arresting Poldark, dine on the finest seafood from the UK’s top celebrity chefs and gamble in the arcades before reliving childhood delights by demolishing a clotted cream ice cream.
For waves crashing in spectacular style, head to the Cornish outcrops.
Porthleven is the most southerly port in England and high winds bring the sea up against the traditional fishing pier.
No matter what the weather, the local fishermen and surfers will be out and about to make the most of it. Arty St Ives has the prettiest traditional fishing harbour, edged by a golden beach. Forming the centre of the town, the harbour is surrounded by shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes along Wharf Road and Fore Street.
Smeaton’s Pier dates from the 1760s and is located on the harbour’s northern side. Midway along the harbour front is the Sloop Inn, which is said to be one of the county’s oldest public houses. It’s been the local haunt for fishermen since the 14th century.
Looe in the South East of the county is closer to the Devonshire border and is thus a little more sheltered. This working fishing port offers visitors the chance to pick up some fresh seafood before wandering along the river to the seven-arched Victorian Bridge of West Looe.
The Banjo Pier – aptly named after its shape – was the first of its kind in the world and makes a lovely tourist attraction on the surrounds of the sandy beach. Things get a little bit livelier in Devon, where the English Riviera looks out upon the sea. Torquay and Paignton piers enjoy the calm waters of Torbay’s wide, natural harbour and are both the focal point for the town’s cafes, shops, restaurants and nightlife. Paignton Pier has been standing since 1879 and still supports a wide range of arcades, games, food stalls and rides. In Somerset, Weston-Super-Mare’s Grand Pier is a modernised, spacious attraction.
It is home to Britain’s smallest rollercoaster, a 4D cinema, a laser maze and delicious ice cream parlours. The new pavilion hosts concerts and performances year-round and the pier is dotted with many cafes and entertainment venues.
Note that you’ll need to pay £1 per person to enter.
SEASIDE THEATRE SHOWS
Torquay’s Princess Theatre hosts some of the best touring shows.
Its doors have been open since 1961 and there are few venues from which you’ll get such a spectacular view with your halftime glass of wine. Theatre tribute bands and ex-West End productions are popular here but there’s a huge variety of shows available, from internationally famous comedians to locally produced plays and orchestral performances.
For a more unusual venue, Cornwall’s open-air Minack Theatre is the kind of place you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. Its 750 seats are carved from the granite cliff, amidst gorgeous gardens overlooking Porthcurno Bay. Performances are held throughout the summer months, from May until September. 2015’s varied assortment of shows includes Carousel, Carmen and King Lear. The Rowena Cade Visitor Centre tells the story of the Victorian woman who built the theatre. Concessions are available for groups numbering more than 10.
In North Devon, Ilfracombe’s award-winning Landmark Theatre is also distinctively different. The double cones of this modern complex are often referred to as “Madonna’s bra.”
The small theatre also has a lovely café bar with a sea-facing terrace, which is open all day. During the daytime, explore the Exmoor Heritage Coast to the east of town or relax on the expanse of sand at Woolacombe to the west.
In Cornwall, the charming environs of Padstow’s harbour make the perfect area to while away a summer afternoon. Being a working fishing port means that there’s always some comings and goings, but the harbour is lined with arts and crafts boutiques and amazing restaurants, including Rick Stein’s famous eatery. Daily boat trips show off the local coastline from a different point of view. On the county’s South Coast, two of the loveliest harbours include Mousehole Harbour and St Austell’s Charlestown Harbour. Mousehole’s tiny harbour sits within Cornwall’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is straight out of a postcard.
The network of narrow streets and passages are home to a surprising number of galleries, cafes and shops.
Charlestown Harbour was built in the 1700s and remains a Grade II listed structure, with its waters often graced by tall ships that lend a historical air. Its location on the edge of the town makes it a popular film set and it has featured in Alice in Wonderland, The Three Musketeers, Doctor Who and Apocalypto, amongst others. More recently the BBC series Poldark has been filmed here. There are pebbly beaches either side of the harbour and a range of gift shops, galleries, cafes and pubs close by. The Shipwreck and Heritage Centre is a great place to spend a couple of hours exploring the indoor and outdoor exhibits. Contact the site in advance to arrange discounted group rates. Just over the border into Somerset lies Minehead and Porlock Weir.
Minehead is a fabulous spot for a traditional seaside break. There’s a long, flat sandy beach, a bustling promenade, park and putting green. Pleasure cruises sometimes depart from the harbour on the magnificent paddle steamer Waverley – the last sea-going craft of its kind in the world.
A 15-minute drive away is the Exmoor town of Porlock Weir. Cottages and shops sit around a little harbour, which is often filled with flotillas of yachts during the summer. Walk a section of the Coastal Path westwards to discover Britain’s smallest parish church, Culbone Church and the ruins of the Ashley Combe Estate. Further up the Bristol Channel, Portishead Quay Marina is minutes by road into the city of Bristol. It’s popular with sailors and tourists thanks to the excellent facilities. The waterside development of Port Marine boasts bars, restaurants and coffee houses with views over the variety of fluttering white sails. Inland from the harbour, the Victorian high street has lots of shopping opportunities and more places to eat and drink.
HISTORIC & HERITAGE SITES
Castles abound in the South West, many gazing triumphantly out over the surrounding waters.
In Cornwall, seaside must-sees include Tintagel Castle, St Mawes Castle and the iconic St Michael’s Mount. Elsewhere in the county, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall stands tall in Falmou
th with five floors of exhibits illustrating the past, present and future of Britain’s maritime heritage.
Achieving many accolades, the attraction has won the Telegraph ‘Family Friendly Museum’ Award 2014, was silver winner of UK ‘Heritage Attraction of the Year’ at the British Travel Awards 2014 and ‘Best Museum’ at the Cornwall Today Awards 2014.
Groups of 10 plus receive discounted, fast track entry along with free entrance for the tour leader and coach driver. A Group Booking Manager can help you plan your trip, which could include specialised tours and a ferry ride. Six miles south of Exeter – just a short drive from the coast – lies the grand Powderham Castle, the family home of the Earl of Devon. Visitors can admire the sweeping Georgian staircase and the 18th century music room. The original Victorian Kitchen is available for visitors who wish to glimpse at life below stairs in the Earl’s household and appreciate how the 19th century kitchen would have been run. Discounted rates are offered for groups of 15 or more.
The entry fee of £9 per person includes a guided tour that takes around an hour, but you could easily spend half a day here. You can also pre-book a Deer Park Safari to acquire a better view of the 650 fallow deer and other wildlife inhabiting the Estate. There’s plenty of free parking available for cars and coaches and groups can be catered for in the licensed Courtenay Café, which seats 25 with additional seating in the Coach House for a further 25.
South Devon’s Buckfast Abbey is well known for its carefully bred honeybees and tonic wine.
The community of monks still living and working here welcomes visitors throughout the year. The beautiful church and gardens make for a relaxing stroll and produce from the monastery can be purchased in the gift shop.
On the other side of the Bristol Channel in Gloucestershire, both Caldicott Castle and Chepstow Castle are well worth a visit. The Norman beginnings of Caldicott Castle are sometimes hard to spot amongst the hodgepodge of towers, turrets and buildings added more recently, all set in what is now a country park.
Chepstow Castle has held its cliff top position above the River Wye since the 11th century.■
DISCOVER THE SOUTH WEST AT THE NATIONAL TRUST ENGLISH RIVIERA
With famous connections, Art Deco elegance, gardens to explore and views to soak up, Greenway and Coleton Fishacre are two group-friendly destinations not to be missed. Agatha Christie’s beloved holiday home, Greenway, is a place of pilgrimage for fans of the Queen of Crime. The glorious woodland gardens overlook the River Dart and come complete with a Boat House and Battery. The Georgian house is filled with a combination of Agatha and her family’s collections. Travelling to Greenway is an experience; you can come by ferry, steam train, vintage bus or midi coach. Step back in time to the Jazz Age at Coleton Fishacre, the Arts and Crafts country home of the D’Oyly Carte family, nestled in a coastal valley boasting breathtaking views. The exotic RHS accredited garden is full of variety and year-round interest, and the beautiful Art Deco interiors of the house are light and full of character. Both Greenway and Coleton Fishacre are open daily from February to November. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/greenway and nationaltrust.org.uk/coleton-fishacre for more information. Group benefits include free parking, free entry for group leaders and drivers, free tea/ coffee for drivers, special group rates and a dedicated group administrator to assist with your booking.
Group visits must be arranged in advance. To book call 01803 842 382 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.