One the UKs greatest tourism hotspots, the south west of England is a perfect location for a group tour. The counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset all see tourism as one of their primary exports, so there is plenty to see and do for visitors of all ages.
ON THE APPROACH
On the way to the south western counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, there are plenty of attractions which may be worth a look as you’re passing by.
Completed in 1258, the Anglican Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest church spire in the UK, making it quite an impressive sight to behold. It is home to the best preserved of only four original documents from the Magna Carta, signed in 1215. The cathedral is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta next year with a number of events. More details will be published as the year approaches. The cathedral will re-display and re-present its Magna Carta in the newly conserved Chapter House, safeguarding the document for the future and using the latest interpretation techniques to communicate its historical significance to those visiting. The cathedral offers a range of options for day visits from groups of 10 or more, able to arrange bespoke tours and packages. There are also a number of catering packages available.
Based in Fareham, Dorset, Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre assists governments around the world to stop the smuggling of primates from the wild. The sanctuary is home to a number of animals, including chimpanzees, orang-utans, lemurs and spider monkeys. Guided tours of the sanctuary last approximated 75 minutes and are booked exclusively per group. The tours are suitable for groups of various sizes, costing £35 for five, £60 for six to nine and £75 for groups of 10 to 15. School tours cost £40 for groups of up to 30 children.
Poole Pottery has rich heritage as a centre of excellence for the most skilled craftsman and artisans dating back 140 years. Groups can visit the working studio, watch free demonstrations and find out how the pottery is made. The site offers a paint a pot area, where visitors can choose from a selection of pieces to paint themselves. Discounted rates are offered for groups of 10 or more.
The American Museum, at Claverton Manor near Bath, takes visitors on a journey through the history of America, from early settlers to the 20th century. The museum offers free admission for group organisers, free coach parking, admission and refreshments for the driver and introduction by a member of staff. Standard group visit rates are £7.00 per person for a minimum of 15 people.
Areas of Somerset might have been hit hard by the past winter’s atrocious weather, but the area is still very much open for business. There is plenty to see and do in the area to warrant staying for several days.
The seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare is an excellent resort to use as a base in Somerset. The town features a number of attractions, including a large sandy beach, the Helicopter Museum, the SeaQuarium and the season Wheel of Weston. The town’s most famous attraction is the Grand Pier, which has been fully restored since it was devastated by a fire in 2008. The pier includes a number of rides and attractions, dining, a rich events diary and offers private hire and even weddings. For school groups, it also offers a range of educational visits linked to the natural curriculum with a convenient pick-up and drop-off point at the entrance. Weston has a good choice of hotels which frequently see visits from coach groups. A good option on the sea front is Smiths Hotel, which is currently having a number of its rooms refurbished. Another option is the Anchor Head Hotel coach holidays guesthouse, which is located close to the seafront towards the north of the town, with a small beach and promenade walk situuated directly in front of the hotel.
Another great option for a tour base is Minehead, another vibrant coastal destination. Nearby attractions include the Conygar Tower at Dunster, a grade II listed building standing on top of a hill overlooking the nearby village, as well as Exmoor, which is just over the border into Devon. The town itself offers a number of activities for all ages, including a steam railway, walking tracks, horse riding, extreme sports and cycling.
Devon is a large county most famous for its moorland and countryside. A great outdoors experience. this is the country where you will be wanting to spend most of your time.
Dartmoor National Park’s 368 square miles of moorland is right at the heart of Devon.
The location has great appeal for hikers in particular, though there are plenty of alternative activities. In January 2012, Spielberg blockbuster Warhorse was released, which had used Dartmoor for its stunning light and landscape. Guided walks of the areas of Dartmoor shown in the film are offered on specific days, though they last for three hours and are not very suitable for visitors with mobility issues.
Call the High Moorland Visitor Centre on 01822 890414 for more information on future walks. If walking isn’t for you, you may instead be interested in the Tavistock Farmers Market, which takes place on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Everything on sale is produced within the local area and all the stallholders are the farmers, growers or producers themselves.
Dartmouth Railway is celebrating its 150th anniversary on August 16 this year. More details on the special event being held to commemorate are due to be announced in the coming weeks. The Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company, as its name aptly suggests, offers both river and sea cruises along the river Dart and across the English Riviera, as well as steam train travel. Dedicated group organisers are on hand to help plan and book group visits. Special rates are available with options to visit both during the day and in the evening.
At the edge of the south west mainland, Cornwall is one the UK’s best tourist destinations, offering an enormous number of excellent destinations. There are a plethora of options for a day trip, far too many to cover, so here are some of my personal favourites.
CHAPEL PORTH BEACH
On the North Cornwall coast near St Agnes, Chapel Porth Beach is easily my favourite beach in the county. This is because it varies so dramatically depending on where the tide is during your visit. Located in a mining valley, at high tide the location is a cramped narrow stone and shingle beach between two cliffs. However, as the tide goes out further, visitors can move freely around the cliffs facing the sea, revealing a number of large caves to explore. The sand stretches out for miles, from St Agnes Head to Lushingtons at the far end of Porthtowan Beach.
Chapel Porth Beach is completely exposed to the Atlantic, meaning it takes the full force of the weather. This makes it a great place to go surfing or body boarding, but also means there is a real danger of being cut off by the incoming tide. When the tide is rising, don’t leave it too late to return to the valley. The beach is quite secluded, meaning it’s impossible to reach it in a vehicle larger than a minibus, but it does have its own Café, a number of nearby footpaths and is a wonderful location to spend an entire day.
To make the most of it, time your visit so you arrive as the tide is just starting to go out. This lets you take advantage of the expansive low-tide sand and the high waves as the tide returns.
The Eden Project is one of Cornwall’s most famous attractions. The large artificial biomes, hidden away from view in a former clay pit, house a number of plants collected from around the world.
New for 2014 are introductory talks for groups, where visitors can learn how the site was transformed. The 20-minute talk provides invaluable insight into the history of the project. The talk requires a minimum group size of 15. Groups also have access to pre-booked guided tours. Each tour lasts one hour and covers one area of the project. The tour costs £55 for a group of up to 25, and £110 for a group of up to 55. Groups of 10 or more receive discounted entry. The discount offered is better for those arriving by coach or minibus instead of by car, and stands at £14 per adult, £5.25 per child and £10.25 for students or seniors. Free entry is offered to one driver per coach, who is also given a £10 complimentary catering voucher, one group organiser, tour escort or Blue Badge Guide per coach, who receives a £5 voucher if the group numbers 25 or more, children under five years old and for an essential carer per visitor with a disability. ‘Eden Friends’ or annual passholders are also admitted free. No deposit is necessary – full payment is taken on the day. The site also offers free coach parking and a dedicated drop-off point, along with a free coach wash.
Located about eight miles west-southwest of Penzance and famous as the most westerly part of the UK mainland, Land’s End has beautiful scenery and a number of facilities which make it a great day out. As well as the clear views of the Atlantic Ocean and the area’s geographical significance, there are several attractions to help fill out the day. This includes the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 4D cinema show, The End to End exhibition and the Greeb Farm Park and Small Animal Centre. A new attraction is the Arthur’s Quest interactive experience, based on the legend of King Arthur. All of these attractions are suitable for visitors of all ages. The area also boasts the West Country Shopping Village, a charming retail haven, as well as the Land’s End Restaurant and plenty of other options for food and refreshments. The location offers excellent facilities for groups, including free coach parking and drop-off points, free admission to attractions and meals for drivers, special menus and bookings at the Land’s End restaurant and custom packages including lunch or homemade Cornish cream tea.
Considered to be the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur, Tintagel is a magical day out. For those wishing to delve deeper into the Arthorian lore, King Arthur’s Great Halls is the only indoor attraction in the world dedicated to the legendary folklore. A lightshow narrated by Robert Powell tells the story of the king and his knights. There is also an opportunity to see the round table and granite throne. The biggest attraction in the village is Tintagel Castle, a breath-taking ruin with a history stretching back to Roman times, situated on a rocky outcrop on the rugged north Cornwall coast. As well as stunning sea views, the castle has a great events programme featuring fighting knights and storytelling. A 15% discount is offered to groups of 11 or more. Free entry is provided for the coach driver and tour leader, but the closest parking is a nine-space coach park in Tintagel Village 600 metres away from the ruin itself, which is something to consider as access to the castle involves following some pretty steep streets. Elsewhere in the village are a number of gift shops following the King Arthur theme and plenty of excellent cafes and restaurants to choose from.