Winter in the West Country

Winter in the West Country

But what about winter and those prolonged but less well defined periods which are neither clearly summer nor winter and which cynics might claim prevail for most of the time? How does the West Country shape up as an all the year round holiday destination?

The perceived downside is that visitor attractions will be closed. This is only partially true. Whilst many do follow the lead of the National Trust in closing from the end of October to Easter, others are increasingly more enterprising in opening during the winter but in some cases only at weekends. And the wonderful scenery is still there – the coves, the beaches, the headlands, the moors, the ports, the villages, arguably often more attractive highlighted against a winter sky and without the hordes of summer visitors. Nothing destroys the mystic wonder of an ancient monument more effectively than a dense crowd – just think of Stonehenge!

The other principal downside is, inevitably, the weather. Allowance has to be made for colder conditions but the West Country is renowned for its mild winters, with sub-tropical vegetation in Torquay and other resorts, coconut palms at Glendurgan Garden and the abundance of fuschias by the sides of many Devon lanes. The shorter hours of daylight reduce the potential for longer distance touring but all three HPB properties have abundant attractive destinations at comparatively short range and also excellent indoor facilities to occupy the hours of darkness. To relax and ‘unwind’ is a great therapy for those who lead busy lives!

Compared with Devon and Cornwall, Dorset is perhaps an underrated holiday destination. HPB’s Langton House lies at one end of this lovely county, very close to Swanage, Corfe Castle and the Purbeck Hills. A range of attractive coastline and towns large and small is within comfortable reach and a variety of inns and restaurants should cater for all tastes.

Within easy touring distance a long stretch of the fine Dorset coast – the ‘Jurassic Coast’ – beckons. . St. Adhelm’s (or Alban’s) Head, with the tiny primitive Norman Chapel of St. Aldhelm, standing lonely on the headland and the magnificent Lulworth Cove with its Heritage Centre, are two particular highlights. Close to the Cove, Lulworth Castle, a 17th century former hunting lodge, has an adventure play area and pre-Christmas festivities for children.

Think again and wild high moors with windswept tors, mysterious circles and standing stones come to mind, with wonderful opportunities for exhilarating walks and excursions all from HPB’s West Country locations – Langton House in the Isle of Purbeck, Lower Knapp Farm in South Devon and Duloe Manor, near Looe in Cornwall.

Closer to home, we are fortunate to have Corfe Castle and its village, guarding the obvious route through a gap in the Purbeck Hills. There is winter opening of the National Trust-owned Castle whilst the model village and garden is open at weekends.

Moving to the south-east of Devon, visitors to HPB’s Lower Knapp Farm need never be short of interesting activities. Once again the coast beckons, with nearby Sidmouth retaining much of the charm of a discreet Victorian seaside resort. Crossing the frontier into Dorset, delectable Lyme Regis, famed for Jane Austen, Mary Anning and the ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’, is within easy reach. Even closer to Sidmouth is Branscombe, where the National Trust-owned Old Bakery and Forge is a perennial favourite.

The fringe of Dartmoor also has much to offer. At Buckfastleigh, the Abbey is an early 20th century rebuild of an ancient foundation, open daily to visitors, whilst the adjacent steam-operated South Devon Railway has pre-Christmas, New Year and half term timetables.

The south of Cornwall is truly an all seasons area. From HPB’s Duloe Manor a short drive reaches delightful Looe, with fishing harbour, craft shops, bakeries and cafes.

From Looe a section of the coast path leads to picture-postcard Polperro in about four miles, a lovely walk. Further along the coast the popular little estuarial resort and port of Fowey is no more than five or six miles from the colossal Eden Project, in former china clay country. This complex is very much more than an oversized garden, largely undercover, with a range of special events throughout the year, including some for children. Everything is on a huge scale; noteworthy is the significant discount on ticket prices for walkers and cyclists. Staying with the garden theme, those prepared for a longer drive can reach the Lost Gardens of Heligan at Pentewan, four miles south of St. Austell. The fascinating story of the discovery and re-creation of these gardens adds to the enjoyment of yet another attraction which closes only on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

From this necessarily abbreviated summary it is clear that finding interesting winter activities is not a problem. Indeed, it could be argued that a week’s stay at any of the HPB properties in the West Country will hardly do justice to the opportunities, particularly those events taking place at pre-Christmas weekends. So… book for a fortnight!

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