I must say that I have always had a soft spot for the West Country and in particular the counties of Devon and Cornwall – I’m sure many of you will share my affections. I’m also very lucky that I live so close to these two outstandingly beautiful and diverse counties, meaning I can dip ‘in’ and ‘out’ and enjoy what they have to offer as often as I want.
The geography and scenery is so diverse in this region that, no matter how many times you return, you will always find something different to see and do. In fact if you are planning a trip to this part of the country where do you start?
The simple answer is: it depends on what you want to see and do, and also how energetic you are feeling. From fantastic cliff top walks, to cycling across the national parks, from touring many of the award winning houses and gardens, to sitting on a lovely stretch of sandy beach. From walking around the many seaside towns and harbours, to visiting sites of outstanding natural beauty and the scenes of many of those programmes you have seen on television. this area really does have it all. And it’s probably the reason that draws people back year after year.
If you are unsure where to go, but want to experience as much as you can then why not consider an escorted coach tour. there are plenty of them out there and they are really a very good way of getting a feel for an area. Everything is organised, you don’t have to drive, you are in the hands of an experienced driver who knows where he is going and your itinerary is planned and your excursions are included. What’s more all you have to do is turn up with your luggage and sit back and relax – and you will find that you are with like-minded people – so there is a social aspect as well – you never know you may even make new friends!
And so it was off on a taster tour of some of the best that Devon and Cornwall has to offer with the first stop being the lovely south Cornwall town of Looe. I must confess, in all my years of going to Cornwall, I had never had the pleasure of visiting Looe, and what a delight it is. The town sits right on the river estuary and it’s a lovely place to wander around, or sit and watch the world go by.
It is also very much still a working fishing port, and you can see the trawlers unload their catch on the quay daily. You’ll know when they are arriving from the calls of the seagulls.
From Looe it was then about an hour’s drive to our first stop: The Eden Project, that massive former china clay pit which has now been transformed into a visitor attraction.
You will all be familiar with the images of Eden’s iconic biomes, which house the largest rainforest under glass in the Rainforest Biome. Walking through here you can feel the warmth and the humidity as you experience livng in what some refer to as the Earth’s lungs.
Contrast this with the Mediterranean Biome, which is so full of scent and fabulous colour you crave to be in a fragrant Mediterranean destination. And there are many outdoor gardens to explore too. It’s a great day out and well worth a visit.
Lost in Cornwall
It was then on to Eden Project’s creator, Tim Smit’s restoration project – the iconic Lost Gardens of Heligan. So named, not because they were ‘found’ and ‘restored’ in the latter part of the 20th Century, but because of their history and association with the First World War.
The story goes that Tim Smit, along with his builder, John Nelson were fighting their way through the overgrown and out of control gardens when they stumbled across a ruined cubicle of gardeners’ toilets.
On the walls of these toilets were the pencilled signatures of past staff; the so called ‘gardeners’. Below them a date was inscribed – August 1914. These men went to war to serve their country and many of them never returned. This is now designated as a living war memorial in their memory. A visit to Heligan is highly recommended, it’s a fascinating and beautiful place!
Day two of our tour was devoted to Devon, and in particular Dartmoor, the largest open space in southern England. Dartmoor is famous, amongst other things, for its ponies and its prison, but it is also the source of many rivers that flow through the county. One of these is the River Dart, taking its name from the moor itself. At only 20 miles in length it’s not the longest of rivers, but it’s certainly one of the prettiest.
A great way to see the river is to travel on the South Devon Railway – a heritage railway that departs from Buckfastleigh and follows the river valley for approximately seven miles to Totnes.
Predominantly pulled by steam locomotives, it’s a great way to enjoy the scenery while indulging in a bit of old fashioned nostalgia.
A drive across the moor is also a must. the beauty of doing this by coach is your elevation is much higher than in a car, so you can see more.
And, because you are not driving, you can take in the scenery around you. Dartmoor really is a wild and beautiful place. It can be quite forbidding at times, but when the weather gives you a lovely sunny day then it is a sight to behold.
Our final destination was Exmouth, and a cruise along the mouth of the River Exe with Exmouth on one side and Dawlish Warren on the other. The Exe was the river responsible for fuelling the growth of Devon’s County town in medieval times, although nowadays it’s mainly pleasure seekers or fishermen who populate it.
The river is quite shallow, and at low tides extensive sand and mud flats are exposed, which are a haven for wildlife. Many birds can be seen there throughout the year.
And all of this without the need or the stress of driving yourself, or finding somewhere to park, or planning when and where to go.
Coaching holidays are now big business, but they are also good value for money. They are a great way to see an area yet travel in style and comfort. If you’ve never been on one give it a try – you never know, you might get hooked!
Both Devon and Cornwall are popular destinations for coach tour operators. to find out a coach operator near you and what holidays they have to offer then log on to www.findacoachholiday.co.uk
I stayed at the Portbyhan Hotel in West Looe which has spectacular views over the river estuary and is owned and operated Edwards Coaches – see www.portbyhan.com