Devon Green Tourism Business Network – Wildlife for Economic Gain

Holding forth! Photo: copyright Su Beswick
[Maggie] On 22nd we had 35 people from some of Devon’s greenest tourism businesses here at Wheatland Farm…

Holding forth! Photo: copyright Su Beswick… it was a meeting for the Devon Green Tourism Buisness Network. The topic was wildlife for economic gain, with presentations on the upcoming Wild about Devon project, how a nature trail can add value to a business, and our own case study – asking visitors to choose us for their self catering ‘eco’ holiday because we run the whole farm for wildlife.

Speaking in front of a crowd isn’t one of my natural strengths, so the best bit for me was taking people on a walk and chatting about dormouse boxes, minimizing the mowing, greening the lodges, sowing yellow rattle so as to encourage the wildflowers, creating new habitats and laying hedges etc, ending up in the nature reserve, which is always my favourite place to be.

Fiona’s Farm Fayre – the shop from the farm that also loans us the cows to graze our nature reserve – did a lovely lunch with far too many cakes…(great!). The village hall loaned us chairs for free (because we’re helping fund raise for them by hosting a hedge laying demo – more later) and we gathered all the cups in the house and the mismatched crocks saved from when the lodges need new plates. It was a squeeze, but we rarely use that big room for anything else so there wasn’t much furniture to push aside…

It was lovely meeting like minded people from other parts of Devon and sharing encouragement!

The Devon Green Tourism Busines Network was set up by Devon County Council to support sustainable tourism businesses. It provides a forum for the 165 Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) accredited members in the County.

DIY solar air heater

painting the heat sink We’re experimenting with a solar air heater made from an old sun bed and some secondary glazing. OK, so it won’t do away with all our heating bills, but it could help in spring and autumn when it’s sunny but still chilly inside.

painting the heat sink We saw a commercial version of this earlier in the year at a eco-building event – but the price was high, around £1500 for a small unit.

Yet in principle the thing is so simple. You have a heat sink behind glass, an air intake at the bottom, and air out take at the top, and a solar powered computer fan to drive the circulation when it’s sunny.

Apparently they’ve been used for a while in Germany, often to air heat caravans or holiday homes that aren’t in frequent use.

So when Ian spotted the bulb-holding section of an old tanning bed down at the dump, he couldn’t resist. And when my parents had their house double glazed, I nabbed some of the old secondary glazing they had been using.

Ian has painted the corrugated metal of the tanning bed black and fitted the glass on the front. A vent at the bottom lets air in – and warmer air rises out of the top. We still need to find a fan – back down to the dump probably – and decide where it’s going to go. To heat a house of course you need to ‘plumb it in’ and that means holes through windows or doors, which isn’t something to do without thought. We might test it on the garage first! We’ll report back later.

Ian's solar air heater Meanwhile, a little web research throws up some similar designs:

More here about how to make a solar air heater from drink cans.

On the fantastic Instructables site there’s another design for a solar garage heater that circulates air from inside the garage through an external wall mounted heater (using metal fly screen, not beer cans)and back into the building.

Or if you just want something simpler to amuse yourself (or a science project for the kids) look at this page for a solar heater made from drinks cans that is hung in a window.

Castle Drogo

Castle Drogo Castle Drogo was originally built for self-made retail millionaire Julius Drewe.

Designed between 1910 and 1913, it took 20 years to build. Sadly, Drewe died, aged 76, a year after it was completed. The family gifted the house and grounds to the National Trust in 1974. It was the first 20th Century property they took on.

Drogo was special because the Edwardian building was designed by Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens was arguably Britain’s greatest 20th century architect. It’s a thoroughly modern castle he designed here – no dungeons! Yet it’s an awe-inspiring piece of design, with touches like interior courtyards to give natural light and internal windows build to suggest an older rambling building that has been built onto. I think my favourite room was the switch room, with all the old fashioned wiring. The wooden fittings in the kitchen, in use up to the 1960s, reminded me of my grandmothers’ house, though hers was somewhat less grand…

The formal garden is one of the highest in England – Drogo is so high that although a fig tree cloaks one of the castle walls, its fruits don’t ripen.
But there are plenty of flowers in the borders,and you can play croquet on the enormous circular croquet lawn (hire equipment from the visitor centre – June to September).

But if other people’s grand houses are not your thing, exploring the grounds may be. Drogo is perched high up on the northern fringe of Dartmoor, overlooking the Teign Valley. You can hike down to the river, maybe even walk to popular Fingle Bridge if you’re feeling energetic. The visitor centre sells leaflets with details of walks if you don’t trust our own nose. You can’t take your dog into the house or the formal gardens, but elsewhere dogs on leads are welcome.

The Trust, of course, has a cafe as well as a shop on site. There are often optional extras such as tours of the roof or boiler rooms (and an explanation of how Castle Drogo is hoping to go carbon neutral) or seasonal trails for children. The house sometimes has a cast of actors explaining what life was like in this Dartmoor mansion.

Winter opening: Castle Drogo grounds and tea room(but not the house) are open at weekends in January and February, and on extra days (sometimes including the house) around the Christmas break

Summer opening: from mid March to the beginning of November Castle Drogo is open most days.

Castle Drogo is about 17 miles from our Devon eco lodges and cottage.

Checking dormouse boxes in Devon

Jan Whittington checking dormouse boxes
[Maggie] I’m working towards my dormouse handling licence, so we can join the national monitoring scheme.
I’ve done the theory part of the course, now for the practical: checking boxes with experienced Devon dormouse expert Janice Whittington. I won’t say where exactly as this woodland, though private, is bordered by a bridlepath. Unfortunately, many of Jan’s boxes, put up a good few years ago, have now gone – presumably vandalised, so she is no longer adding more. But we did find two occupied nests, and also, rather sadly, a dead dormouse. No clues as to why it died, but Jan will send it for analysis…
hazel dormouse

A guided walk around our nature reserve for the U3A

Early autumn flowers on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest, Devon
[Maggie] On Friday I took a group from the Tiverton branch of the University of the Third Age around Popehouse Moor, our SSSI nature reserve.
Early autumn flowers on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest, DevonInitially there were going to be twelve people, which is about as many as we can take at a time, but the pouring rain of the early morning slimmed that down to five.

Yet the weather was kind – clearing up to a sunny morning.

We don’t charge for walks and always offer free guided walks to guests at our eco lodges and cottage, but we do ask for a donation, to be passed on to the Devon Wildlife Trust, for outside groups.

So a big thank you to the U3A group, whose whip round generated £35, which I know the Trust will put to good use.

If anyone else would like to arrange a walk, please feel free to get in touch. There’s something to be seen all year round – though May is probably the highlight for flowers.

Buying a reconditioned phone

Ian has bought a refurbished / reconditioned phone. The scroll buttons on his old one finally wore out and he could no-longer read more than the first couple of lines of a message. So we had to change it.

The good-as-new ERI 200i came from Dextra solutions, ordered online and delivered to the door for £22.51 all in.

Ian’s old phone will go for recycling too – once we’ve managed to get all the numbers off it!

DIY tips for installing solar panels

Last January we finished putting solar hot water panels on our Devon eco lodges. Lots of people have asked about them, so here are a few tips for other DIY-ers

The panels mean Honeysuckle Nuthatch and Beech Lodges all their hot water from solar panels (with immersion top up). Honeysuckle and Nuthatch Lodges have a single west facing panel each. Our large Beech Lodge has two – one on each of the east and west facing slopes. The control system (all part of the kit) chooses which is producing the hottest water and switches the pump to that panel on.

The shower in Beech Lodge is still electric, but this will be switched in autumn 09. We also plan solar panels for Otter Cottage [update – done now]. The delay, though not ideal, also means we’ll have more time to gather comparative data – so we should be able to report back later on the economics and pay back times.

Meanwhile, we’ve been really impressed with how good the panels are. We ended up doing the installation ourselves (well, Ian did it and Maggie made the tea). We were eligible for a grant from Renewable Energy for Devon (RE4D), but we would have had to use one of their recognised installers, and that pushed the price up much higher than the grant was worth – so we went DIY. So to spread the word, here’s some of what we’ve learnt. If you’ve got other questions, gives Ian a ring or email us at

Ian’s tips

Evacuated tube solar collectors are said to be the most efficient at converting solar energy to heat water. Navitron came top in my list of suppliers for their no-nonsense approach and competitive prices, so I went with their kits.

I bought the Solarkit1 comprising a 20 tube solar collector, a 175l thermal store (hot water tank), the TDC3 controller, an expansion tank, the circulation pump and extras such as the anti-freeze, the filling pump and some valves.

Extras you will need to buy: This amounts to more than you first think. It is essentially the copper pipes to connect up the water in and out, the solar circuit and the expansion tank. You also need drain valves, immersion heater element and a blank cover for the alternative immersion heater hole.

However, when you try and squeeze this into an airing cupboard in a way that allows you to then get the tank in and cater for the possibility of one day taking it out again, you find you need a lot of copper elbows, compression fittings, reducers from 22mm to 15mm and so on.

Plan it as best you can before starting or you will be up and down to the plumbers merchant (Screwfix is handy for next day delivery) throughout the job.

Getting started… I won’t repeat anything on the instructions – they are clear and easy to follow. These are just a few observations from my 3 installs that might make life easier.

When you get the Navitron kit (or any other)the most exciting part is the Solar collector or solar panel. By all means have a look at it, but remember that it is really the last thing to install and the easiest part.

So, out with the old and in with the new. The new is a ‘thermal store’ rather than a hot water tank. Basically, the tank is filled with water that stays in there. Cold water passes through a coil in the store and picks up heat from the tank, exiting as hot water. The 2 advantages of this are:

1 – you get mains pressure hot water
2 – the hot water from the taps never stands around in a tank, so there is no legionnaires risk. Mainly of relevance to us as a commercial establishment where steps have otherwise to be taken to avoid this problem.

With the airing cupboard empty I fitted the expansion vessel. This is needed because the fluid that runs around through the coil in the tank and up through the solar collector is pressurised. The pipe is the old hot water pipe that will be used again as it is already hooked up to taps round the lodge. All I need to do is fit it to the hot water outlet of the thermal store…

Assembling and fitting the solar collector :
1/ Do what you can on the ground. Make the frame up and be sure that it is square (measure the diagonals) before tightening up. It is important or the tubes will not lie straight and you will struggle to fit them at an angle – glass does not like being bent!
2/ Loosely fit all the jubilee clips to the bottom of the frame. Easier now than on the roof.
3/ Make sure all the rubber boots for the tubes have holes in the end. They often are not quite punched out in manufacturing, so poke a screwdriver through them or they will not slide onto the tubes properly. Wet the end of the tube to make it easier.
The frame is now ready to take up on the roof, and the tubes with boots on ready to be passed up.

Wind Turbine?

site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage Wind – when the wind blows…. we could be generating our own energy…

site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage We’re looking into a Gaia 11kw wind turbine for the big cow field. It’ll need planning permission of course – and wind. But the databases put us safely inside the ‘doable’ range of wind speeds. We reckon, very roughly, that we (and the business) use about 28,000 kWh a year, and that a 18m high (to the centre of the blades) turbine might produce about 31,000 kWh a year.

It wouldn’t get rid of our entire electricity bill though. Here’s how it works. You get paid 23p per kWh ‘feed in tarrif’ (from April 2010) whether or not you use the juice – but on a still day we’d still be drawing power from the National Grid, and paying for it.

At first I thought this meant there was no incentive for being frugal – just turn up the heating when it’s windy – which seemed a shame. But thinking about it, it would make us much more aware of our Energy use patterns, trying not to exceed our own generating capacity and therefore incurring a bill, especially as it’s not going to be windy all the time.

I know there are lots of voices against wind power, but we have to throw everything we’ve got at cutting our fossil energy use – renewables, energy efficiencey, maybe even nuclear though I hate the thought. Personally, I think they are very elegant, unlike pylons, which no-body ever seems to raise an eyebrow about.

I think David Attenborough had it right when he spoke at the public enquiry into a wind turbine for Glyndebourne opera house in Sussex last year: “there’s always a good reason for somebody else to do something else somewhere else.”

Well, we’ve had the full site survey (from Greenthinking, a Devon firm). Now we have to do the maths and think about taking the leap. It will be a big investment with an unknown pay-back time.

But I would love to have a wind turbine…

Himalayan Balsam bashing

Maggie has been Himalayan balsam bashing – not here though. Thankfully there’s none on the farm. But it’s in the nearby Halsdon Nature reserve, run by the Devon Wildlife Trust…

Today they had a volunteers’ day pulling the stuff up by the roots and loading it onto a tractor.

The trust have helped us a lot with advice about our culm grassland sssi, so we like to turn up and help them out sometimes too.

Himalayan Balsam is a pretty flower, also sometimes called ‘policeman’s helmet’ because of it’s shape. But it’s invasive and grows in vast stands over 6ft high that shade out everything else. It’s not native to Britain – it was introduced in 1839. It has explosive seeds that can shoot themselves up to 7m away, and it loves damp soil so it spreads along the banks of rivers.

Perhaps it’s saving grace is that it’s easy to pull up – it seems odd that such a giant plant can have such a feeble root system – but then if it falls over it just roots again from the leaf nodes.

So controlling it is an ongoing battle that has to be fought pretty much every year once the plant has got a foothold. Still, it was a beautiful day to be out there….

here are a few Himalayan Balsam links:

Winkleigh Primary School Visit

Today the reception class from Winkleigh Primary School came, on a combined visit to Higher Punchardon Farm.

I showed them around the lake and we looked for the ducklings, but unfortunately these were too shy… We talked about swallows, wildflowers, and guessed how long it took to fill the pond from empty (range of guesses 100-300 days, answer 6 last summer!)

Hopefully the children will come back again soon and explore more of our wildlife.

Energy saving switches for the lodge immersion heaters

We’ve fitted these energy saving switches in the lodges. They mean that if it’s cloudy and guests need to turn on the immersion heater for hot water they can chose how long to boost it for: 30 mins or up to 2 hours. But there’s no risk of leaving the power on accidentally when the sun comes back out as after the set time the power cuts off automatically.

Devon green tourism business network

Ian was invited to the start-up meeting of Devon’s Green Tourism Business Network, held at Paignton Zoo Today. He met plenty of interesting people from other green tourism organisations. The aim is for the network to encourage other (ultimately all) Devon businesses to go green. Watch this space….

Digging up the Spanish bluebells

Digging up Spanish bluebells at our holiday cottage and eco lodges
Maggie has been digging up the Spanish bluebells from our garden again, so they don’t hybridise with the true British native flower in Popehouse Moor SSSI…
Digging up Spanish bluebells at our holiday cottage and eco lodges
Sadly, the Spanish flower is threatening our own more delicate emblem of spring across the country. Unlike the native species, the Spanish bluebell grows fast – one has even seeded itself and bloomed in a neglected flowerpot. So the digging will probably have to go on for a few years yet…

Recycled water butts

Our latest water butts – recycled mango chutney drums bought through the country store in Okehampton for a tenner…

So not just recycled but also far better value than a garden centre buy. And that’s a recycled tap on the bottom, from when we replaced a bath in one of the lodges. We did have to buy the downpipe kit – that came from the ‘everything’ shop on Winkleigh’s old airfield.

We’ve got several now – including this one near the biodigesters on the gravel – for washing off wellies and dogs!

Walking near Meldon Reservoir, North Dartmoor

Dartmoor view near Meldon You can get a good taste of Dartmoor around Meldon Reservoir, yet choose how adventurous you want to be. Walk around the reservoir, head for the High Willhayes (the highest point in southern England), walk down to the viaduct or explore the geology of the valley.

The area around Meldon is a SSSI. There’s a hazel wood with bluebells in spring (and a good population of dormice) just north of the Meldon Viaduct.

Here’s a link to a circular walk from Okehampton to Meldon and back.

Meldon Viaduct now carries the Granite Way cyclepath (going from Okehampton to near Lydford).

Anglers can fish for brown trout during the season. It’s free, but you need an Environment Agency rod licence for anyone over 12.

Meldon Reservoir is about 17 miles from our Devon cottage and eco lodges. There’s a car park, which has public loos.

But watch out – Dartmoor can go to your head.
The Meldon monster?

Bold Try riding stables

Bold Try Riding Stables, ChulmleighJust a few miles from our cottage and ecolodges you’ll find Bold Try stables, on the outskirts of Chulmleigh.

Whether you’re a learner like Holly here or a experienced rider, they’ll look after you well. They’re cheaper than stables on Dartmoor and know lots of local rides. Some of our guests have come back specifically to ride here again. Telephone 01769 580366.

Bold Try Stables
Leigh Road
EX18 7JW

Kayaking on the Torridge, at Bideford

Kayaking on the Torridge near Wheatland Farm Eco LodgesTry kayaking on the River Torridge at Bideford. You can hire sturdy kayaks suitable for beginners from Bideford Bicycle Hire and enjoy this part of North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve from a completely different perspective.

Paddle yourself beneath Bideford’s famous Long Bridge or head up stream past saltmarsh and reedbeds towards the iron bridge at Landcross to see this part of North Devon from a ‘Tarka the otter’ viewpoint!

This is a day out you can do without the car – take the 315 bus from Winkleigh to Bideford (enjoy the fabulous views from the top of the double decker) and get off at the Quay.

You can also combine kayaking with walking or cycling on the Tarka Trail – see our post on the trail from Puffing Billy to Bideford.

If you need refreshment, there’s a cafe in an old railway carriage and what was once Bideford Station – now a waypoint on the Tarka Trail. In Bideford itself you’ll find an art gallery (in the park at the far end of the Quay, and plenty of shops and cafes.

The hire shop is easy to find. From the bus stop or by car, cross over Bideford Long Bridge and find Torrington Street just around to your right. There’s limited and charged parking here – more the other side of the river in the big pay and display car park. If you’ve been walking or biking on the Tarka Trail you’ll spot the shop and steps down to it.

Prices (in 2013) were £15 for up to 2 hours, then £5 per further hour.

Bideford is about 20 miles from our Devon ecolodges and self catering cottage

Bideford bicycle hire co.
01237 424123
Torrington Street,
East The Water,
Bideford EX39 4DR

Exeter galleries, cathedral and tours

Exhibition at the Phoenix gallery, Exeter
In the city of Exeter you can visit galleries, take a guided tour, admire the Cathedral or just relax in a coffee bar.

And if you want to be green you can take the bus from Winkleigh (the 5B) or the train on the picturesque Tarka Line – Eggesford Station is only about 4 miles away. All the trains have to stop here – a condition imposed when the land for the station was originally sold by the Earl of Portsmouth’s estate.

Stay on the train until you get to Exeter Central (not Exeter St David’s). Coming out of the station turn left, and almost immediately you’ll pass the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s main building.

But if you take the second left, just up from the end of Gandy Street you’ll come across the Exeter Phoenix gallery. Entrance to the gallery is free, and there are regular workshops – ring 01392 667080 to find out what’s on.

The cafe does local food (and is family friendly).

Phoenix gallery, Exeter

Coming back out of the gallery, go down the hill and turn left into Gandy Street – lots of boutiques, cafes etc, and if you keep going you’ll hit the high street. If you want to see the Cathedral, turn right in the high street, then turn left when you see the signposts.

You can also join a guided tour of historial Exeter. The Exeter City Council run several, covering, ghosts, murder and mayhem, the Cathedral, the custom’s house and many more. Check out their website a full list and timetables.

Exeter is about 25 miles from our Devon eco lodges and cottage.

Horn’s Cross to Westward Ho! on the South West Coast Path

Southwest Coast Path, Horns Cross to Westward Ho!This is a good one way walk through a wooded combe and along a fabulous stretch of the South West Coast Path. Take the bus out and walk back….

You start this day out from either the bus stop at Winkleigh or the bus stop on the Quay at Bideford (there’s a car park nearby). After a short journey you’ll walk along wooded paths, see Lundy Island out to sea, dip down to a beach, and catch cliff top views. The walk is narrow and steep at times. You can’t get lost though – just keep going and you’ll arrive in Westward Ho! feeling smug about not just lounging around on the beach. Allow 2-3 hours.

Getting there

Bus: Get a morning bus – the 5B – usually around 9am, but do check the timetable! If you don’t already have a weekly route ticket buy a North Devon dayrider ticket so you can get on and off stagecoach buses all day. Get off at Bideford Quay. You’ll probably arrive with some time to kill, so enjoy the Quayside, admire the long bridge, or visit the Burton Art Gallery (free entry, interesting history of the bridge upstairs, plus cafe and loos.) It’s in the park just beyond the Quay.

Be back on the Quay (on the river side) to get the 319 stagecoach bus to Horn’s Cross (approx 11:25 from the Quay in summer). If you stay on the LHS of the lower deck you’ll see the sign for Horn’s Cross in time to ting the bell. The bus stop is by the pub. Walk through the pub car park, down the lane, then turn right through a gate signed Peppercombe. Follow the path downhill until you reach signs for the coast path, then branch off. From here you can’t go wrong!

There are glorious cliff top scenes, wonderful butterflies and flowers in summer, and views of Lundy out to sea. You’ll dip down to a beach (good for lunch) before heading up and down quite a few times more…

Southwest coast path to Westward Ho!

Eventually you’ll reach Cornborough Cliffs, about a mile outside Westward Ho! Follow the coast path signs for a slightly more interesting detour, or just take the wide path into Westward Ho!

You’ll come out by the colourful beach huts – this will feel like a different culture after your walk!

If you walk along the front, then turn up towards the church, you’ll come to Nelson Road where you can catch the First 1 bus back to Bideford Quay. Because this is a different service, you’ll have to buy a ticket. The last bus back from Bideford to Winkleigh is usually about 16:50 (again – check the current timetable).

Bideford is about 20 miles from our self catering cottage and eco lodges – or start your day just 1.5 miles away at the Winkleigh bus stop.
Beach huts at Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! and Northam Burrows

Westward Ho BeachThe huge beach at Northam Burrows Country Park, near Westward Ho! is about 40 mins drive away from the cottage and lodges at Wheatland Farm. It can be almost empty outside peak season, and even in August there’s plenty of room. At one end you’ll find a surf school, at the other loads of empty beach. At low tide there is plenty of sand. Parking is easy – there’s a car park (small charge in the summer – cheaper than Saunton Sands and a lot closer too). At the far end of the car park there is a really worthwhile interpretation centre / shop as well as public loos (closed in the winter).

Westward Ho! takes its name from the Charles Kingsley novel – ie the novel came first. But it’s probably the beach you want rather than the town, which is a little uninspiring (unless you like arcade games). Northam Burrows is famous for it’s pebble ridge made of rounded cobbles cast up by the sea. If you’re there in May, you may catch the ‘Pot Walloping Festival’where locals gather to throw the previous winter’s dislodged cobbles back up onto the ridge – traditionally, this protects their grazing rights.

Walking the South West Coast Path
The first mile or so of the South West Coast Path, from Westward Ho! to Cornborough Cliff, has been made an easy – access level path. Beyond that it’s more challenging. If you are sure of foot see our post on a great walk from Horn’s Cross(off the A39) back to Westward Ho! that you can do as a one way if you take the bus out.

Rudyard Kipling spent several of his childhood years at Westward Ho!, and scenes from Stalky and Co. were written about this coastline, which he knew from attending the United Services College here.

Getting there
Northam Burrows and Westward Ho! are about 23 miles from our cottage and eco lodges. Take the A386 to Bideford and go through the town to the roundabout joining teh A39. Head straight over and keep going until you see a sign and right hand turn for Northam (don’t take the turning to Appledore). Follow signs for Northam Burrows Country Park as you go through the village.

Bus: Well,it’s not seamless, but it’s doable. Get the 5B stagecoach service from Winkleigh to Bideford and change on the Quay to The First 1 service for Northam and Appledore. There’s a bus on the golf links road and you walk down through the Country Park from there. It adds a bit of exercise, so not necessarily a good option for young children or anyone carrying loads of beach gear.

Beaches and a canal at Bude

The beach at BudeBude offers some of the closest beaches to us. You can enjoy the sand, go surfing or pick up the South West Coast path for a lovely walk. It’s just over the border in Cornwall, but they won’t ask for your passport…

If you drive to Bude you’ll probably end up at Summerleaze Beach, the closest to the town. There’s level access from Summerleaze car park. At low tide you can also get here from the Canal. There’s lots of sand when the tide is out, but take care swimming near the sailing channels into the Canal. You might prefer the sea-washed swimming pool near the cliffs. Crooklets is the other town beach, also popular with surfers. (No dogs allowed on Crooklets beach between Easter and 1st October).

At Widemouth Bay, (turning off the A39 a mile or two south of Bude) there is a large beach with over 2 miles of sand at low tide. Good for families and surfers – plenty of room for all. Dogs are allowed on the southern part all year.

Bude Canal
A canal joins the sea at Bude. It was built to transport sea sand, rich in lime, to farms inland. The lock gates near the sea suffered storm damage in 1997 but have now been repaired (and if you wonder whether rebuilding the gates in such fabulous-looking hardwood was really sustainable, it’s because the gates are ‘listed’, and English Heritage insisted they be replaced by green oak). You can walk or ride along the tow path to Helebridge, passing a nature reserve on the way. Just across the A39 at Helebridge you can see the old wharf area and restored barge workshop. There’s also a picnic site here.

Cliff top walks
Alternatively, walk along the cliffs from Bude for spectacular views on the South West Coast Path. You’re standing on 300 million years of geological history!

Bude is about 30 miles from our cottage and eco lodges.

If you want to see more, check out the Bude webcams.

Halsdon Nature Reserve

Halsdon Nature Reserve is one of the nearest of the Devon Wildlife Trust’s reserves to Wheatland Farm. Otters are sometimes to be seen from the hide overlooking the River Torridge, and orchids and bluebells abound in the woods in spring. Continue reading “Halsdon Nature Reserve”

Puffing Billy to East Yarde

The Tarka Trail between Puffing Billy Cafe and East Yarde is a lovely woodland walk or cycle crossing the Torridge.

While the surface isn’t as good as other parts of the trail it’s still fairly easy going. Bear in mind you’re following the Torridge upstream now, so that means gently uphill almost all the way, but a much easier coast back, and there’s excellent coffee and cake at the Puffing Billy Station Cafe! Continue reading “Puffing Billy to East Yarde”

Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry - fireThe National Trust’s Finch Foundry is the last working water-powered forge in the country. On one of their regular guided tours you can find out what it really means to have your nose to the grind stone or to be pole axed.

Finch Foundry hammerFinch Foundry is in the village of Sticklepath, on the edge of Dartmoor. When it’s raining, this will show you what all that water was used for! The leat would originally have driven up to 10 water mills.

The forge made argricultural tools right up until the 1960s and is a sight to behold. They say the vibrations were powerful enough to shake glasses off the shelves in the next door pub. If you catch one of the guided tours you’ll see one of the hammers in action.

This is a small National Trust property, but well worth a visit. There’s a tea room in the grounds, and also Thomas Pearse’s summer house. That’s the Tom Pearse from the Widdecombe Fair song (plus Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all). He was a local serge maker, making the red material used to dress the British army.
Water wheel at Finch Foundry, Devon
There are also lovely woodland walks from the Forge. One takes you to Okehampton, where you can visit the Museum of Dartmoor Life. Or you can follow the river valley along to the village of Belstone (where there’s a pub that does food). Every November the Forge hosts the Sticklepath Fire show – a performance on a huge set which is burnt at the end of a fabulous fireworks display. The Foundry is usually open from mid-March until early November between 11:00 and 17:00 every day except Tuesday. There are tours about once an hour.

Finch Foundry is about 13 miles from our eco lodges and cottage. This National Trust property sometimes puts on events – check out our what’s on listing for details…

Finch Foundry
Sticklepath, Okehampton, Devon EX20 2NW
Telephone: 01837 840046

Puffing Billy to Bideford on the Tarka Trail

This gently down-hill walk or bike ride is our favourite part of Devon’s Tarka Trail to do from Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges. Bridges, tunnels, cafes…and it’s off road too.

Continue reading “Puffing Billy to Bideford on the Tarka Trail”

Instow to Fremington on the Tarka Trail

This is an easy going walk (or cycle) with options to explore part of the South West Coast Path and detour around a Devon nature reserve. You’ll end up at Fremington Quay cafe, a thriving cafe. Continue reading “Instow to Fremington on the Tarka Trail”

Barnstaple to Fremington on the Tarka Trail

Walk or cycle from Barnstaple to Fremington Quay on the Tarka Trail, and enjoy an ice cream at the cafe. You get fabulous views out over the mouth of the Taw River, see beautiful butterflies and flowers in summer, enjoy easy walking and a lovely cafe at the end. Continue reading “Barnstaple to Fremington on the Tarka Trail”

Big tree walk

'The Big Tree' in Heywood Woods, EggesfordThis is why we call it the big tree walk! This douglas fir was planted around 1840 and is to be found in the Heywood Forestry Commission woodland about 4 miles from Wheatland Farm. This is an easy going walk which you can do with a push chair. But it’s better if you can cope with a scramble because then you can get down to the River Taw and climb to the top of a Norman Motte and Bailey castle.

Heywood is between Eggesford Station and Wembworthy – about 4 miles from the eco lodges. Just ask us to point it out on the map. You can cycle there on our free bikes. If you take the car there’s easy parking. Trails are marked. The Forestry Commission say their circular walk takes 1.5 hours, and it might at an amble. Follow the red posts, turning right at one by a downhill woodland path off the main track. You’ll soon come across the ‘big tree’. Hard to miss it! It was part of the Egggesford estate and was planted around 1840.

Push chairs and anyone with limited mobility should go straight on after the tree to the motte and bailey….

If you take the tiny path just beside the tree and head downhill some more you’ll come to a steep scramble or slide through bushes and rhododendrons. It takes you to the bank of the Taw. There’s a little river-shingle beach – a fabulous picnic spot in the summer and an essential ‘stone chucking’ spot. It’s not deep enough to swim, but suitably attired you can certainly cool off!

Skimming stones on the Taw at Eggesford
Then either retrace your steps or walk down stream along another path that goes alongside the river until you come almost to a stone bridge. This bit can be muddy. Zig zag back up hill on another well trodden path, and when you rejoin the main track, turn right and walk on to the motte and bailey castle. There are steps up to the top and you get some good views of the surrouning countryside.

There are 3 paths back from here – the one you came on, the next one which will take you back to where you turned off to get to the big tree (and then back to the car par), or one the other side of the mound which goes on through woodland and ends up on a quiet stretch of road. From here you walk for a couple of hundred metres back uphill along the road until you get back to the car park.

Lydford Gorge

The White Lady Waterfall at Devon's Lydford GorgeLydford Gorge is the deepest gorge in the south west of England, with the White Lady waterfall tumbling 30m (90ft). It’s been voted the No. 1 most romantic spot in Devon and Cornwall and is about 21 miles from Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges.

The main attraction of this National Trusts property is its grounds and a spectacular walk that takes you through woodland trails to the famous While Lady waterfall, then follows a deep-cut ravine alongside the river Lyd.

Legend says anyone falling into the Lyd who sees a woman in white with long flowing tresses standing in the waterfall will not drown! Presumably if you do drown you don’t get to say whether or not you saw her…

You’ll need proper footwear – it’s narrow in places and can be slippery, especially after rain. The full walk is not suitable for people with severely limited mobility, although there is a gentler path from the second entry to the waterfall. The return path takes you alongside crystal clear fast flowing water – look out for baby trout in the stream. At the end you’ll find the Devil’s Cauldron – a shorter but booming waterfall that has cut itself a cauldron shape cavern in the rock. You can go to a viewing platform along a walk way – it’s fabulous! The walls are covered with moss and liverworts, and the whole thing is quite an experience. There’s a bit where the National Trust have (courageously?) not included a fence – so you’ll be pleased of the handrail!

You can take your dog to Lydford Gorge, but an infirm or elderly pet might struggle with the narrow slippery paths. You’ll definitely need a lead.

During school holidays there will often be family activities running, such as woodland sculpture workshops.

Lydford Gorge is on the north western edge of Dartmoor. You could easily spend a day here, or combine a visit with other Dartmoor attractions. You could even bike it from Okehampton along the Granite Way.

Free entry to National Trust members. Day ticket for a family was about £23 in 2017. There are loos at the entrance, and a teashop.
Postcode: EX20 4BH
Telephone: 01822 820320

Lydford Gorge is also close to the Black a Tor Copse walk on Dartmoor – you don’t have to approach it from the Meldon Reservoir.