The picturesque setting of Bourton-on-the-Water, a true Cotswold gem

Enjoy a bargain pre-Christmas walking break in the beautiful Cotswolds

There’s no better time for a stroll in the English countryside than in the autumn and leading walking and activity holiday provider, HF Holidays, has the perfect escape to the Cotswolds to help you unwind and prepare ahead of the festive period. What’s more, you can now save up to £90pp on this fantastic autumnal break.

Self-Guided Walking Holiday in the Cotswolds

Discover the vibrant colours of autumn on a stunning break in the heart of the Cotswolds.

Explore the very best of the region at your leisure, from a gentle stroll through The Slaughters to a leg stretching walk soaking up the autumnal landscape of the Gloucestershire Way.

Enjoy a selection of local ales at quirky pubs, relax in quaint tea rooms or pick up a unique Christmas gift or two as you savour the beautiful scenery. Stay at HF Holidays’ historic 4-star Country House located in the charming village of Bourton-on-the-Water.

With the picturesque countryside right on your doorstep, it’s the perfect setting to unwind ahead of the festive period.  

Price: Four nights departing 26th November 2018 from £249 per person (it was was £339) which includes full board accommodation and the services of HF Holidays’ expert leaders. To book, visit or call 020 8732 1250.

The iconic Durdle Door on Dorset's stunning Jurassic Coast

Discovering Thomas Hardy's fictional county of Wessex on foot

HF Holidays' impressive West Lulworth House

Words and pictures
by Alan Wooding

Monday, 16 April 2018

I must admit that I've been a fan of Victorian author Thomas Hardy since falling in love with actress Julie Christie as a teenager when she starred in the 1960s film, Far From The Madding Crowd

Filmed in and around Dorset, one of Britain's most picturesque counties, Ms Christie was cast in director John Schlesinger's cinematic masterpiece as the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene in a film which recreates Hardy's classic tale in all its glory. She plays a headstrong woman who inherits a farm and is then pursued for her hand in marriage by the likes of fellow actors Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates. 

With Hardy's beloved Dorset homeland to the fore, I was recently invited to explore the wild uplands, rolling hills and quaint semi-fictional Wessex villages close to the south coast downs by HF Holidays – (0345 470 7558) – with the intention of learning more about one of Britain's most prolific Victorian authors and poets.

Staying at West Lulworth House – one of 18 such UK properties owned by the 105-year-old holiday company – from it's lofty position, the four-star residences is located just a 200 metre stroll from the picturesque Lulworth Cove on Dorset's historic Jurassic Coast. 

On arrival for our four night stay we were warmly greeted by HF Holidays' enthusiastic walks leader Sandy Franklin who immediately invited us to join her Thomas Hardy Discovery group. 

As we had originally planned to undertake a self-guided Thomas Hardy tour, we jumped at the chance and joined ten fellow guests – but what none of us expected were the dreadful walking conditions… but more of that later! 

Two of Thomas Hardy's finest novels

Also on hand at the reception area was keen cyclist Lucinda Rhodes from Cambridge who was there to offer valuable information to 17 self-guided walkers and to show them the house's invaluable Discovery Point with its list of maps and various grade walks located on the first floor.

We quickly settled into our comfortable double aspect en suite room with its views over to Lulworth Cove to the south and to the coastal path which leads to Durdle Door to the west… and within a couple of hours we were tucking into one of those famed Dorset cream teas!

West Lulworth House is managed by husband and wife team Mark and Lisa Abbott, but as he was called away to look after another HF (Holiday Fellowship) property in Somerset at short notice – Selworthy in Minehead – the day to day running was down to Lisa who really made everyone feel at home. 

One thing that HF Holidays prides itself on is its cuisine and as everyone was on a full board basis, it certainly doesn't disappoint. There is a huge choice at both breakfast and dinner while locally produced meat and vegetables are very much a big priority. In fact on the final night there was a five course dinner featuring the very best that Dorset has to offer.

Thomas Hardy was born in this cottage in 1840

Naturally midday lunches are of the picnic variety as everyone is either walking or sightseeing so these are ordered the night before and, apart from a choice of sandwiches, there is also a massive choice of 'extras' (fruit, pies, cereal bars, etc).

West Lulworth village and its nearby Cove are justifiably popular with walkers, fossil hunters and bird watchers alike while HF Holidays' house itself dates back to 1881. It was originally built for the former Mayor of Weymouth Sir Richard Howard who owned a paddle steamer which cross-crossed The Solent, taking passengers, supplies and cargo to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

The county of Dorset

The property was purchased by HF Holidays in 2013 while it underwent a full refurbishment two years later. It now has 22 en suite bedrooms and can accommodate a maximum of 44 guests, although some are located in the annex. 

When renovated, West Lulworth House gained a new lounge and dining room while it has a sunny south facing garden and an outdoor swimming pool (open May to September), while there is free parking for guests in the public car park directly across the road opposite the house. 

Like all HF Holidays' Country Houses, West Lulworth House is tailored for walkers, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts with a boot room and drying room, a Discovery Point plus a rather sociable bar.

As well as outstanding walking, the UNSECO World Heritage Jurassic Coast around the Lulworth area has many fine beaches including Middle Beach to the west and that world-famous geological wonder, Durdle Door. 

The massive rock arch is found after a steep uphill walk along the coastal path from Lulworth Cove's car park – it's approximately a two hour round trip and is said to be made by more than 250,000 visitors each year – while the 'door' itself is absolutely stunning, the sloping pebbled beach ideal for sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling.

Lulworth Cove at sunset

The eastern beaches of Mupe Bay and Arish Mell lie below land owned by the military and while these are open to the public when not in army use, you really need to check the opening times before accessing that particular area!

Lulworth Cove itself is a near-perfect circle which has been carved by the waves into the soft rocks. There is a free Heritage Centre next to the public car park which is worth a visit while facilities in the Cove itself are limited to a selection of pubs, cafés and souvenir shops. You can also hire sea canoes and kayaks with which to discover the hidden inlets and coves along the rugged coastline. 

Thomas Hardy penned more than 1,000 poems

Thomas Hardy Walks

Despite a heavy mist rolling in off the sea, we joined walks leader Sandy on a short stroll down to the Cove and up to Stair Hole – a mini version of Durdle Door – prior to dinner on the first day while entertainment that evening was the 2005 film of Hardy's Under The Greenwood Tree starring Keeley Hawes (The Durrells), the late Tony Haygarth and Steve Pemberton (Benidorm). 

The following morning we boarded a Mercedes Benz coach driven by Callum and were dropped off close to the village of Higher Bockhampton (formerly Upper Bockhampton) and Hardy's Birthplace Visitors Centre close to the brick, cob and thatched cottage where he was born in June 1840. 

Now looked after by the National Trust, the cottage was built by Hardy's grandparents and he lived there with them, his parents Thomas Snr and Jemima, two sisters and a brother. The cottage overlooks heathland – immortalised as Egdon Heath – which he later includes in one of his most powerful novels, The Return of the Native.

Shortly after leaving the Thorncombe Wood area we were at the mercy of the elements as we headed along a path which Hardy regularly used next to the River Frome on his way to the village of Stinsford which he called Mellstock in Under the Greenwood Tree. 

With the river having burst its banks due to heavy overnight rain, I soon had two very wet feet as the water invaded my walking boots. But we paddled on to view St Michael's Church and the grave of Hardy's first wife Emma Gifford (1874-1912). It is said that Hardy's heart is also buried there even though his body lies in a Poets Grave in Westminster Abbey.

Wading through floods and muddy fields was the order of the day

We continued to walk across rain-soaked farmland, encountering oozing mud and soggy pastures which became the location of Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd while we also climbed heavily wooded tracks in Puddletown Forest to reach an ancient burial site which Hardy named Rainbarrow. 

Hardy's characters and locations were certainly brought to life by walks' leader Sandy's fine descriptions. Then crossing the Roman Road we discovered the place where Eustacia Vye lived, the Rushy Pond close by and where she met her lover Wildeve... and then there was the pub which also featured strongly in Hardy's stories.

In total we walked 9.32 miles but in those conditions it was more like 15 and one wag even suggested that it was more reminiscent of the Somme than a countryside walk!

We also passed through the village of Tolpuddle, home of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs who were banished to Australia for seven years after leading a revolt against the establishment with a march to London, their actions being the basis of today's Trade Union movement. 

Alistair Chisolm is the Dorchester Town Crier and a Thomas Hardy Society expert

That evening we were treated to a rather special talk by Dorchester's long serving Town Crier, Alistair Chisolm, an active and extremely entertaining members of the Thomas Hardy Society. His theatrical delivery and wonderful diction certainly kept everyone amused. 

Unfortunately my wife managed to twist her knee coming out of St Mary's Church in Puddletown right at the end of the walk and that curtailed our involvement in the next two day's Thomas Hardy walks. They were from Cerne Abbas and Melcombe Bingham which would feature the locations and characters in his novels The Woodlanders and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, his heroine Tess having clearly been an intrepid walker!

However we did manage to make the climb and take the coastal path to Durdle Door as well as visiting the National Trust sites at Corfe Castle and the beautiful Kingston Lacy with its fine collection of artworks and landscaped gardens. 

This plaque was spotted in Dorchester High Street

Each Wednesday, every one of the 18 HF Holidays residences hosts exactly the same quiz with the questions being set from head office. Consisting of four general knowledge rounds of 15 questions each, making a total of 60 in all, at West Lulworth House we were joined by three other Thomas Hardy walkers to make up a team… and I'm proud to say that we won with a score of 53. We later learned that the winners came from Yorkshire with 59 points while the runners-up with 58 were from Cumbria, but I thought our efforts in netting fourth spot overall was still a pretty good result!

Despite the tricky walking conditions, nobody complained about the mud and flooded paths

We also made the short trip into Dorchester and Hardy's home at Max Gate where he wrote the majority of his novels – plus over 1,000 poems – and where he died from pleurisy on 11 January 1928, the same year as his second wife Florence Dugdale whom he had married in 1914. 

Hardy also renamed Dorset's county town as Casterbridge – hence The Mayor of Casterbridge – while his final book was Jude The Obscure which received such mixed reviews that he turned instead to writing poetry, many of them romanticising the love of his first wife Emma even though their marriage had often been a tempestuous affair.

The River Frome bridge at Higher Bockhampton

We also passed Clouds Hill, the tiny isolated 19th century-built cottage close to Bovington Camp near Wareham which was the former home of T E Lawrence, better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia'. He was stationed at Bovington and was a close friend of Hardy's. The cottage is now run as a writer's home museum by the National Trust while there was a shed which once housed Lawrence's collection of motor cycles. He died at the age of 46 after suffering head injuries after hitting a tree close to his cottage.

However one common misconception made by visitors to Dorset relates to the 72-foot tall Thomas Hardy Monument on the summit of Black Down. It was erected in 1844 – just four years after the author Thomas Hardy was born – and is in memory of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, a commander at the Battle of Trafalgar and of whom Admiral Lord Nelson spoke those immortal words "Kiss Me Hardy" on his death bed.

Corfe Castle is a major tourist attraction

Other Dorset attractions

A brisk walk from Lulworth Cove finds you at Lulworth Castle, a 17th century mock medieval castle that was once the heart of an extensive estate. Having been gutted by fire in 1929 it was derelict for many years, but has since been completely renovated –

The iconic ruins of Corfe Castle stand guard over a natural gap in the Purbeck Hills. It's a half hour drive from Lulworth Cove and dates back from the 11th century. Today to is maintained by the National Trust –

Close to Corfe village is a lovingly restored branch railway line which runs through the Purbeck countryside. Steam hauled trains run throughout the year and you can leave your car in the Park & Ride at Norden (a 30 minute drive from Lulworth), and use the railway to visit Swanage –

Kingston Lacy is a fine 17 century mansion

Kingston Lacy is a fine country mansion and estate close to Wimborne Minster. It dates back to 1665 and was built for the Bankes family who also purchased Corfe Castle from royalty in 1635. Now managed by the National Trust, it houses a fine collection of antiques, with many notable examples from the Middle East and Egypt –

Near the village of Wool you find Monkey World which again is just 20 minutes from Lulworth by car. Orginally set up to rescue mistreated monkeys from overseas, it's now home to a huge collection of primates –

Close by you will find the military premises at Bovington and the Tank Museum with its impressive collection from around the world dating back to the First World War –

Slightly further afield is Brownsea Island, located in the middle of Poole Harbour. Boats depart from Poole Quay and from Sandbanks. The island, famous for Lord Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting movement, is now a nature reserve managed by the National Trust and one of last remaining places in Britain to see red squirrels –

And finally, no trip to this part of the Dorset coast would be complete without a visit to nearby Weymouth, a fine Regency seaside resort with an ever-popular beach and bustling harbour.

Emma Hardy's grave is believed to also contain her husband Thomas Hardy's heart

Fact File

Many thanks to Michael Leonhardt of Gough Bailey Wright of St Johns House, 16 Church Street, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B61 8DN (, 01527 579555) for arranging our stay at HF Holidays' West Lulworth House in Lulworth Cove, Dorset. 

We stayed for four nights (from Monday 9 April until Friday 13 April) at a cost of £475 per person which included full board accommodation and three guided walks. For self-guided walking, the four night cost was £395 per person. For more details of all HF Holidays – Catalyst House, 720 Centennial Court, Centennial Park, Elstree, Borehamwood, WD6 3SY – call 0345 470 7558 or visit their website at

Quality dishes are extremely important to HF Holidays... and they certainly don't disappoint

About HF Holidays 

All HF Holiday country houses welcome self-guided walkers, so you can enjoy the same diverse array of scenery, culture, history and wildlife as the rest of the guests, but with the freedom to explore wherever and whenever you choose. Each of the houses has a Discovery Point packed with a selection of local walks for you to explore. All you need to do is decide how far you feel like walking that day, pick your route card off the wall, lace up your boots and head off.

HF Holidays is actually owned by its members. Standard membership can be brought for a minimum investment of £100 (100 £1 shares) while Investment Membership means an minimum outlay of £1,000 (1,000 £1 shares) – details at or call 020 8732 1290. Membership itself means various rewards, discounts and advanced booking privileges.  

With over 100 years' expertise in creating unique breaks, HF Holidays has devised special courses with experts for Photography, Arts & Crafts, Music, Theatre and Festivals, Dancing, Natural World, Mind & Body, Bridge and Touring. And while the majority of these activities take place in Great Britain, there is the opportunity to travel to all parts of the globe by checking out the website at 

Thomas Hardy's cottage at Higher Bockhampton

The 18 HF County Houses in the UK are: 

Chy Morval, St Ives, Cornwall; Harrington House, Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds; The Pevril of the Peak, Doverdale, Derbyshire; Freshwater Bay House, Isle of Wight; Derwent Bank, Portinscale, Cumbria; Monk Coniston, Coninstonwater, Cumbria; Longwynd House, Church Stretton, Shropshire; Abingworth Hall, Abingworth, Sussex; Craflwyn Hall, Snowdon, Wales; Dolserau Hall, Dolgellau, Wales; Alltshellach, Glen Coe, Scotland; Larpool Hall, Whitby, Yorkshire; West Lulworth House, Luworth Cove, Dorset; Holnicote Gouse, Selworthy, Devon; Nether Grange, Alnmouth, Northumberland; Nythfa House, Brecon, Wales; Newfield Hall, Malhamdale, Yorkshire Dales; Thorns Hall, Sedbergh, Yorkshire Dales.

Ramblers Walking Holidays' refurbished Hassness Country House at Buttermere in the Lake District

Refurbished Hassness Country House is ready for spring opening

The beauty of Buttermere

Saturday 31 March 2018

Tucked away on the remote shores of Buttermere with expansive views of the lake and the craggy fells beyond, Ramblers Walking Holidays’ – 01707 331 133; – beautifully located Hassness Country House in the Lake District will reopen on 21April, following a significant refurbishment of its facilities.

As part of its new look, all 11 bedrooms, with their picture postcard outlook, have been refreshed with the addition of en-suite facilities to most of the rooms. 

In addition, with an emphasis on maintaining its warm and welcoming country house feel, the lounge and the dining room areas have also been comfortably upgraded to offer plenty of space to relax, drink in the famous peaks or curl up with a book in front of the fire, after an exhilarating day exploring the many, easily accessible trails.

Exploring the Newlands Valley

Providing a complete Lake District experience, Hassness Country House will continue to build on its culinary reputation, serving delicious home-cooked meals sourced from the very best of local ingredients, showcasing regional specialties, such as slow cooked Herdwick lamb, Cumberland sausage and Damson fruit tart as well as plenty of vegetarian options.

Guests can also indulge in a hearty cooked breakfast with homemade preserves, a packed lunch on the hills and the promise of freshly baked cakes with coffee or tea on one’s return. And despite the remote location, the nearest village, only two miles away, also makes an ideal stop on the way back from a walk for a pint of local ale in one of the two pubs, a traditional cream tea or a homemade ice-cream made from the milk straight from the cows on nearby farms.

With a plethora of walking trails and activities to suit all tastes and abilities, including three walks in the top ten of ITV’s recently broadcast ‘Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100’*, Ramblers Walking Holidays offer a wide selection of holidays to enjoy the region’s UNESCO World Heritage countryside.

Choose from leisurely (grade 3) to challenging (grade 8) holidays, from gentle strolls on the fells to more strenuous days on the summits, and a wide selection of combined walking and special interest breaks.  In addition,most of the walks offer two leaders and the option of two different levels of walks each day, making them ideal for walkers of differing abilities to holiday together.

Walking in the Yorshire Dales from Malhamdale

You can 'Bring a Friend for Free' as HF Holidays' summer bonus

HF Holidays are offering an amazing Bring a Friend for Free deal this Summer on a choice of UK Guided Walking Breaks. For example, you can now take a friend or loved one to enjoy a seven-night full board stay at magnificent Malhamdale, beautiful Brecon or charming Church Stretton completely free.

Then let HF Holidays' experts guide you through stunning landscapes, with a choice of up to three walks a day and stay in bespoke walkers country house accommodation. To take advantage of this fantastic offer (which starts on Tuesday, 3 April), visitors must book by Tuesday 17 April with details of the selected breaks as follows:

HF Holiday's magnificent Malhamdale residence

Malhamdale: The rugged moorlands, green fields and cascading waterfalls of the Yorkshire Dales make it perfect to discover on foot while you can spend your days discovering the natural beauty and wildlife of the awe-inspiring region.

With a great range of walks to suit everyone from gentle walks along the green valleys of Wharfedale and Ribblesdale, to opportunities to climb the summits of Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, friendly and knowledgeable guides will help bring this stunning national park to life. 

You can stay in HF Holidays’ most stately country house, Newfield Hall, complete with an indoor pool and great facilities, keeping visitors entertained even when they’re not exploring the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.

Price: seven nights departing on Friday 29th June 2018 from £845pp and includes the opportunity to Bring a Friend for FREE. Price includes full board accommodation and a choice of two daily guided walks. To book, visit or call 0345 4707558.

Walking in the Brecon Beacons

Beacon Beacons: Explore the very best of the Brecon Beacons on a HF Holidays guided walking holiday. Expert guides will lead you and your friend to the most iconic sights, including the summit of Pen-y-Fan and the awesome waterfalls of the Mellte Valley, as well as to peaceful corners unseen by most visitors.

Experience panoramic views, beautiful green valleys and rugged mountains. Discover a world of waterfalls, beautiful green valleys and superb mountain walks. Stay in the recently refurbished Nythfa House, a charming Country House, located on the edge of the market town of Brecon. Spacious public rooms, attractive gardens and indoor swimming pool make it a popular and relaxing place to stay.

Price: Seven nights departing on Friday 20th July 2018 from £845pp and includes the opportunity to Bring a Friend for FREE. The price includes full board accommodation and a choice of two daily guided walks. To book, visit or call 0345 470 7558.

Enjoy the beautiful views from Longmynd House

Church Stretton, Shropshire: Explore the very best of Shropshire and discover the shapely summit of Caer Caradoc, and the great moorland ridge of the Long Mynd. 

Travel a little further to discover rolling green hills, sleepy villages, and charming market towns with their iconic black and white timbered houses. Join friendly and knowledgeable guides who will bring this beautiful landscape to life.

Stay at Longmynd House, set in a wonderful elevated location above the town of Church Stretton. With excellent walks on the doorstep, and extensive public rooms, it's an excellent base for walking and leisure activity holidays.

Price: Seven nights departing on Friday 10th August 2018 from £845pp and includes the opportunity to Bring a Friend for FREE. Prices include full board accommodation and a choice of two daily guided walks. To book, visit or call 0345 470 7558.

* Places are limited on these holidays so book now to avoid disappointment. For more information on HF Holidays, please visit or call 0345 470 7558.

Check out the beautiful gardens of Madiera and Portugal with HF Holidays

Uncover the best that Portugal and Madeira has to offer walkers

The beauty of the Bird of Paradise flower

Saturday 10 March 2018

Revel in the warmth of the winter sun as you explore the levadas and beautiful gardens of Madeira, the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’. Relax as you stroll to charming fishing villages along the pretty coast of the Algarve. 

Discover the green hills of the Serra de Sintra and walk on the rugged Atlantic coast accompanied by the sound of crashing waves or explore the exotic Azores, for centuries a staging post in the mid-Atlantic.

Take time to explore the history and culture of this fascinating country. Find palaces and Roman ruins in the Algarve, or learn about the history of winemaking in Madeira. 

Lisbon makes an absorbing day out with its wealth of colourful buildings and interesting maritime past. Look out for wildlife too: the salt pans on the Algarve coast near Tavira teem with fantastic bird life.

Relax, explore and discover in the delightful landscapes of Portugal. Untouched villages, warm sunshine, superb scenery and delicious food and wine perfectly sums up Portugal. 

Walking along the stunning levadas

Immerse yourself in the company of friendly locals and embrace the relaxed pace of life while enjoying the stunning cuisine and spectacular seafood on a glorious walking holiday.

On the mainland you can discover the charming town of Tavira, explore the enchanting west coast of Ericeira and trek the dramatic sea cliffs of Luz. Further afield, walk the wild landscapes and levadas of Madeira or uncover the dramatic volcanoes and craters of the Azores.

Check out:

The South Tyrol is one of Europe's finest walking destinations

The stunning South Tyrol is a hot spot for serious walkers

Thursday 8 March 2018

The Alpine-Mediterranean climate and stunning vistas of South Tyrol has made it a hot-spot for walkers. Discover the beautiful vineyards and architecture of the region as you step out and breathe in the crisp Alpine air along a selection of daily guided walks.

The Merano Valley is the ideal location for anyone looking for a picturesque summer walking break, with it previously being the destination of choice for Austrian royalty. Stay at Hotel Schwefelbad, a traditionally-styled 4-star superior hotel offering comfortable accommodation to relax in after long days exploring South Tyrol.

This seven night hioliday costs from £1,519 per person and it departs on 30 June and is on a half board basis. Price includes return flights from Birmingham International Airport, a full programme of guided walks, all transport to and from walks and the services of experienced HF Holidays leaders. To book, visit or call 0345 470 8558.


Stunning scenery is always guaranteed in New Zealand

A great New Zealand adventure with Ramblers Walking Holiday 

The Mermaid Pool

Sunday 4 March 2018

New Zealand’s South Island is a true walker’s paradise, offering spectacular and varied landscapes. Departing Sunday 4 November 2018 save £495 per person on Ramblers Walking Holidays 22-day Great South Island Adventure, including the Milford Track.

Costing from £6,900 pp highlights include the Franz Josef Glacier area and Mount Aspiring National Park, walking on the park’s challenging trails. At Queenstown the trip includes walking part of the Routeburn Track, before reaching the magnificent Milford Track, New Zealand’s premier Great Walk.

The holiday spends two days in the even more remote Fjordland and includes an overnight small cruise journey through Doubtful Sound amongst some of the finest scenery imaginable.

Ramblers Walking Holidays – 01707 331133, – Great South Island Adventure costs from £6,900 per person including flights and airport transfers, accommodation, most meals, all local transport and tour leaders.