Something completely new for us.
Well, not that new, it involves cycling, wine-tasting, good food, beautiful countryside and a memorable hotel. But it’s only for a weekend, and there ain’t no guide, so for The Chain Gang that makes it new.
I’ve chosen to base these weekends at a fabulous hotel, Hazelwood House, set in beautiful gardens in the Avon valley in the South Hams of Devon. The story of the current owners is what first got me interested.
Originally owned by a biscuit tycoon (I susepct only Brits will get this – the Peek family, of Peak-Frean fame), when the estate was finally broken up and sold, three ladies went to view one of the estate cottages, but fell in love with the main house and its remaining 67 acres. Here’s what happened next: “By chance as they were leaving, the estate agent arrived and so during a conversation with him Gillian proposed a question and asked him how much someone would need to buy the place. He replied “About £1,250,000 should do it!”. Then Gillian asked, to the amazement of the others, whether he knew anyone who could loan them that kind of money. His response was “Well yes, as a matter of fact I do”.
That was in 1988 – when £1,250,000 was a lot of money (!?). You can read the rest of their history here.
I tried to incorporate this hotel in our main Devon tour, but they only have 7 rooms, so it wasn’t really feasible. It’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful place.
What Can You Do For A Weekend In Devon?
Hazelwood is close to Totnes, a very picturesque market town famous in the UK as a centre of ‘alternative culture’ – that means hippies. But it also means they have lots of craft shops, a steam railway, and believe it or not they even have their own currency, The Totnes Pound. We’ll make sure everyone has a little stash of Totnes Pounds when they set off on Saturday morning.
Just a few miles south of Totnes, on a special bike path beside the Dart estuary, is the vineyard of Sharpham. It’s a beautiful setting, and they produce cheese here as well as a surprisingly good and interesting range of wines. You don’t need to make any apology for these wines, or explain about the difficulties of making wine in England – they’re just good wines. A very interesting visit, I love it at
Just down the coast is Slapton Ley, a natural 3-mile long freshwater lake, but also the scene of rehearsals for the Normandy landings in 1944. These rehearsals went horribly wrong when a German E-Boat got in among the US ships, killing more than 700 US soldiers in one dreadful night. Both the British and American Governments sought to keep this tragedy secret for many years, and it was left to locals to recover a sunken tank and erect a memorial to all those American soldiers. It’s not so secret now, and is a moving monument.
In short, there’s lots to see in the South Hams, and we complete the picture with brand new Trek 7.3 FX bikes, a memorable hotel and an award-winning restaurant.
Help me please! I need your opinion.
I can’t wait to start running these weekends in the summer.
If I can trouble you for a bit of feedback – do you think we should organise guided, group weekends? The difference would be that we do everything as a group, either me, Mike or Ben would cycle with you, know the route and the best things to see and do, and be available to fix any mechanical problems.
It has crossed my mind that we could reserve a weekend each month as ‘Group Weekends’, and run more traditional Chain Gang trips for the weekend. I’d be interested to know what you think – would you email me please?