West Country

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For other places with the same name, see South West (disambiguation).

The West Country is an unofficial, but popular, name for the South West of England. If you think you know southern England, but haven't ventured beyond the South East, the West Country will be a revelation. It is at once more rural and prettier than its crowded neighbour, offering extensive countryside of hills, forest and moorland, hemmed in on three sides by the sea. From the sandy beaches of Dorset, to the creeks and inlets of Devon, via Somerset's high cliffs and Cornwall's secluded coves, the South West Coast is as diverse as it is long. Large cities are few and far between, but for the cream of the crop, head to vibrant Bristol, beachy Bournemouth or charming Bath.

In addition to city, countryside and coast, the West Country hosts some of the UK's best-known attractions. While no trip to the region would be complete without a visit to Stonehenge, other landmarks include Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and the Eden Project in Cornwall. The region's fauna is impressive. A trip out to sea may permit sightings of whales, dolphins and basking sharks; inland you can seek out England's only wild beavers, plus river otters and kingfishers in Devon, rare butterflies and great bustards in Wiltshire's meadows and reintroduced wild boar in Gloucestershire.

Counties[edit]

The following counties are generally considered to form the West Country:

West Country regions - Color-coded map
Gloucestershire
quintissential English countryside; from the honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds to the ancient woodland of the Forest of Dean, where wild boar and deer roam in secret
Wiltshire
Britain at its oldest and most intriguing - mysterious circles abound, both of the stone and crop variety. Prepare to meet druids, rub shoulders with pagans and bear witness to strange symbols on the chalk hills
Somerset
a diverse landscape of gorges, hills, fields and wetland; Somerset is a haven for bird-watchers, cheese-lovers and cider fans alike
Dorset
from the Jurassic Coast to sandy Bournemouth, via Portland Bill, Chesil Beach and Poole Harbour, visit one of the UK's finest coastlines. Inland, discover Thomas Hardy's beloved "Wessex"
Devon
two dramatic national parks (Holmesian Dartmoor and misty Exmoor), Exeter's wonderful cathedral and a coastline they call the 'English Riviera' - what better place for a cream tea?
Cornwall
very much separate from the rest of England, Cornwall is the place to go for serious surfing, white-washed fishing villages, tales of pirates, UNESCO mining heritage and Celtic hospitality: Kernow bys vykenǃ
Isles of Scilly
beyond Land's End lies a jewel-like archipelago; warmed by the tropical Gulf Stream, these islands enjoy the warmest climate in Britain

Cities and towns[edit]

The Royal Crescent, Bath

Cities[edit]

  • Bath (Somerset) - From the Roman Empire to the Regency period, Bath was Britain's premier spa town. Now you can admire its awesome architecture and 2000-year history
  • Bristol (Somerset) - Once a bustling medieval port, the South West's biggest city is both fashionable and colourful, while enjoying interesting topography and a world-famous bridge
  • Exeter (Devon) - Devon's county town is blessed with a stunning cathedral and an enviable location between Dartmoor and the sea
  • Gloucester (Gloucestershire) - The UK's furthest inland port on its longest river; yet another cathedral city with Roman and Medieval credentials
  • Plymouth (Devon) - The "Spirit of Discovery" invites you to the place where the pilgrims of the Mayflower set sail for the New World
  • Salisbury (Wiltshire) - "New Sarum" boasts England's tallest cathedral spire, a magnificent structure that evokes the great churches of the Continent
  • Truro (Cornwall) - Cornwall's compact and pretty capital sits at the heart of the Duchy. Its narrow streets make it pedestrian-friendly and easily walkable
  • Wells (Somerset) - More of a large village than a city, Wells' gorgeousness packs a punch far greater than its size. This most English of settlements surrounds a justifiably famous cathedral

Towns[edit]

  • Bournemouth (Dorset) - a popular resort with a sandy beach that stretches for miles
  • Penzance (Cornwall) - pirate central, Penzance is a town long-associated with the arts
  • Swindon (Wiltshire) - if you look past its sheer ugliness, Swindon offers exceptional industrial heritage and a festival for every occasion
  • Torquay (Devon) - the nexus of the Riviera, immortalised in Fawlty Towers, this harbour-side town contrasts brilliantly white buildings with sparkling blue sea
  • Weymouth (Dorset) - the beach town which hosted the Olympic sailing in 2012 is on the doorstep of the Jurassic Coast

Other destinations[edit]

Neolithic icon:Stonehenge
  • Stonehenge - The most famous prehistoric standing stones in the world and a World Heritage site.
  • The Forest of Dean - The "Queen of Forests", one of England's few remaining ancient forests.
  • Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks
  • Isles of Scilly - A glorious set of islands out in the Atlantic. One of Britain's best kept secrets.
  • Land's End - Where Cornwall tumbles into the Ocean.
  • Lundy - A rugged and very scenic island off the north Devon coast.
  • The White Horses of Wiltshire - white horses created by removing the grass on hills to reveal the white chalk underneath. Most are a few hundred years old, although the Uffington White Horse is at least 3,000 years old.
  • The Jurassic Coast in Dorset and East Devon is designated a World Heritage site.

The itinerary article Prehistoric Wessex Trail suggests a route through much of the region.

Understand[edit]

The exact boundary of the West Country is unclear and often a source of heated debate between the different counties, many of which have strong identities. What can be said is that it is an area that shares many interesting cultural similarities. Most noticeably the accents and dialects. Most of the West Country once formed part of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and Wessex remains to this day a cultural region which locals identify with. The people of Cornwall sometimes consider themselves separate from both the West Country and England, due to their ancient Celtic heritage.

West Country dialects can vary but share many similarities, most noticeably the strong rhotic pronunciation, often stereotyped as rural or pirate speech. These dialects can also be found in neighbouring counties, but are more uncommon due to the influence of large population shifts out of London.

West Country people are widely seen as warm, welcoming, forgiving and easy going folk and certainly this reputation has helped enhance the tourist industry. Other aspects of the culture include an almost religious obsession with rough farm produced scrumpy cider. Many folk songs about the juice of the apple are widely known and will be readily performed by local musicians.

West Country people are often portrayed in the British media as simple country folk, however be aware that people are not comfortable with this London centric view and might well find such comparisons extremely offensive.

Get in[edit]

Brunel's Masterpiece: the Clifton Suspension Bridge traverses the river Avon, Bristol

By Air

Bournemouth, Bristol, Exeter and Newquay all have airports with services from elsewhere in the UK and abroad. Southampton Airport, in the neighbouring South East region, is very well placed for Dorset and Wiltshire.

Otherwise, the greatest number of international (and particularly long-haul) flights will be found at the various London airports, which are all within a day's drive of practically anywhere in the West Country.

By Coach

Probably the cheapest way of getting to the South West - National Express and Megabus operate many services into the region, including routes from airports.

By Ferry

Within the West Country itself are three seaports offering international ferry services: Plymouth (ferries from Roscoff and St Malo in France, and Santander in Spain), Weymouth (ferries from the Channel Islands) and Poole (ferries from Cherbourg and St Malo in France, Santander and Gijón in Spain, and the Channel Islands).

The other Cross Channel ports (Southampton, Portsmouth, Newhaven and Dover) are in South East England and are at various distances from the West Country.

By Rail

First Great Western operate most services into the region from London / the South East and Wales. South West Trains (who mainly cover the east of the region) also connect the West Country to the South and South East. CrossCountry provide long distance services from the Midlands and North.

By Road

The M5, M4, A303 and A31 provide motorway and trunk road access to South West England.

Get around[edit]

See[edit]

Stonehenge, One of the world's most famous prehistoric monuments, located in the county of Wiltshire.

Roman Baths (Bath), a Roman spa complex constructed on hot springs, now a museum.

Do[edit]

The South West with its long coastline is a haven for tourists and so many tourist attractions can be found here. Eastern Dorset has a number of popular seaside resorts, the biggest of which is Bournemouth. The 'Jurassic Coast' (so named for the abundant dinosaur and prehistoric fossils found along the beaches) runs through western Dorset and eastern Devon. The Cornish coast is famous for its mining heritage, fishing villages and surfing beaches. One of the most popular attractions is the Eden Project [1] in Cornwall

Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks are popular for outdoor activities including hiking, climbing, mountain biking and pony trekking.

Other attractions include Crealy Great Adventure Parks [2], two theme parks in Devon and Cornwall.

Eat[edit]

Drink[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

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