24th September 2019

South West of England. West Country

England West Country map

The counties of the South West are, from west to east:
Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire.
Counties are administrative divisions, with local authorities based in the county town.

The South West is a long peninsula at the corner of England, projecting into the Atlantic Ocean as if trying to escape from the land and venture west into the sea and beyond...

This is where the island of Great Britain terminates, at Land's End.
And this is the region of what can be considered England's last Celtic stronghold: Cornwall (called 'Kernow' in Cornish). Here, where a Celtic language was still spoken in the 18th century, a minor nationalist movement, Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall), tries to revive the old language. Politically this movement has scarce or no importance, but it's an indication of the disappointment felt in an area which, after its main source of wealth, mineral deposits, particularly tin mines, became exhausted in the late 19th century, has been facing economic decline.

In recent years a strong feeling of independence has increased: when you visited Cornwall 20 or even 10 years ago, you didn't see so many signs with the name 'Kernow' and the Cornish flag (Saint Piran's Flag), with a white cross on black background, was not flown so ubiquitously as it is now at every corner, flying from cottages, shops, cafes, cars and boats. The trend towards the display of Cornish symbols seems to be growing each year.

Derelict tin mines are still dotting the Cornish landscape, and some have become a tourist attraction, with paid entry for visitors.

Cornwall has a border with only one other county, Devon. This border runs along the river Tamar for practically all its 50 miles length, except at the extreme northern end, since the Tamar's source is 4 miles south of the North Cornwall coast at Bude and flows all the way southwards until it enters the sea in the Plymouth Sound, the bay of Plymouth, a large harbour city in South-West Devon and one of the largest in the West Country.

West Country sunset

West Country sunset

The neighbouring county of Devon also suffered a similar fate of economic decline as Cornwall. These southwestern counties, however, have a flourishing tourist industry, due to their remarkably long and attractive coastline as well as the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks.

Exmoor is a high moorland that extends from Devon to Somerset and has a coastline along the Bristol Channel. It is interrupted by narrow and forested valleys, which in this area are called coombs, as reflected in the name of local resorts.The nearby seaside resort of Ilfracombe is a lively, pretty place. In front of it is the island of Lundy, home of a colony of puffins. Close by to the west is Woolacombe, which has a large, three-mile long beach, much used for surfing, voted one of Britain's best and winner of the Blue Flag and Premier Seaside Beach awards for water quality, cleanliness and facilities. Lynton, further east almost on the border with Somerset, is another picturesque resort with a beautiful coastline.

This is the area of a well-known walk, Tarka Trail, following the route taken by Tarka the Otter in the children's favourite novel by that name, stretching for 180 miles along North Devon.

Dartmoor is a heather moorland in west Devon. Its most characteristic feature are isolated granite hills topped with rocks, called tors, of which it has more than 160.

Unlike Cornwall and Devon, that have both a North and South coast, Somerset only has a coast on its north. In Somerset, the most interesting and popular seaside resorts are Weston-Super-Mare, also the birthplace of actor John Cleese star of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, and Minehead, home of a large Butlins holiday camp.

Dorset, on the other hand, only has a coast on its south. In Dorset is the elegant resort of Lyme Regis, with its beaches, the fossils in Lyme Bay, a fashionable promenade, and its famous Cobb, a historical harbour wall immortalized in John Fowles' book The French Lieutenant's Woman and the film based on it. Jane Austin also set her novel Persuasion in Lyme Regis after visiting it in 1804.

Weymouth is another Dorset seaside place, overlooked by the Portland peninsula, which affords an impressive view from the top of its promontory over Weymouth Bay, lagoons and a long stretch of pebble beach, Chesil Beach. Nearby is the Portland Bird Sanctuary.

The county of Wiltshire is mainly agricultural. It is famous for the prehistoric stone circles at Stonehenge, whereas Avebury is the site of both stone circles and a large henge, a prehistoric architectural structure consisting of a circular or oval flat area enclosed and bounded by an earthwork and a ditch. A henge can also be found at Woodhenge.

At the eastern end of the West Country is the county of Gloucestershire, bordering with Wales. In it lies a large part of the splendid Cotswolds, designated as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a district of pretty hills and historical market towns with typically wide high streets, merchant halls, market squares, market halls and pillared market houses dating back to the 12th-17th centuries. The whole area is beautifully preserved.

In Gloucestershire, the county town of Gloucester is a cathedral city, and the large Regency town of Cheltenham, where the Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones was born, is an elegant spa town, home of the renowned Cheltenham Racecourse and of a jazz festival.

Prince Charles' estate and residence of Highgrove House, with its organic farm and gardens, where the Prince of Wales has now been living for many years with his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, is also in Gloucestershire.

Farther east the counties of Hampshire, Avon, and Gloucestershire have diversified manufacturing and service industries. Growth in the manufacturing sector has been a contributing factor for the region's significant population increase.



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