Claire Henley for Etsy
South West England is a very large and long area, starting at Dorset on the coast, travelling inland to Somerset and then back out to the westerly counties of Devon and Cornwall. It also includes the Isles of Scilly that are almost tropical and the very different neighbouring cities of Bristol and Bath. It’s home to Exmoor and Dartmoor national parks, known for their wild ponies.
Bath is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, situated near Somerset and just a 13-mile walk from the more vibrant city of Bristol. Home to the Cotswolds and spa baths, it was featured in Morse and is also home to many lovely art galleries, museums and opera houses. Jane Austen is its most famous resident, and many period dramas use the Royal Crescent as a backdrop to period tv series. Most of the buildings are now museums and hotels, although there are other similar crescents nearby overlooking the beautiful Victoria park.
Bristol is a thriving city situated in southwest England, around 200 miles or so from London. Home to a strong maritime history, Clifton Bridge is renowned for hot air balloons overhead, and it’s only a 13-mile walk or cycle ride along a disused railway path to the elegant city of Bath. Home to many of the greenest and vegan people in the country, there is also a strong indie shop culture and local currency.
Iris Clelford for Whistlefish
Cornwall is one of England’s most unique counties, and also one of its poorest (many local people are priced out of buying their own homes, due to the influx of second home owners, that push prices up, even though the house are left empty most of the year). Home to beautiful villages, a lot of this county is stunning coastline and some of the best surfing areas in the world. It’s also home to Land’s End (the southern most point of England) and has its own folk music culture and even its own language (people say that to a foreigner, it sounds someone talking backwards or English if you didn’t understand it!)
Devon is one of England’s largest counties, with many people in the north and south never visiting the other regions, as it takes too long. North Devon is more rural and less touristy and home to Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks (one of England’s smallest, both famed for their wild ponies). And also pretty towns like Ilfracombe and Barnstaple. The South is more touristy with seaside yachting resorts, and East Devon is home to Sir John Betjeman’s favourite genteel seaside resort of Sidmouth. The two main cities are Exeter (very demure and with a cathedral) and the maritime city of Plymouth, which borders Cornwall and is home to an iconic lighthouse. Inland you’ll find the quirky town of Totnes, home to the world’s first transition town and its own currency and community energy panels.
Dorset is a large county that has many pretty inland ‘Tess; villages but also a wide stretch of coastline that forms the Jurassic coast, where dinosaurs used to roam! It is also home to some of England’s most popular seaside resorts like Bournemouth, Christchurch and Weymouth, plus Lyme Regis that borders Devon. The Jurassic Coast is England’s first and only natural world heritage site, put in the same category as the Grand Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon. The 95 mile site stretches from the south coast of Exmouth in East Devon to Studland in Dorset. Weymouth has a carcass of a dinosaur found that was so big and angry, he would eat you in two bites!
Gloucestershire is a large county situated in southwest England, home to large parts of the Cotswolds. Gloucester Cathedral is beautiful and boasts what used to be the largest church window in the world. And nearby is Cheltenham, a pretty spa town filled with flowers. The Forest of Dean is home to wonderful walks and the Wye Valley is nearby too. The Cotswolds is home to beautiful honey coloured limestone buildings where many burned out rock stars retire to, set in gorgeous countryside. Also stretching across Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire, this low poppulation area covers 800 square miles. Then name means Cot ‘(sheep enclosure) and Wold ‘(hill), thus ‘sheep enclosures on the hills’. This was due to wealthy wool farmers who would donate moeny to local chruches to ease their path to heaven!
The Scilly Isles are situated off the coast of Cornwall and with a milder temperature and beautiful clear blue seas, resemble the Caribbean, more than England. However, don’t be fooled as there are lots of rocks here, as divers will tell you, having found numerous shipwrecks. It’s also not that clean, as one person become an anti-plastic campaigner after getting stranded for a few days on a boat, shocked to find the waste in the sea as it harmed marine wildlife. The hotter climate means flowers grow here that don’t elsewhere and for longer, and many birds stop off here for a rest on their migrations. The area also has a beautiful painter’s light, and many artists move here too. There are only a few populated islands, the rest are just for the wildlife, just as it should be. Just 28 miles away, but a different world.
Somerset is a large county situated in southwest England. One of contrasts, you have a long coastline with resorts like Weston-super-Mare (be careful here, as there is sinking mud to get stuck in) and then inland, you have the hippy town of Glastonbury and lots of ‘Tess country’ pretty villages. It’s also home to scrumpy (cider!) The county town of Taunton sells many brands. Facing the Welsh coast, there are lots of important natural sites here from the limestone Mendip Hills to the Quantock Hills and Chew Valley, which drains into the Somerset Levels. Pair with caves and gorges like Wookey Hole and you have a natural paradise. Parts of the county even stretch over to Devon’s Exmoor National Park.
Cyndi Speer for Green Pebble
Wiltshire is a mostly rural county, located in south west England. The main cities are Swindon and Salisbury, home to what American writer Bill Bryson called ‘the most beautiful building in England’. Elsewhere it’s mostly villages, many of them nestled amid the hills in a county that has more white horses chalked into the earth, than anywhere else in the country. Apparently there is also a kiwi bird carved into a hill somewhere, why is anyone’s guess! Here is the home of Stonehenge, an ancient burial site. It remains a mystery how the huge heavy stones got here, as nobody would have been able to carry them. The latest belief is that years ago the land was water, and they arrived by ship. What is known is that the ‘hippies’ that visit are not that eco-friendly, because many have been banned, due to leaving so much litter, after they celebrate the annual summer solstice in June.