Introducing Southwest England
From the broad sandy beaches of Devon and Cornwall and the vibrant cities of Bristol and Bath to the endearingly old-fashioned seaside resorts of Torquay, Lyme Regis and Weymouth, the southwest is one of Britain's richest and most rewarding areas. Few regions in Britain can boast such a fantastically diverse mix of landscapes, communities and characters - this is a patchwork land of rural fields and rugged cliffs, sleepy hamlets and medieval market towns, Roman settlements and picturesque fishing harbours.
First settled by prehistoric people and later inhabited by successive waves of Celtic, Saxon, Roman and Norman invaders, this corner of Britain was once divided into several self-governing kingdoms, and that sense of separateness endures to this day. The differences between the region's five counties - Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall - may not be immediately obvious to the first-time visitor, but spend a little time here and you'll soon realise just how different these next-door neighbours are beneath the surface.
The rural counties of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset once made up the old kingdom of Wessex, which officially disappeared in the 8th century but was memorably revived in the novels of Thomas Hardy. This is an area best known for its ancient heritage, home to the mysterious stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge, as well as an astonishing array of barrows, burial mounds and hilltop forts and the cathedral cities of Wells and Salisbury. To the west of Wessex is Devon, famous for its cream teas and coastal scenery, and still one of Britain's favourite home-grown holiday spots. Further west the Celtic stronghold of Cornwall, long a favourite haunt for smugglers, surfers and second-home-owners alike, is enjoying something of a renaissance as a centre for culture, cuisine and the arts, especially thanks to thriving seaside towns such as Falmouth and St Ives and ground-breaking projects like the Eden Project near St Austell.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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