SOUTH WEST ENGLAND

 

Corfe CastleMoors, coastlines and limestone mammoths make up but a part of the geographically diverse region of South West England. The largest of the English regions, it encompasses the shires of Cornwall, Devon, Exmoor, Bristol, Somerset, Exeter and Gloucester, full of mythical history and gorgeous landscapes, as well as home to several World Heritage Sites and National Parks.

The main pull, and economic strength, of the South West lies in its heritage: the silent mystery of Stonehenge, the ancient Roman structures of Bath and the many quaint villages with picturesque thatched cottages lining its streets. The evidence of a quieter time, perhaps an older time, can be felt in the heather covered moors of Devon, and the once-great maritime port of Bristol. UNESCO has taken steps to ensure that these odes to beauty remain untouched by the concrete claws of development, going so far as to declare entire cities as Heritage Sites.

Eden domesThat is not to say that this scenic region is marooned eternally in the past. Without a doubt its attraction lies in its beautiful imagery, but it is also home to the Eden Project in Cornwall, an organic combination of science, art and horticulture that aims to bring man closer to nature through a variety of activities, including sessions by Amy Winehouse, Calvin Harris, Jack Johnson and other musicians who would not be out of place at a Hyde Park show; educational talks and tours, and the Great Eden Ale Festival. At Eden, one can walk through the exotic plants of a humid rainforest at one end, and through a field of joyously waving sunflowers at the other, hopefully gaining a sense of wonder and appreciation in between.

Because of its largely coastal nature, the South West endures windier weather than most other areas of England. The moorlands experience lower temperatures, due to its bare flatlands and higher altitudes. Geographically divided, the west of this region is made up of mostly rugged coastlines and moors, while the east is taken up by agricultural vales and natural monuments of chalk and limestone.
   
Scorhill CircleUnsurprisingly drawing from its dramatic moors and awesome cliffs, the South West is said to be home to England’s greatest legend: King Arthur. Somerset was where he grew up, and Tintagel, his chosen court. Built up in the thirteenth century by Earl Richard of Cornwall as a tribute, Tintagel was claimed to be the seat of King Arthur’s rule. The Earl’s version was a majestic castle, although ill-advisedly built, as it had no military value, nor one of permanency. Once used as a costly holiday suite, it fell into disrepair, finally being abandoned as age took the Earl and his romantic vision. This embodiment of myth still stands; what of it, that is, that has not been claimed by the sea.

While the soaring spires of the many cathedrals and splendour of Roman remains are proof to its artistic and cultural roots, the various art festivals of the South West act as tributes to those characteristics. The two major festivals, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, and the Salisbury International Arts Festival have become events that are anticipated worldwide. Used as a world stage where singers perform, award-winning plays are acted out, and poets and painters exhibit their craft, they are attended by thousands and play host to international and local acts alike.

The rustic charm of the region is perpetuated in its abundance of produce: seafood fresh from the fishermens' net, delicious cider and dairy products such as Cheddar cheese and Cornish cream. That there is a constant supply of trout, herring, lobster and oyster is to be expected, but the region also encourages organic farming, carrying out box schemes to deliver vegetables and incorporating organic products into its baking.

 

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Avebury monolithRemains of settlers from up to  10,000 years ago litter limestone caves and display proof in the megalithic structures of England’s South West. In Cornwall alone there are at least 3,500 late-prehistoric sites, many of which were abandoned by human dwellers at one time or another in the cold weather of the Ice Age, only for them to return again and repopulate the area when things had warmed up. The earliest cave dwellers were proven to be nomadic reindeer hunters, until later ages when they discovered the joys of farming. So unchanged is the landscape of the modern region compared to that of the pre-historic, that the current agricultural villages are built upon and nurture the same fields that their ancestors once cultivated.

Tin trade with the Phoenicians brought the British Isles into popular myths. Spoken of as the Cassiterides or the Stannaries, both carrying the meaning of ‘Tin Islands’, Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and its mining ilk in the South West were a closely guarded secret bordering on historical smokescreening by the Greeks who wished to protect their precious source. In Roman times, the native tribes of the Belgae, Durotriges and Dumnonii who populated the region were tamed by Vespasian, who would later become emperor of Rome; and with the coming of the Romans, the sacred shrine of Sulis was then turned into the fount of the Aqueduct that fed the baths, forming the basis for the city of Bath today. When the Romans left, the South West came under the sway of Anglo-Saxon rule, and under it, was among the last few British regions to topple to the advent of the Vikings in AD 871.

In the late medieval times, maritime trade boomed, and eventually Bristol, one of the major trading ports, came to the attention of Edward III and was made a county in its own right. This encouragement of sea-based activities brought about the era of the seafaring explorers during the Tudor reign, amongst them Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh, Nelson and Cook, all of whom sailed out from Plymouth Sound. In 1620, it was from this very same Plymouth Sound that the Mayflower set sail for a new land: America.

The region eventually settled into the two industries it would be known for: agriculture and tourism. With the aid of EU subsidies, the dairy sector blossomed, and the coastlines became known not only as holiday spots, but also as one of the main providers of seafood to mainland Europe. Modern resorts continue to be built at the same time as ancient structures are preserved, both for the same reasons. Essentially, the South West remains as it ever was; known as an unspoilt region of gorgeous, lonely flatlands, yet constantly yearning for the sea.



Writer:  Samantha Joseph



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lick on the link to download your 36-page PDF version of SOUTH WEST ENGLAND.  It contains the counties of Oxfordshire (including The Cotswolds), Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset.