The West Country

The West Country is an unofficial name for southwest region of England although Cornwall is a distinct entity in its own right and one of the modern-day Celtic nations. Its main draws for travellers are its countryside and coastlines, but it is home to several cities as well.

Counties

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

Gloucestershire
Wiltshire
Somerset
Dorset
Devon
Cornwall
The Isles of Scilly


Cities and towns

Cities

  • Bath (Somerset)
  • Bristol
  • Exeter (Devon)
  • Gloucester (Gloucestershire)
  • Plymouth (Devon)
  • Salisbury (Wiltshire)
  • Truro (Cornwall)

Towns

  • Bournemouth (Dorset)
  • Penzance (Cornwall)
  • Swindon (Wiltshire)
  • Torquay (Devon)
  • Weymouth (Dorset)

Other destinations

  • Stonehenge - the most famous prehistoric standing stones in the world and a World Heritage site
  • The Forest of Dean - the "Queen of Forests" and one of England's few remaining ancient forests
  • Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks
  • Isles of Scilly - a glorious set of islands out in Atlantic Ocean off Cornwall, one of Britain's best kept secrets.
  • Land's End - where Cornwall tumbles into the Atlantic
  • Lundy - a rugged and very scenic island off the North Devon coast.
  • Exmoor - the rolling bare moors of West Somerset and North Devon meet the Bristol Channel at the hog back cliffs of the West Country's highest coastline, peaking at the 1043 ft Great Hangman.
  • The White Horses of Wiltshire - white horses created by removing the grass on hills to reveal the white chalk underneath, most 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 - designated a World Heritage site
  • Bideford Bay - like its neighbours in North Cornwall and the Gower Peninsula (across the Bristol Channel in Wales), Britain's premier Atlantic coast surf zone, with beaches such as Woolacombe, Croyde, Staunton and Westward Ho!

The exact boundary of the West Country is unclear, which is often a source of heated debate between the different counties, many of which have strong identities. However, a good definition of the West Country is the coastline directly south of Wales across the Bristol Channel (on a clear day Wales can be seen from most of Somerset, North Devon and even the Bude area around Cornwall), which is Somerset, North Devon and North Cornwall, and the coastline directly north of Brittany and Normandy (South Cornwall, South Devon and West Dorset).

What can be said is that it is an area that shares many interesting cultural similarities. Most noticeably the dialect; in the West Country, valleys are called combes or nants and plimsolls are called daps or dappers (like its neighbour in Wales).

Rhe West Country historically had strong immediate trading links with Wales, Brittany, Ireland and the Basque Country, and it shares many similarities with these areas (cider production, pastry snacks, a love of fish dinners, smuggling, wrecking).

West Country dialects can vary but share many similarities, most noticeably the rhotic pronunciation (the R in words like "bar" and "pork" is pronounced) and 'drawled' manner of speech, often stereotyped as rural or pirate speech. They can also be found in neighbouring counties, but they are more uncommon due to the influence of large population shifts out of London.

West Country people are often portrayed as warm, welcoming, forgiving and easygoing folk, and certainly, that 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 preformed by the locals.

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