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The West Country Travel Guide

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Plan Your West Country Vacation

England's West Country is a land of granite promontories, windswept moors, hideaway hamlets, and—above all—the sea. Leafy, narrow country roads lead through miles of buttercup meadows and cider-apple orchards to heathery heights and mellow villages. With their secluded beaches and dreamy backwaters, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall can be some of England's most relaxing regions to visit.

The

counties of the West Country each have their own distinct flavor, and each comes with a regionalism that borders on patriotism. Somerset is noted for its rolling green countryside; Devon's wild and dramatic moors—bare, boggy, upland heath dominated by heathers and gorse—contrast with the restfulness of its many sandy beaches and coves; and Cornwall has managed to retain a touch of its old insularity, despite the annual invasion of thousands of people lured by the Atlantic waves or the ripples of the English Channel.

The historic port of Bristol is where you come across the first unmistakable burrs of the western brogue. Its Georgian architecture and a dramatic gorge create a backdrop to what has become one of Britain's most dynamic cities. To the south lie the cathedral city of Wells and Glastonbury, with its ruined abbey and Arthurian associations. Abutting the north coast is heather-covered Exmoor National Park.

There’s more wild moorland in Devon, where Dartmoor is famed for its ponies roaming amid an assortment of strange tors: rocky outcroppings eroded into weird shapes. Devon's coastal towns are as interesting for their cultural and historical appeal—many were smuggler havens—as for their scenic beauty. Parts of south Devon resemble some balmy Mediterranean shore—hence its soubriquet, the English Riviera.

Cornwall, England's westernmost county, has always regarded itself as separate from the rest of Britain, and the Arthurian legends really took root here, not least at Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of Arthur. The south coast is filled with sandy beaches, delightful coves, and popular resorts.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. A coastal walk For high, dramatic cliff scenery, choose the Exmoor coast around Lynmouth or the coast around Tintagel. The South West Coast Path is 630 miles long.
  2. Riding or hiking on Dartmoor Escape to southern England's greatest wilderness—a treeless expanse dotted with rocky outcrops; there are many organized walks and pony-trekking operations.
  3. Seafood in Padstow Celebrity chef Rick Stein rules the roost in this small, pretty Cornish port, and any of his establishments will strongly satisfy.
  4. Tate St. Ives There's nowhere better to absorb the local arts scene than this offshoot of London's Tate in the pretty seaside town of St. Ives. A rooftop café claims views over Porthmeor Beach.
  5. A visit to Eden It's worth the journey west for Cornwall's Eden Project alone a wonderland of plant life in a former clay pit. Two gigantic geodesic "biomes" are filled with flora.
  6. Wells Cathedral A perfect example of medieval craftsmanship, the building is a stunning spectacle.

When To Go

When to Go

In July and August, traffic chokes the roads leading into the West Country. Somehow the region squeezes in all the "grockles," or tourists,...

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