Visiting South West England
Dorset Coast - near Swanage
Overview - South West England
The South West of England includes the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall. It's one of the most interesting areas to visit in the UK, if you are keen on history, historic buildings, landscape and coastline. Bristol airport is very well placed for visiting the whole area, and there are good train connections from London to Bristol and Bath - but you really need a hire car to get the most out of this region. A significant part of the coastline is covered by the SW Coastal Path, which is an ideal way to appreciate the scenery, especially in Dorset. Here are some of the highlights and tourist attractions in the South West:
- Bath - Unesco World heritage city
- SS Great Britain, Bristol - a restored early steamship
- Avebury Stone Circle
- Stourhead Italianate garden and lake - National Trust
- Montacute House - National Trust
- Padstow and coast
- Lulworth Cove
- Lacock Abbey - National Trust
- Lytes Cary manor house - national trust
- Cheddar Gorge
You can look up some of these attractions at nationaltrust.org.uk, and it's worth joining if you want to see a lot of English historic houses, as you also get free admission to Stonehenge. A week would be ideal if you want to see all these places, but even a few days would be adequate.
Another holiday option
This may seem a wacky and off-beat idea! You could extend a holiday/vacation in the South West by taking a ferry crossing from Poole harbour across to St.Malo in Brittany. Spending a few days in France could make the trip really special, especially if you have a hire car in Brittany. Some of the coast is really spectacular, and the crossing itself can be very nice as long as the weather is OK.
Condor ferries run a service from Poole - you have to like ships because it's a long crossing.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Bath, The Royal Crescent
Montacute House, Somerset
Stourhead in winter
SS Great Britain, Bristol
Barrington Court, near Montacute
Bath is a Georgian city, and a lot of the best architecture is from the 1770s, including the Royal Crescent and The Circus. The city was originally a Roman spa, and the Roman Baths are a great attraction for anyone interested in history and archaeology. Lacock abbey and village is in the area too, one of the sites used in the filming of the Harry Potter films. Castle Combe is another village well worth a visit.
Due to high parking costs and very bad traffic, you should consider arriving by train - all of the city is good for walking, and you could take a bus tour to have a quick look round.
The Jurassic coast of Dorset is famous for its fossil finds, some of which can be seen in Lyme Regis, a nice old-fashioned seaside resort, with some fossil shops. Corfe Castle is stunning, and Studland and Kimmeridge are great for a day out. The coast path between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is not for the faint-hearted, but has some amazing views. The path from Studland beach is also great, and the first photo was taken there.
Cornwall is famous for the beauty of its coastline. St.Ives and Padstow are two of the best resorts, with great beaches nearby, especially Constantine Bay, which isn't well known. July and August are best avoided, as the whole county gets very crowded. One of the top attractions in Cornwall is The Eden Project - an old quarry which has been transformed into a huge garden and geodesic domes, which house tropical forests and different habitats from around the world. A very educational and enjoyable place to visit, especially for children. It's also a concert venue with an amphitheatre, cafe and restaurant. The admission charges are quite high, at £13.80 for an adult, and £34 for a family ticket - you may be willing to pay this if you are interested in ecology and the vision behind the project, and it's all on an unexpected scale - but it's still a bit expensive. The nearest town is St.Austell.
Stonehenge is a World heritage site. To be honest, the view from the perimeter fence is just as good - you don't really need to pay admission and enter the site, as you are kept well away from the stones anyway. If you want to get upclose and personal with a few megaliths, try Avebury Stone Circle. It's free, much more extensive than Stonehenge, and you can touch the stones. There is also a nice cafe, a manor House and great walks around Avebury. Nearby is Silbury Hill, largest man-made monument in Europe, and West Kennet Long barrow, a neolithic burial chamber. It's all really interesting and free too.
Cheddar Gorge is interesting, and you can climb Jacob's Ladder for extensive views. The tourism side is a bit tacky!
National Trust houses and sites
Montacute House is a must-see Elizabethan masterpiece, and Barrington Court and Lytes Cary Manor house nearby are also good. If you want to see all three, you could do it in a couple of hours, and get a very good idea of life in Tudor and Elizabethan times.
Other places worth visiting are:
- Great Chalfield manor
My hub UK Travel - Somerset, England has some photos of Lytes Cary, a small and understated Elizabethan house that is really special.
- The National Trust
The National Trust protects special places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for ever, for everyone