UK City Guide

South West England

South West England
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South West England

What really defines an area stretching from Dorset in the East to Cornwall in the West is its nature: Highly cultivated impossibly green farmland and a considerably wilder coastline as land meets sea.

Magic is everywhere. The area is ancient and full of stories and just feels a pretty spiritual place. It is home to the legend of King Arthur and Glastonbury Tor, as well as its traditions and customs. Cornwall has its own language, Cornish. It is regarded by many as a Celtic nation.

The region includes the West Country and much of the ancient kingdom of Wessex. The largest city is Bristol. Other major urban centres include Plymouth, Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Exeter, Bath, Torbay, and the South East Dorset conurbation (which includes Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch).

There are eight cities: Salisbury, Bath, Wells, Bristol, Gloucester, Exeter, Plymouth and Truro. It includes two entire national parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor (a small part of the New Forest is also within the region); and four World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast.

The South West of England is known for Cheddar cheese (it originated in the Somerset village of Cheddar), Devon cream teas, crabs, Cornish pasties, and cider. It is home to the Eden Project, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury Festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, trip hop music and Cornwall's surfing beaches.

The region has also been home to some of Britain's most renowned writers, including Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie, both of whom set many of their works here, and the South West is also the location of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, the setting for many of his best-known novels.

What's it like to live there?

It will of course vary very much depending upon where you live, but the South West region is largely rural, with small towns and villages; a higher proportion of people live in such areas than in any other English region.

The largest cities and towns are Bristol (increasingly up and coming), Plymouth, Bournemouth and Poole (which together with Christchurch make up the South East Dorset conurbation), Swindon, Torbay, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Exeter, Bath (posh and happening), Weston-super-Mare, Salisbury, Taunton and Weymouth. 

Getting about

Relatively connected, but the further West you go, the more difficult. The major cities are in the main two hours or less from London by train. Cornwall is a different story - more remote, arguably more desirable (if you want a quieter life) as a result.

The region lies on several main line railways.

  • The Great Western Main Line runs from London to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance in the far west of Cornwall.
  • The South Western Main Line runs from London and Southampton to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth in Dorset.
  • The West of England Main Line runs from London to Exeter via south Wiltshire, north Dorset and south Somerset.
  • The Wessex Main Line runs from Bristol to Salisbury and on to Southampton.
  • The Heart of Wessex Line runs from Bristol in the north of the region to Weymouth on the south Dorset coast via Westbury, Castle Cary and Yeovil, with most services starting at Gloucester.

Three major roads enter the region from the east.

  • The M4 motorway from London to South Wales via Bristol is the busiest.
  • The A303 cuts through the centre of the region from Salisbury to Honiton, where it merges with the A30 to continue past Exeter to the west of Cornwall. The A31, an extension of the M27, serves Poole and Bournemouth and the Dorset coast.
  • The M5 runs from the West Midlands through Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset to Exeter. The A38 serves as a western extension to Plymouth.
  • There are three other smaller motorways in the region, all in the Bristol area.

Passenger airports in the region include Bristol, Exeter, Newquay and Bournemouth. International visitors are however likely to land at a London airport and transfer to the SW by car, or train.

Schools to consider

Clayesmore, Dorset
A well regarded co-ed school near Blandford Forum with pre-prep, prep and senior departments on one pretty site. 

Knighton House, Dorset
Girls’ prep school (with boys in the pre- prep) with a lovely atmosphere and happy children. 

St Peter’s School, Lympstone
Co-ed Devon prep school, set in 28 acres by the River Exe, with about 250 pupils. 

Cheltenham Ladies College, Cheltenham
Top 5 all girls boarding school in the country

Marlborough College
One of the most prestigious schools in the country.

Links to reviewed schools below.

South West England Communities
South West England’s Top Schools
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