Eight things that the West Country does best
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I was devastated when I moved out of Bristol last year, but I didn’t exactly go far. After a summer stint in Guatemala, I returned back to the West Country, just thirteen miles away from Bristol, in Bath town centre.
This time, I’m actually leaving. I’m moving out of area of the world that has been my home for the last five years, with no idea when I’m going to return. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be more excited for the enormous adventure that I’m about to embark on – but I feel a slight bittersweet sentiment, as I’m letting go of this beautiful place that I’ve adored since the day that I’ve moved here.
Many travellers to the UK just visit London, and I can understand why; it’s great. But even though I’m from there (side note: I urge any visitors to London to NEVER visit Bromley, which is the part of the capital that I’m actually from…) the only reason I’ll hold onto London as home is because it’s where my amazing family live. As a place, I think of Bristol as ‘my city’ so much more than London. It’s where I grew into myself, where I learnt valuable life lessons, where my love for travel was ignited, where I became a better writer, where I had (many failed) romantic affairs, where I made the most amazing lifelong friendships… My accent might be cockney, but Bristol and the West of England is where the rest of me belongs.
Where is the West Country?
The West Country is an area loosely defined as the most western counties in Southern England. This includes Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and the city and county of Bristol (so good they named it twice). It can also encompass Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. It covers the two famous cities of Bath and Bristol, hundreds of quaint towns, acres of lush green countryside and absolutely stunning beaches.
Some of the West Country – mainly Bath and Cornwall – are globally famous, Bath for its outstanding architecture and Cornwall for its tropical-like beaches. While they are both very deserving of this fame, the West Country has so much more to offer!
So, if you venture westwards from London, what could you be expecting? Using my life experience of the last five years, I’ve complied this list of what the West Country does best. Here’s eight things that just scream ‘South West England’, and will make you want to hop on a megabus (ah the London-Bristol megabus, where I spent about 42% of my uni years…) out west right now!
So what does the West Country do best?
Somerset brie, Exmoor blue cheese, cheddar FROM Cheddar… they’re all made in this part of the world. It’s the land of farms; the west of England churns out cheese by the ton and sells it at delicious farmer’s markets all over the country. You’ll know that everything you buy there is deliciously fresh and local!
If you’re around on late May bank holiday Monday, head up to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire to watch some cheese rolling. This tradition is one of the world’s most obscure sports and has been around since the 1800s and brings thousands of spectators every year!
When I order a cider back in London, my mum always tells me ‘you’ve been living in the West Country too long’… It’s the drink of choice over here (which is great for us gluten intolerants who can’t have beer!). Apple, pear, flavoured, plain, or maybe even mixed with ginger beer; you’ll find something to meet your cider desires in South West England, I promise. Saying that, you’ll almost certainly find something to meet your cider desires in The Apple, a floating cider bar in Bristol… be sure to check it out!
Wells Cathedral is absolutely amazing. The masterpiece was built between 1175 and 1490, in replacement of a church built on the site in earlier times. When you visit Wells Cathedral, you can understand why it took so long; I think it might be the most intricately designed and lovingly carved exterior of a building that I’ve ever seen.
Bath Abbey is another fascinating building. It was constructed on the site where the first King of all of England was crowned, and nowadays retains fascinating stories from the Middle Ages. It was restored by Oliver King (who engraved some of the details into the side of the church to creatively play on his name), halted by the Dissolution of the Monastries and then reordered to be rebuilt by Queen Elizabeth I.
There’s fascinating cathedrals and abbeys all over the UK, but I think few are as intriguing as these two. Wells is frequently deemed to be the most beautiful in the whole country, and the historical ties to Bath make these two some of the most important sites to visit in the UK.
On my recent trip to Cornwall, I couldn’t believe that the beaches were British; they looked like a postcard from the Mediterranean or Caribbean. There’s also an area of Devon known as the ‘English Riviera’ which features exotic palm trees and golden sands. Not to mention the Isles of Sicily, a few miles off the coast of Cornwall yet with beaches more reminiscent of Barbados.
But if you wish for something more ‘Great British Seaside’-esque; there’s something here for you too. Some of the best things to do in Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset are to visit coastal towns where you can enjoy a stick of rock, sit outside a beach hut and make a sandcastle! The South West Coast Path is England’s longest marked coastal walk, stretching over 630 miles of seaside. So you can be sure to find a beach to suit you along it!
Have you heard of Glastonbury festival? The UK’s most famous music event, it takes place over the course of 5 days every June, and showcases a huge amount of acts, from The Who to Beyonce to Fatboy Slim. And it’s not just music; it’s got artists, a poetry corner, yoga classes… if you’re after anything weird and wonderful, you’ll find it at Glastonbury.
But this isn’t the only festival that the West of England offers; how about a party inside a massive greenhouse that is made to look like the rainforest? Or a local day festival on a beautiful farm? The vast amount of green, open space in this part of the world, twinned with the great music scene of Bristol means that you’ll never be short of festivals and music events to attend here!
I heard once that ‘Bristol is a city more famous for its graffiti than cathedral’ and I couldn’t agree more. The home of Banksy, arguably the world’s most famous graffitist, Bristol hosts several huge outdoor art galleries. Some of the art has political inspiration, some paintings are extremely talented and detailed drawings, and some are just bright colours and comic captions. Banksy’s take on the wild west (The Mild, Mild West) is sure to put a smile on anybody’s face!
When you work in Somerset, you have to learn to love ‘em – or else you’ll end up just tearing your hair out on your daily commute. I’m constantly held up by tractors on my 13 mile journey into work – but even though they make me drive about 10mph and are constantly a cause of tardiness at work, they always make me smile. Because when a tractor holds me up, that’s when I know I’m back west.
The Bath to Bradford on Avon Canal path is known as the prettiest in the country, and it’s easy to see why. The eight mile stretch is littered with beautiful bright boats, some with cheery writing on the side and some with flowers adorning their decks. Some people holiday in these boats – a few even live in them – and there’s always people to chat to along the canal path, who will be happy to explain the history and workings of the canal! There’s also many pubs along the way; a perfect way to spend a day is walking in either direction, stopping at each pub and admiring the boats along the way.
From the liberal and quirky city of Bristol, to the UNESCO world heritage site of Bath, to Somerset farm after Somerset farm, to the Cornish sea; the West Country has a varied yet quintessentially unique charm. Although I haven’t yet quite adopted the phrase ‘Gert Lush’ (which means that something’s really nice), the South West of England has felt home to me in a way that London suburbia never has. And although I’m jetting off to the opposite side of the world, I’ll forever think of this charming part of the world with fondness, and I’ll definitely be back someday.
Soppiness aside, if you get the chance to visit the West Country, please do. The eight things I’ve mentioned above are just a slice of what this fantastically diverse and welcoming region of the country has to offer!
Is there anything else that, for you, sums up the West Country?
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