South West England

South West England
South West England, highlighted in red on a beige political map of England
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Constituent countryEngland
Largest cityBristol
 • Leaders' boardSouth West Councils
 • EP constituencySouth West England
 • Total9,200 sq mi (23,800 km2)
Area rank1st
 • Total5,289,000
 • Rank6th of 9
 • Density580/sq mi (220/km2)
 • Total£113 billion
 • Per capita£18,195 (4th)

South West England is one of nine official regions of England. It is the largest in area, covering 9,200 square miles (23,800 km2),[1] and consists of the counties of Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, as well as the Isles of Scilly. Five million people live in South West England.

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 northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall.[2] The region has by far the longest coastline of any English region.

The region is at the first-level of NUTS for Eurostat purposes. Key data and facts about the region are produced by the South West Observatory. Following the abolition of the South West Regional Assembly and Government Office, local government co-ordination across the region is now undertaken by South West Councils.

The region is known for its rich folklore, including the legend of King Arthur and Glastonbury Tor, as well as its traditions and customs. Cornwall has its own language, Cornish, and some regard it as a Celtic nation. The South West is known for Cheddar cheese, which 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.


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High Willhays on Dartmoor, Devon, the region's highest point.

Geology and landscape

Most of the region is located on the South West Peninsula, between the English Channel and Bristol Channel. It has the longest coastline of all the English regions, totalling over 700 miles (1,130 km).[3] Much of the coast is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, which contributes to the region's attractiveness to tourists and residents.

Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous and metamorphic west and sedimentary east, the dividing line slightly to the west of the River Exe.[4] Cornwall and West Devon's landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays, at 2,038 feet (621 m), on Dartmoor.[5] In North Devon the slates of the west and limestones of the east meet at Exmoor National Park. The variety of rocks of similar ages seen here have led to the county's name being lent to that of the Devonian period.

The east of the region is characterised by wide, flat clay vales and chalk and limestone downland. The vales, with good irrigation, are home to the region's dairy agriculture. The Blackmore Vale was Thomas Hardy's "Vale of the Little Dairies";[6] another, the Somerset Levels was created by reclaiming wetlands.[7] The Southern England Chalk Formation extends into the region, creating a series of high, sparsely populated and archaeologically rich downs, most famously Salisbury Plain, but also Cranborne Chase, the Dorset Downs and the Purbeck Hills. These downs are the principal area of arable agriculture in the region. Limestone is also found in the region, at the Cotswolds, Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills, where they support sheep farming.[8] All of the principal rock types can be seen on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon, where they document the entire Mesozoic era from west to east.[9]


The climate of South West England is classed as oceanic (Cfb) according to the Köppen climate classification. The oceanic climate typically experiences cool winters with warmer summers and precipitation all year round, with more experienced in winter. Annual rainfall is about 1,000 millimetres (39 in) and up to 2,000 millimetres (79 in) on higher ground.[10] Summer maxima averages range from 18 °C (64 °F) to 22 °C (72 °F) and winter minimum averages range from 1 °C (34 °F) to 4 °C (39 °F) across the south-west.[10] It is the second windiest area of the United Kingdom, the majority of winds coming from the south-west and north-east.[10] Government organisations predict the region to rise in temperature and become the hottest region in the United Kingdom.[11]

Inland areas of low altitude experience the least amount of precipitation. They experience the highest summer maxima temperatures, but winter minima are colder than the coast. Snowfalls are more frequent in comparison to the coast, but less so in comparison to higher ground.[10] It experiences the lowest wind speeds and sunshine total in between that of the coast and the moors. The climate of inland areas is more noticeable the further north-east into the region.

In comparison to inland areas, the coast experiences high minimum temperatures, especially in winter, and it experiences slightly lower maximum temperatures during the summer. Rainfall is the lowest at the coast and snowfall is rarer than the rest of the region. Coastal areas are the windiest parts of the peninsula and they receive the most sunshine. The general coastal climate is more typical the further south-west into the region.

Areas of moorland inland such as: Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor experience lower temperatures and more precipitation than the rest of the south west (approximately twice as much rainfall as lowland areas), because of their high altitude. Both of these factors also cause it to experience the highest levels of snowfall and the lowest levels of sunshine. Exposed areas of the moors are windier than lowlands and can be almost as windy as the coast.

Regional identity

The boundaries of the South West region are based upon those devised by central government in the 1930s for civil defence administration, and subsequently used for various statistical analyses. The region is also similar to that used in the 17th-century Rule of the Major-Generals under Cromwell. (For further information, see Historical and alternative regions of England). By the 1960s, the South West region (including Dorset, which for some previous purposes had been included in a Southern region), was widely recognised for government administration and statistics. The boundaries were carried forward into the 1990s, when regional administrations were formally established as Government Office Regions. A regional assembly and regional development agency were created in 1999, then abolished in 2008 and 2012 respectively.

It has been argued that the official South West region does not possess a cultural and historic unity or identity of itself, which has led to criticism of it as an "artificial" construct. The large area of the region, stretching as it does from the Isles of Scilly to Gloucestershire, encompasses diverse areas which have little more in common with each other than they do with other areas of England. The region has several TV stations and newspapers based in different areas, and no single acknowledged regional "capital". Many people of the region have some level of a 'South West', or 'West Country' regional identity, although this may not necessarily correspond to an identification with the official government-defined region. It is common for people in the region to identify at a national level (whether English, British, Cornish, and/or a county or city/town level). Identifying as being from 'the Westcountry', amorphous though it is, tends to be more predominant further into the peninsula where the status of being from the region is less equivocal.[12][13]

In particular, Cornwall's inclusion in the region is disputed by Cornish nationalists.[14] The cross-party Cornish Constitutional Convention and Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow have campaigned for a Cornish Assembly ever since the idea of regional devolution was put forward.


A three arch stone bridge with buildings on it, over water. Below the bridge is a three step weir and pleasure boat.
Pulteney Bridge in Bath, Somerset: the entire city is a World Heritage Site.

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, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Poole (which together with Christchurch make up the South East Dorset conurbation), Swindon, Torbay, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Exeter, Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, Salisbury, and Weymouth. The population of the South West is about five million.[15]


The region lies on several main line railways. The Great Western Main Line runs from London Paddington to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance in the far west of Cornwall. The South Western Main Line runs from London Waterloo and Southampton to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth in Dorset. The West of England Main Line runs from London Waterloo 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.

The vast majority of trains in the region are operated by CrossCountry, Great Western Railway (GWR) and South Western Railway (SWR). GWR is the key operator for all counties in the region except Dorset where SWR is the key operator.

CrossCountry operates services to Manchester Piccadilly, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Dorset is currently the only county in the region where there are electric trains, though the Great Western Main Line and the South Wales Main Line in Wiltshire, Somerset, Greater Bristol and Gloucestershire is being electrified. SWR operate services to and from London Waterloo and serves every county in the region except Gloucestershire and Cornwall. GWR serves all counties in the region and operate to various destinations, some of which run to South Wales and the West Midlands, though almost all intercity trains operated by GWR run through the region.

Transport for Wales also operates services between Maesteg and Cheltenham Spa and West Midlands Trains operates a parliamentary train between Worcester Shrub Hill and Gloucester (there was once a regular service on the route, but this was withdrawn in 2009).

It has been proposed that the former London & South Western Railway Exeter to Plymouth railway be reopened to connect Cornwall and Plymouth as an alternative to the route via the Dawlish seawall that is susceptible to closure in bad weather.[16][17][18][19]

Local bus services are primarily operated by FirstGroup, Go-Ahead Group and Stagecoach subsidiaries. Megabus and National Express operate long distance services from South West England to all parts of the United Kingdom.

M5 looking south towards Avonmouth

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.

Within the region the local transport authorities carry out transport planning through the use of a Local Transport Plan (LTP) which outlines their strategies, policies and implementation programme.[20] The most recent LTP is that for the period 2006–11. In the South West region the following transport authorities have published their LTP online: Bournemouth U.A.,[21] Cornwall U.A.,[22] Devon,[23] Dorset,[24] Gloucestershire,[25] Plymouth U.A.,[26] Somerset,[27] Swindon U. A.,[28] Torbay U. A.[29] and Wiltshire unitary authority.[30] The transport authorities of Bath and North East Somerset U. A., Bristol U. A., North Somerset U. A. and South Gloucestershire U. A. publish a single Joint Local Transport Plan as part of the West of England Partnership.[31]

Other Languages
brezhoneg: Mervent Bro-Saoz
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Sî-nàm England
Bahasa Indonesia: Inggris Barat Daya
Nederlands: South West England
norsk nynorsk: Sørvest-England
Simple English: South West England
slovenčina: South West England
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Jugozapadna Engleska
Tiếng Việt: South West England
West-Vlams: South West England
粵語: 西南英倫