South West England is one of the regions of England defined by the Government of the United Kingdom for statistical and other purposes. It is the largest such region in area, covering 23,828 km2 (9,200 square miles). Five million people live there. The region includes the area often known as the West Country, and much of Wessex. The size of the region is shown by the fact that the northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall. The largest city is Bristol. Other major urban centres include Plymouth, Swindon, Gloucester, Exeter, Bath, and the South East Dorset conurbation of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.
The region includes two National Parks and four World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge.
Traditionally, the South West of England has been well known for producing Cheddar cheese, which originated in the Somerset village of Cheddar, for Devon cream teas, Cornish pasties, and for cider. It is also well known as the home of the Eden Project, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury Festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, trip hop music and also Cornwall’s surfing beaches.
Most of the South West occupies a peninsula between the English Channel and Bristol Channel. It has the longest coastline of England’s regions, totalling 1,130 km (702 miles). 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. Cornwall and West Devon’s landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor National Park. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays, at 621 m (2039 ft ), on Dartmoor. 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”; another, the Somerset Levels was created by reclaiming wetlands. 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. 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.
The region comprises the ceremonial counties of: