In Dorset

Discover the South West of England

Gloucestershire Somerset Avon and Dorset - a thematic guide to Britain

Heritage tourism in south west England

Discover...  Gloucester­­shire Avon and Somer­set
Cornwall Devon Dorset
Places to stay in the Southwest
Hotels, apartments and ot her accommodation at best rates from
Jurassic coast
the Mendips

South-west  England

It's no great surprise that the south west of England, from Gloucestershire and Dorset to Cornwall, should be the most popular tourist region of England. There is just so much to see and do.
   The south west of England has hundreds of miles of England's finest and most varied coastline, some of England's most beautiful and unspoilt countryside – including two national parks that offer great opportunities for walkers and hikers – many of its prettiest villages, and some of England's great historic castles and cathedrals.
    In addition the south west has plenty of active and interesting tourist attractions, including popular historic steam heritage railways running through beautiful countryside, old mines, some of England's finest and most interesting caves to explore, and some of the finest gardens in England.
"The Jurassic coastView along the protected Jurassic coast in Dorset
  Apart from Bristol Bath and Plymouth, the southwest is an essentially rural region, with many small towns proud of their historic heritage. It is an area much appreciated for its natural environment, its many pretty villages with their old traditional inns and pubs and its pace of life. In summer, its magnificent beaches and secluded coves attract visitors of all ages; and throughout the year, its coastline is popular with retired people and walkers.
   It is no great surprise therefore that the south west of England should be the country's most popular region for tourism.
    The lists below are by no means exhaustive. They just include about fifry of the best visitor attractions in the south west of England, selected by category. The south west being a large region, has chosen to list these sites by county - ordered from north east to southwest -  rather than by theme: Gloucestershire, Dorset, Avon and Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall.
   For the far southwest of England, the iconic "Westcountry", go to Devon and Cornwall.

Best sites areas to visit and attractions in south west England - listed by county

Gloucestershire Avon and Somerset
Cornwall Devon Dorset

Places to see and visit  in Gloucestershire 

Name Location Highlights
Finest historic monuments in Gloucestershire
Berkley Castle Gloucester­shire
between Gloucester and Bristol
Mediaeval castle that has belonged to the Berkeley family since the 12th century, and 24 generations of the same family have lived here.  The buildings date essentially from the 14th century, with later modifications. King Edward II was murdered in the castle in 1327.
Open April to October  Sunday to Wednesday only.
Sudeley Castle Winchcombe,
North of Cheltenham
A beautiful 15th century early Renaissance castle standing in a 1200 acre estate with attractive gardens, at the edge of the Cotswolds. The chapel contains the tomb of  Catherine Parr, wife of King Henry VIII.
Open mid March to early November
Tewkesbury Abbey Gloucester­shire
North of Gloucester
Former Benedictine abbey, and one of the largest non-cathedral churches in England. Built between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, in the romanesque / Norman and gothic styles.
Gloucester cathedral Gloucester­shire One of the finest cathedrals in England, illustrating the evolution of mediaeval architecture. The nave is a fine example of Norman romanesque style, while 4th and 15th century  transepts and the choir are beautiful examples of perpendicular Gothic and fan vaulting. Gloucester cathedral's cloisters are also the earliest example of English gothic fan vaulting.
Outdoors and countryside
The Cotswolds Gloucester­shire Running northeast - southwest through Gloucestershire, the Cotswolds are rolling hills, dotted with small stone-built villages. Among the most attractive villages are Stanton and Stanway, Bourton on the Water, Compton Abdale, Lower Slaughter and Painswick, Bisley. Hiking: the Cotswold Way is a long distance hiking trail running along the western scarp.  The Cotswold Farm Park, near Cheltenham, is a major centre for the survival of domestic rare breeds.
Forest of Dean Gloucester­shire West of the Severn, the Forest of Dean is a large forested area, with plenty of hiking trails. The forest is renowned for its wildlife, which now includes wild boars, reintroduced in the past 20 years. The western edge of the forest is the very attractive Wye valley which is, for part of its course, the border between England and Wales.
Towns and villages
Cheltenham Gloucester­shire The "Capital of the Cotswolds", Cheltenham, formerly well known as a spa town, has a fine early-nineteenth century centre, with many parks. The Rotunda, the Promenade and the Pitville pump room are fine pieces of neoclassical architecture. Cheltenham has many attractions in the vicinity, including the Cotswolds, Gloucester, Tewkesbury and plenty more. It also has one of England's most famous racecourses.
Winchcombe Gloucester­shire Fine small Cotswold town, with both the Gloucester­shire and Warwickshire heritage railway, and Sudeley castle. Nearby are Belas Knap, a prehistoric long barrow, and Cleeve Hill, a noted beauty spot with great views over the Severn valley
Bourton on the Water Gloucester­shire Classic large Cotswold village, with the small river Windrush running through the middle. Birdland wildlife centre. Model village.
Attractions - things to discover
The Wildfowl and Wetlands centre Gloucester­shire,
south of
The pioneering sites of wildlife conservation, the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge was founded by naturalist Peter Scott (son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott) way back in 1946. It is a major wetland area in the Severn estuary, and a key location on the migratory routes of many waterfowl. The centre has played a major role in preserving a number of threatened species of wildfowl, most notably the Hawaiian goose. Visitor centre.
Cotswold Farm Park Near Cheltenham Run by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, a farm centre dedicated to the survival and conservation of traditional breeds of domestic animals, notably pigs, sheep, cattle and horses.
Gloucester­shire and Worcester­shire railway Gloucester­shire,
near Cheltenham
The GWR is a 19 km preserved railway, running from the outskirts of Cheltenham (Gloucestershire) to near Broadway (Warwickshire), along the edge of the Cotswolds (see above). Steam trains

A choice of the best places to  see and visit  in Dorset 

Name Location Highlights
Historic monuments
Corfe Castle Near Swanage The dramatic ruins of what was one of the finest mediaeval fortresses in England – destroyed during the English Civil War.  Accessible on foot from Corfe village station on the Swanage steam railway.
Outdoors and countryside
Jurassic coast Dorset and east Devon UNESCO natural world heritage site.  Extensively preserved stretch of coastline on the Dorset coast. Highlights include Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door -  the Portland Bill peninsula, the Chesil Beach, a long shingle barrier beach just off the coast, enclosing a coastal lagoon, the Abbotsbury swannery.
Towns and villages
Milton Abbas Dorset A late 18th century planned village, consisting of a street flanked by traditional thatched cottages.
Cerne Abbas Dorset The most famous of all of England's giant chalk figures, carved into a hillside. Long thought to be prehistoric, it is now estimated that the Cerne Abbas giant dates from the seventeenth century.
Dorchester Dorset Little remains of the Roman city that once stood here, apart from the archaeological site of a Roman town house (entrance free). But Dorchester is an attractive small town, the model for Thomas Hardy's "Casterbridge", and the heart of "Hardy country". Outside Dorchester is Poundbury, the model "urban village", an award-winning and architecturally interesting modern housing development, spearheaded by Prince Charles, that attracts architects and planners from all over the world.
Dorset A classic Dorset village, with thatched cottages; it is also known for its swannery, where swans have been bred since the middle ages in a lagoon behind the Chesil beach
Weymouth Dorset A popular seaside resort, with good beaches and a historic nineteenth-century sea front. Weymouth also has an active fishing harbour, and visitors can go out on deep-sea fishing trips.
Attractions - things to discover
Swanage Railway South east Dorset 10 km steam heritage railway which will eventually link Swanage and Wantage. With the small seaside resort of Swanage at the south end, and the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle near the other end, this is a popular outing for day-trippers.

A selection of the best places to see and visit  in Avon and Somerset 

Avon, formerly part of Somerset, is the area around Bristol and Bath. It has nothing to do with Stratford on Avon, which is on a different river Avon.

Name Location Highlights
Bristol Avon There is plenty to see in Bristol, and it's all fairly accessible. The SS Great Britain (see below), a science museum, the Britstol Aquarium, museums and art galleries, the Bristol Zoo, plus the elegant regency quarter of Clifton, with the Clifton Gorge suspension bridge
Bath Avon The whole city is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. A remarkable ensemble of neoclassical architecture, from the eighteenth century; also the famous Roman baths
Historic monuments
Wells Cathedral Somerset
South of Bath
One  of the finest cathedrals in England, renowned for its pure gothic nave, its unique scissors vault, and its beautiful fan vaulted chapter house. Wells being a very small city, the cathedral with its close and accompanying bishop's palace and school, have changed little over recent centuries.
Roman baths and pump room, Bath Somerset The most visited tourist attraction in England outside the London area. After Hadrian's Wall, the Roman baths at Bath are the most famous Roman remains in Britain. Parts of the original Roman baths are now included in the 18th century neoclassical baths; there is a museum with mosaics and other Roman artefacts. Bath's baths were "Thermae", i.e. hot mineral springs. While it is no loger possible to bathe in the Roman baths, visitors can sample a hot mineral bath in modern thermal centre close by.
Glastonbury Abbey & tor Somerset, south of Bath Glastonbury Tor is one of the great mythical sites in England. The tor is a small round hillock, rising up beside the flat land of the Somerset Levels.  It is crowned by a square tower, but there was never a church attached. Glastonbury is strongly linked to legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It may have been the fabled Avalon.  Glastonbury abbey, which stands below the tor,  was destroyed in the 16th century at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and is today a romantic ruin. One of the Glastonbury myths claims that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried here.
Montacute House Somerset near Yeovil One of the finest early English renaissance houses, built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st.  Montacute has the longest "long gallery" of any English stately home. Located in the heartland of south Somerset, away from the coast and big cities, Montacute tends to be less crowded with tourists than some other great stately homes
Dunster Castle West Somerset A castle has stood on a small hill just outside the village of Dunster since the Middle Ages; the castle that stands today was largely renovated in the nineteenth century.  The village of Dunster, nestling at the edge of Exmoor, is also very attractive.
Outdoors and countryside
The Mendips Somerset A range of limestone hills on the northern edge of the Somerset Levels.  The Mendips are best known as the birthplace of Cheddar cheese. Close to the small town of Cheddar is Cheddar Gorge, one of the finest  limestone gorges in England. The area was home to some of the earliest humans in Britain, and prehistoric remains have been found in some of the caves which can be visited. (See below)
the Quantocks Somerset These were the first area in Britain to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), back in 1956. With their wooded or arable lower slopes and their open heather-clad peaks, the Quantocks are ideal walking country, and less visited than many other areas. the poet Coleridge lived in the village of Nether Stowey, where he wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Exmoor National Park Somerset, Devon Almost 700 sq. km, much of it open grazing land for sheep and wild ponies; a landscape of grass bracken or heather-clad hilltops and valleys, Exmoor is wonderful walking country. Highlights include Doone Valley, and the summits of Porlock Hill and Dunkery beacon, with their great panoramic views to the Bristol Channel, Devon, Somerset and South Wales. Exmoor has 55 km of rugged coastline. Tarr Steps, near Dulverton, is a prehistoric "clapper bridge"
Attractions - Places to discover
SS Great Britain Avon This revolutionary iron ocean-going passenger liner was launched in 1843. Designed by Brunel, this was the first large ship to use both an iron structure and propellor propulsion. She served until 1885, when she was abandoned in the Falkland Islands. Brought back to Bristol, where she was made, in 1970, she has since been carefully renovated to her former glory. European Industrial museum of the year 2008. Official website
Wookey Hole and Gough's cave Somerset, South of Bristol,  Gough's Cave and Wookey Hole, near Cheddar,  are two of the finest visitable caves in the UK, with underground rivers, stalactites and stalacmites.
West Somerset Railway Somerset, from near Taunton, to Minehead The longest preserved steam railway in Britain, over 36 km in length. 

Continue with the far west:  Devon and Cornwall
The West of England goes by many names: it is also the southwest of  England,  and the Westcountry. For the purposes of this guide, it includes Gloucestershire, but not Wiltshire. It is the area of England with the mildest climate, one of the most attractive rural areas of England, and an area that for 150 years has been the most sought-after holiday region in England.
The Westcountry

Roman Bath
Roman Bath

Cotswold village
A village in the Cotswolds

Swans at Slimbridge
Swans at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire

Hotels with character...
Independent hotels in the Westcountry

Neoclassical Bath
Neoclassical Bath - UNESCO world heritage site

Wells cathedral

Wells Cathedral, Somerset

Corfe castle

Corfe castle, Dorset

SS Great Britain
The restored SS Great Britain (1843) in the dry dock at Bristol, where she was built   

at best rates

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