THE WESTCOUNTRY

Dorset

Dorset is a county in South West of England on the English Channel coast covering an area of 1,024 square miles. The county town is Dorchester, which is situated in the south of the county. Around half of the county’s population lives in the Southeast Dorset conurbation, while the rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density.

The county has a long history of human settlement stretching back to the Neolithic period.  The Romans conquered Dorset’s indigenous Celtic tribe and during the early Middle Ages, the Saxons settled in the area and made Dorset a shire in the 7th century. The first recorded Viking raid on the British Isles occurred in Dorset during the 8th century and the Black Death entered England at Melcombe Regis in 1348. In 1834 a group of farm labourers from Tolpuddle were instrumental in the formation of the trade union movement. During the Second World War, Dorset was heavily involved in the preparations for the invasion of Normandy and the large harbours of Portland and Poole were two of the main embarkation points on D-Day.

Dorset has a varied landscape featuring broad elevated chalk downs, steep limestone ridges and low lying clay valleys. Over half the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and three quarters of its coastline is a World Heritage Site that features notable landforms such as Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and Durdle Door.

There are no motorways in Dorset but a network of A-Roads cross the county and two railway main lines connect to London. Dorset has ports at Poole, Weymouth and Portland and an International Airport.

Somerset

The county of Somerset is in South West of England with the county town of Taunton being in the south of the county.  The county shares borders with Avon and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the southeast and Devon to the southwest. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the River Avon, Bristol Channel and the estuary of the River Severn.

Somerset is a rural county of rolling hills such as the Blackdown Hills, Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park and large flat expanses of land including the Somerset Levels. There is evidence of human occupation from Palaeolithic times and of subsequent settlement in the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. The county played a significant part in the consolidation of power and rise of King Alfred the Great and later in the English Civil War.

Agriculture is a major business in the county. Farming of sheep and cattle, with dairy herds used to produce milk for the county’s famous cheeses, most notably Cheddar. There is also the more unusual cultivation of willow for basket weaving. Apple orchards were once plentiful and Somerset is still known for the production of strong cider.

Devon

Devon is a coastal county in the far south west of England.  Devon reaches from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south, and the City of Exeter is the county town.

Geographically, Devon is distinguished as the only county of England to have two separate coastlines, to the north and south, both of which are peppered by lofty cliffs and beautiful sandy shores.  The inland terrain of Devon is broadly rural and hilly and has a low population density in comparison to other counties of England. Dartmoor, the largest open space in Southern England of 368 square miles is indicative of the Devonshire uplands, covered with wide moorland and underlying granite geology. In the valleys and lowlands the soil is fertile, traversed by rivers such as the Exe, the Culm, the Dart and the Otter.

The county gains its historical origins in classical antiquity and derives its name from Dumnonia, which during the British Iron Age and Roman Britain, was the homeland of the Dumnonii Celts. The Anglo Saxon settlement of Britain resulted in the partial assimilation of Dumnonia into the Kingdom of Wessex during the eighth and ninth centuries.  Devon was constituted as a shire of the Kingdom of England thereafter, with the River Tamar forming the western boundary with Cornwall, set by King Aethelstan in 936.

The economy of Devon is linked closely with tourism. The comparative mild climate and salubrious landscape give rise to Devon as a destination for recreation and leisure.  Travellers are particularly attracted to the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, the Jurassic Coast and the ribbon of resort towns along the South Coast known collectively as the English Riviera.