Top 10 Beauty Spots in South West England

Ellie WilsonStarred Page By Ellie Wilson, 27th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Europe>England>Devon & Cornwall

The South West is often overlooked for natural beauty in favour of the more mountainous regions of Northern Britain, but it has some has some of the most varied and breathtaking scenery in the UK. Here is a guide to ten of the best.

1. Jurassic Coast

Stretching from Orcombe Point in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is England’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 95 miles of cliffs span the Mesozoic Era and incorporate 180 million years of geological history from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

The coastline passes through picturesque seaside towns, such as Sidmouth, Seaton, Lyme Regis and Weymouth, ranging from the red cliffs of East Devon, through the golden sandstone of West Dorset to the jagged limestone of East Dorset. Along the way, the undulating coastline features a number of spectacular natural sites, such as Golden Cap, Chesil Beach and the Fleet, the Isle of Portland, Lulworth Cove, a fossilised forest and the Old Harry Rocks themselves.

Whatever you’re into, there will be something to entertain you. You can go fossil hunting in Charmouth or if you’re feeling active, walk some of the South West Coast Path, part of which runs along the entire stretch of coast. You can check out Sidmouth’s Folk Festival, take a boat trip around Lyme Bay, or simply spend a day on the beach! The Jurassic Coast website gives plenty more ideas of ways to spend your time on this unique and spectacular length of coastline.

2. Exmoor

Straddling North Somerset and Devon, Exmoor National Park is 267 square miles of open moorland, wooded river valleys, rolling farmland and rocky coast. Home to the Exmoor Pony and the majestic red deer, Exmoor is a place steeped in history and a must for any visitor to the West Country. There are teashops and country pubs dotted around the scattered villages and towns, or you can take advantage of the many paths and trails across the moor.

Some of Exmoor’s highlights include the villages of Lynton, Lynmouth and Porlock on the coast and Selworthy, Exford and Horner inland. The highest point in Somerset, Dunkery Beacon, stands proud on top of the moor, or you can brave the wild landscape of the Chains and the mysterious Pinkery Pond to the west. Tarr Steps, the prehistoric clapper bridge across the River Barle should certainly be on your sightseeing list, and literary buffs won’t want to miss a visit to the Doone Valley, setting of R.D. Blackmore’s classic Lorna Doone.

The National Park has its own website for more ideas.

3. Dartmoor

Dartmoor is a very different beast to its northern cousin Exmoor. Covering 368 square miles in South Devon, its expanse of wild moorland has a curious bleak beauty to it. The Army, which has a training base at Okehampton on the north edge of the moor, claim that if you can survive Dartmoor, you can survive anywhere! It is certainly true that when the mist comes down and the rain sets in, Dartmoor can seem very inhospitable. But there is plenty to admire in Dartmoor.

Home to the Dartmoor Pony, Dartmoor is also famed for its granite tors. There are around 150 of these all across the moor, erupting out the ground and jutting into the skyline, each with their own intriguing name – Steeperton, Bellever, Dinger, Great Mis and Laughter Tor, to name just a handful.

The National Park doesn’t only incorporate the wild open moor, but the valleys and farmland around the edges too. See the National Park website for more details. The majority of the wild moor is Access Land, which means you can walk wherever you like (watch out for the bogs and take care crossing rivers, especially after heavy rain), although the Army does use it for training exercises, so check out their website for range opening times.

4. Quantock Hills

The Quantock Hills form the backbone of Somerset, running from the North Somerset coast to the centre of the county, just north of the county town of Taunton. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty contains open heathland and wooded combes and is home to a large range of wildlife. It offers spectacular views – on clear days you can see across the Bristol Channel to Wales and see the whole of Somerset laid out around you. The Hills are criss-crossed with paths and tracks and host a number of activities – see the website for more details.

5. Cornish Coast

Cornwall is the most visited county in the South West, and it’s easy to see why. Jutting out into the Atlantic, it boasts nearly 300 miles of coastline. Rocky cliffs and sandy beaches, popular with surfers and swimmers alike, Cornwall is a county rooted in the sea. From pirates, to fishermen, sealife and watersports, Cornwall’s stunning coastline is integral to the county’s history. You’ll probably want to visit Land’s End, and stand at the most south-westerly tip of mainland Britain, but it is a little gimmicky and commercialised, and there is more to be appreciated in the little coves and beaches tucked away further round the southern coast.

6. Durdle Door

Although a feature on the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door deserves its own mention. It is a impressive natural limestone sea arch, just around the East Dorset coast from the village of Lulworth. It is privately owned by the Lulworth Estate, but open to the public. Although it is one of the most photographed natural features in Britain, it is well worth a visit to see the real thing, and for those brave enough, to swim through it!

7. Cheddar Gorge and the Mendips

The Mendip Hills run to the south of Bristol and Bath and are also designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The limestone hills overlook the coastal plain of the Somerset Levels to the west. Their most famous feature is Cheddar Gorge, just outside the village of Cheddar in North Somerset. The Gorge’s cliffs tower over the road below, reaching 137 metres at their highest point, and make for an impressive drive. The Gorge is also home to Cheddar’s Show Caves, which although expensive, are well worth a visit. The largest of these, Gough’s Cave, goes back around 400 metres and features an extensive and superb array of stalagmites and stalactites.

8. Blackdown Hills

The Blackdown Hills, on the Somerset-Devon Border, is another AONB, which is often overlooked, but features some beautiful ridges, hills, woods and valleys. Villages are few and far between and much of the area is devoted to farmland; the peace and tranquillity of the Blackdowns is rarely matched. There is a wealth of public footpaths, cycle tracks and bridlepaths and a good chance that you won’t see a soul all day! However, there are plenty of other things to do in this hidden treasure of the West Country.

9. South Hams

Another often-overlooked AONB is the South Hams, situated in South Devon, and featuring some of the most beautiful and unspoilt coastline and countryside in the South West. The sheltered coast features some stunning beaches and the Kingsbridge Estuary, where the low cliffs wind in and out. The sea is a brilliant bright blue and dotted with fishing boats. The mild climate gives rise to lush greens and extensive meadows. Once you’ve visited the South Hams, you’ll never forget it!

10. West Dorset

Striding about the rolling hills of West Dorset, you could be forgiven for thinking you had walked onto the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel. Hardy was born near Dorchester, the county town of Dorset, in 1840, and set many of his novels, such as Far from the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge, in the area, though he renamed the towns and villages and called the county Wessex. The extensive farmland, heathland and woods of West Dorset remain virtually unchanged from Hardy’s day, though tractors have replaced horse-driven farm machinery. Even if you’re not a fan of Hardy’s work, the area is well worth a visit.


Aonb, Blackdown Hills, Cheddar Gorge, Cornwall, Dartmoor, Devon, Dorset, Durdle Door, Exmoor, Holidays, Jurassic Coast, National Parks, Outdoor Recreation, Quantock Hills, Somerset, South Hams, South West Uk, West County

Meet the author

author avatar Ellie Wilson
I am History graduate, based in Southampton, UK, with many interests including music (playing and listening), film and TV, sport, outdoor pursuits, photography, cookery and gardening.

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author avatar Buzz
28th Oct 2011 (#)

Great beauty spots and star page. Pleased to meet you, Ellie.:)

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
5th Nov 2011 (#)

I would love to visit England some day, looks like the south west has some very interesting places to visit as a tourist.

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