For our look at the "West Countree," we move into Wiltshire and Somerset, two of the most historic shires of England. Once you reach this area of pastoral woodland, London seems far removed. For a total view of the West Country, you can also visit Devon and Cornwall.
Most people agree that the West Country, a loose geographical term, begins at Salisbury, with its Early English cathedral. Nearby is Stonehenge, England's oldest prehistoric monument. (Both Stonehenge and Salisbury are in Wiltshire.) When you cross into Wiltshire, you enter a country of chalky, grassy uplands and rolling plains. Much of the shire is agricultural; a large part is pasture.
Somerset has some of the most beautiful scenery in England. The undulating limestone hills of Mendip and the irresistible Quantocks are especially lovely in spring and fall. Somerset opens onto the Bristol Channel, with Minehead serving as its chief resort. The shire is rich in legend and history, possessing particularly fanciful associations with King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, Camelot, and Alfred the Great. Its villages are noted for the tall towers of its parish churches.
Somerset also encompasses the territory around the old port of Bristol and the old Roman city of Bath, known for its abbey and spa water, lying beside the River Avon.
The two best places to base yourself while you explore the area are Bath and Salisbury. From Salisbury, you can visit Stonehenge and Old Sarum, the two most fabled ancient monuments in the West Country. Yet some say visiting the stones at Avebury is a much more personal experience. And Glastonbury, with its once-great abbey that is now a ruined sanctuary, may be one of Britain's oldest inhabited sites. The greatest natural spectacle in the area is Exmoor National Park, once an English royal hunting preserve, stretching for 686 sq. km (265 sq. miles) on the north coast of Devon and Somerset. Many terrific country houses and palaces are also in this region, including Wilton House, the site of 17th-century staterooms designed by Inigo Jones. The other two major attractions, Longleat House and the fabled gardens at Stourhead, can be visited in a busy day while you're based at Bath.
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