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The Great South West Highlights

Explore the highlights of South West England on this 14 day itinerary.

In less than an hour’s drive, escape the hustle and bustle of London and head to a region blessed with some of the most stunning coastline, quaintest villages and rugged landscapes Britain has to offer. Full of cultural excitement and heritage wonders, find your own rhythm, experiencing some of the best highlights of the south west in this 630-mile-long drive.

Day 1-2: Step back in time: Wiltshire

Lacock Abbey. Copyright VisitEngland/Visit Wiltshire/Chris Lock

From London take the M3 & A303 westwards to Salisbury Wiltshire. Steeped in mystery and legend, visit Salisbury Plain at sunrise or sunset and explore the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury. The great stone circle forms a huge ring enclosing part of the village.

Salisbury Cathedral is home to the 1215AD Magna Carta manuscripts, the world’s oldest clock, and Britain’s tallest spire. The National Trust village of Lacock is home to medieval lanes and has been used for many film and TV locations including Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.  Enjoy a visit to Wiltshire’s market towns of Malmesbury and Corsham, taking a stroll through the garden grounds of Stourhead, Bowood and Longleat.

West Bay, DorsetWest Bay. Copyright jurassicphotography.com

From Salisbury take the A338 southwards for just 40 minutes arriving at Bournemouth in Dorset. Blessed with some of the finest beaches - winning 4 blue flag awards in 2015 - Bournemouth is the perfect spot to enjoy the British seaside. Try surfing, paddle boarding, and sea kayaking followed by some traditional fish & chips.

Explore Dorset’s 95 miles of World Heritage coastline around Lyme Regis with the soaring archway of Durdle Door this whole area is known as the Jurassic Coast. This UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site is world famous for geology and fossils, with over 185 million years of history.

At Poole, join the South West Coast Path leading you to breathtaking landmarks such as the Lulworth Cove, Golden Cup and along to the stunning West Bay. The path stretches 630 miles, from Poole around the coast to Minehead in North Devon. 

Dartmoor National Park. Copyright VisitBritain images

Head westwards on the A35 / A30, along the stunning coastline. The drive will take around 2 hours to Exeter, a city which dates back to the Roman times. Exeter is a great base to explore the 368 square miles of Dartmoor National Park, famous for its rugged beauty. Explore by foot, taking one of the many walking trails or cycle Drake’s Trail where you are likely to encounter herds of pure-breed wild Dartmoor ponies that wander the moor. 

An actor posing as PoirotAgatha Christie's Poirot on the English Riviera. Copyright VisitBritain images

Less thank half an hour from Exeter lie the towns of Torquay, Paignton, Babbacombe and Brixham, otherwise known as the English Riviera. Steeped in maritime history, Torquay also has its own UNESCO-stamped Geopark, where visitors can explore its unique ecosystem. Here you will also find the birthplace of Agatha Christie. Paignton is a popular holiday resort with its historic pier and thriving Zoo, whilst Brixham is central to the South West fishing industry, hosting tours of its new Fish Market (6am start) and home to the historic replica of Sir Frances Drake’s Golden Hind.

Take the A38 westwards to Plymouth, and the scene of Sir Francis Drake’s legendary game of bowls.  Plymouth has great theatre, live music and art galleries, as well as the magnificent Plymouth Hoe and historic Royal William Yard, home to the Ocean Studios artists complex as well as a wealth of popular restaurants and even its own gin distillery. The Plymouth Gin Distillery is the oldest working distillery in England.

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall. VisitEngland/Alex Hare

Take a few days to drive around the “foot” of Britain. Heading westwards along the south coast ‘s leafy estuaries, traditional fishing villages and vibrant waterfront communities, stop off at Cornwall’s iconic Eden Project with its 5 massive biome greenhouses each containing thousand’s of the worlds plant species. Elsewhere explore the lesser known hidden paths and bamboo tunnels at the Lost Garden of Heligan.

Drive along the coast to Marazion and at low tide, walk across the causeway to St Michael's Mount, legendary home of the Cornish giant Cormoran. Stop off at the picture-postcard fishing village of Mousehole and enjoy a theatrical play at the dramatic Minack Theatre, nestled into the coastline. Head to the most southwesterly point of Britain, Land’s End, marveling at the impressive granite rock formations amongst the purple and yellow heather.

If time permits, take a trip over to the Isles of Scilly, just 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall and accessible by boat from Penzance or a short flight from Land’s End, Newquay or Exeter. Enjoy the islands’ tropical climate, relaxing pace, exploring Tresco Abbey Gardens and abundant wildlife.

No trip to Cornwall is complete without a traditional Cornish Pasty at the picturesque harbour town of St Ives. Clotted fudge and fresh seafood are other local specialties that are widely available. Fans of modern art should visit The Tate at St Ives along with the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Museum.

From St Ives the coastline around North Cornwall is truly stunning. Stop off at some of the best surfing beaches with endless white sandy stretches. An adrenaline junkies’ adventure playground, choose from activities such as land buggying and wave skiing to coasteering and rock climbing. Newquay is a surfing hotspot and an ideal spot to learn the art of riding the waves, then relaxing at the end the day at one of its sunset bars. Then drive along the B3273 from Newquay to Padstow for a breathtaking coastal drive which winds through seven secluded bays.

Nestled in the Camel Estuary is the picturesque fishing town of Padstow. Home to celebrity chef Rick Stein, it’s now world-famous for culinary prowess and offers an abundance of fine dining restaurants and quality local produce. From Padstow, head northeastwards to the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, Tintagel Castle. Perched on the edge of the coastline, the ruins remain from the dark ages between the 5th and 7th centuries. 

Quantock Hills, Devon.

Further along the north coast into North Devon, stopping off at the quaint cobbled harbourside village of Clovelly. Enjoy the seaside towns of Woolacombe and Ilfracombe. Head inland to experience the dramatic beauty of Exmoor, the perfect location to go hiking or mountain biking. No visit to Devon is complete without a Devonshire Cream Tea with locally made scones and jam with clotted cream. 

Driving northeastwards the route will take you into county rich in history, heritage, myths and legends – Somerset. The steep walk to the top of Glastonbury Tor will bring stunning views across the Mendip Hills. Glastonbury Abbey is also the legendary burial place of King Arthur. The Glastonbury Festival of contemporary performing arts now attracts over 180,000 on the last weekend of June and has done so since 1970.

Somerset is also renowned for farming. Visit England’s smallest city, Wells and a taste of the South West at its midweek farmers’ market.  Explore the labyrinth of caves at Cheddar Gorge and sample some local Somerset cider and Cheddar cheese. 

Jane Austen Festival, Bath.Jane Austen festival Bath. Copyright VisitBritain images.

Located in the heart of the South West, these two cities are near in terms of proximity and yet offer a variety of differing attractions. The “green” city of Bristol is renowned for Brunel’s Suspension Bridge and ss Great Britain. It’s laid back city lifestyle mean that walking and cycling are widely encouraged. Shopping, gastronomy, art and festivals are a buzzing part of the culture; and if visiting in August, don’t miss the amazing Bristol Balloon Fiesta.

Just a 40-minute drive away, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath is steeped in history. Visit the 2,000 year old Roman Baths, the regency Royal Crescent, sample a sweet bun at Sally Lunn’s Buns, relax at Thermae Bath Spa, marvel at Bath Abbey both inside and out; and retrace the footsteps of Jane Austen.

 

Stourhead Gardens. Copyright VisitBritain images.

Head northeast into Gloucestershire, where you can explore historic market towns and Cotswold villages. Wind your way along the Cotswold Way, through rolling green countryside, stopping off at hidden gems such as Wotton-under-Edge, Winchcombe, Bourton-on–the-water, Broadway, Stow-on–the–Wold, or Stanton. Each offers a variety of quaint tea rooms, historic pubs, vintage fairs, local arts & crafts and farmers markets. Explore the historic castles of Thornbury, Berkeley and Sudeley. Take a stroll through Westonbirt or Batsford Arboretums, enjoy the festivals of regency Cheltenham and docklands of Gloucester.

Get active in the Forest of Dean with a trip to Puzzlewood, a ride onboard the Dean Forest Railway, stroll along the Forest’s Sculpture Trail and explore the natural caverns of Clearwell Caves. From Gloucestershire, take the A40/M40 over the rolling Cotswold Hills to London, or head north on the M5 to explore more of Britain. 

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