The English West Country is a land of exceptional landscapes: many miles of wild, unspoilt coastline and vast expanses of wild moorland; great cities such as Exeter, Plymouth, Bath and Bristol; and market towns, villages and hamlets. Farming, mining, quarrying, fishing and trade are the traditional industries of the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
On one level, the West Country is the most English of all English regions, home of clotted cream, thatch, church spires, folksong, hobby horses and Cecil Sharp. Yet the area was trading with Mediterranean Europe before the Romans. For many years Bristol was the centre of the slave trade, and many of its great mansions were built on the proceeds of slavery. Great swathes of land in Dorset, Wiltshire and Devon are still used by the military and are off-bounds to visitors. And within the West Country is the special case of Celtic Cornwall, and the even more remote Isles of Scilly.
People lived in the West Country long before Britain, or England, were invented. From the great stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire to the menhirs of Cornwall, and the wealth of prehistoric remains on the Isles of Scilly, this has always been an inhabited landscape, crafted by men and women working closely with nature and natural forces. John Payne explores this culturally rich and varied region, revealing many facets of its distinctive and much-loved identity.
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