<<< Back to Best Places to Live in UK

If you were to ask the average Briton about the West Country, they’d probably throw up a load of stereotypes including but not limited to witchcraft, cider and land that time forgot. While some of these stereotypes contain an element of truth, they’re also not really representative of the South West today.

It’s safe to say that the South West is seen as the most mystical part of the UK, with sites like Stone Henge and its bi-yearly pilgrimage of solstice seekers only serving to heighten this notion. It is a place of myth and magic, with tales of mermaids, lost lands and the old people who inhabited this area before the Romans came. 

This South West coastline is one of the longest and most dramatic in England, and boasts some of the best beaches in England. And for holidaymakers reclining in their sunbeds, it’s easy to forget that things were not always so peaceful round these parts. Long before it became the peaceful, enchanting, relatively affordable entry in your “best places to live in the UK” brainstorm that it is today, the South West of England was, for three hundred years, ravaged by Barbary pirates. These pirates, based mainly in the ports of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, came seeking slaves for the Arab slave markets in North Africa and regularly raided the beaches of the South West.

While the Barbary Pirates limited themselves to flying visits only, in today’s post we look at all the reasons why you should consider making it a longer stay in the South West of England.

South West England: Careers and Jobs

With a population of around 5.5 million people, the South West is relatively sparsely populated (bearing in mind the UK’s overall population of 66 million. The flip side of this are the vast tracts of open countryside and natural beauty, many of which remain untainted by commercialisation. But there’s more to the latter-day West Country than its rural, old-fashioned nature. You may be surprised to learn that the area is witnessing a major tech boom.

Bristol, arguably the UK’s second most affluent city behind London, was recently acknowledged as the most competitive and productive tech cluster in the land, in a report from TechNation. While Bristol was built on maritime trade and shipping — including tobacco imports and the slave trade — new tech businesses in the city grew by 283% between 2006 and 2016, with 226 businesses founded in 2016 alone. This digital renaissance has created thousands of new tech jobs in the city (24,754 as of 2017). Bristol is located at the western end of the ‘M4 corridor’ – a highly active economic area along the M4 motorway, from Bristol to London (via Heathrow airport).

The South West Science and Innovation Audit identified several other thriving technology sectors in the region, including aerospace, high-value engineering, microelectronics, new energy systems, digital industries, and environmental technologies. Companies such as Airbus UK, Rolls-Royce (military division) and BAE Systems (former Bristol Aeroplane Company, then BAC) all have manufacturing offices in the area. The South West is also home to the largest aerospace cluster in the UK and second biggest in Europe. 

Living in the South West places you favourably for both salaries and house prices (compared to the national average). The average salary in the region comes in at £29,267 (the UK average is £27,600). In terms of housing, the average property in the South West will set you back around £251,877, around £10,000 more than the national average of £243,583.

Given the growing tech industry, good salaries and eclectic mix of countryside and city living, it’s hardly a surprise that a total of 5,220 people left London to move to Bristol last year. And there are more Londoners moving to Bristol than the other way round, with a mere 4,190 Bristolians relocating to the capital. Which means: Bristol swells by approximately 1000 Londoners a year. That’s nearly three a day!

The Sights and Sounds of the South West

It’s easy to see what draws people to the South West and what makes it one of the best places to live in the UK. The region is a stunning area of natural beauty, with valleys, forests and an incredible coastline to marvel at and enjoy. Let’s explore a few – but by no means all – of the highlights.

The Cotswolds

It’s been half a century since the Cotswolds was declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and there are many things to explore and visit during your time there. The scenery is arguably some of the best the UK has to offer, the villages of Burford, Bourton-on-Water and Chedworth being especially picturesque. Whether you visit them to admire the architecture, dive into a pub for a pint or tuck into fine Cotswold cuisine at a local eatery, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to not fall head over heels in love with these quaint Cotswold villages.

However, while life may appear to move at a slower pace in the Cotswolds – on Spring Bank Holiday, things get a lot rowdier. The South West is known for its cheese, and some residents are willing to put their bodies on the line to get their hands on a 7–9lb wheel of Double Gloucester, a hard cheese traditionally made in a circular shape.

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday in Brockworth. While it was traditionally held by and for the people who live in the local village of Brockworth, the event is now attended by people from all around the world, who turn up to both compete and watch the unusual – and quite often painful – performance.

The format of the event is pretty simple. From the top of Coopers Hill, a round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling, and competitors then start racing down the hill in hot pursuit. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. While the competitors are aiming to catch the cheese, it has around a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Given that competitors are hurling themselves down an incredibly steep hill, the event can lead to some epic tumbles and horrific injuries befitting of a hilarious YouTube highlights reel.

The Quantocks

Alongside the Cotswolds, the South West also plays host to another AONB, the Quantock Hills. These were in fact England’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, back in 1956, and comprise heathland, oak woodlands and ancient parklands, as well as agricultural land. Though the area is compact when compared to the huge landscape of The Cotswolds, measuring just twelve miles by four, the Quantock Hills offer extensive views over much of Somerset and across to the Welsh coast, and are perfect for activities like walking, cycling and horse-riding.

The Jurassic Coast

If you’re a lover of the sea, then, with the South West, you’ve got yourself one of the most historic, visually stunning and interesting coastlines in the world.

Stretching from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast was inscribed on the World Heritage List in mid-December 2001. Through the coastline’s landslides, cliffs and gorgeous beaches, archaeologists have been able to learn about the natural processes that formed the coast and continue to shape the world today.

Geologists and archaeologists read the layers of sedimentary rock along the Jurassic Coast like a book, to gain an insight into the world before humans. And this is one long book, covering events on Earth over a 185-million-year period, and delivering us a near-complete record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. However, alongside such depth of history, the coastline also showcases some incredible land forms, including the natural (and eminently Instagrammable!) arch at Durdle Door, the cove at Lulworth Cove the Isle of Portland, a tide island joined to the mainland by just a thin strip and offering incredible views.

The National Parks: Exmoor and Dartmoor

If you’re feeling hemmed in by the busy and claustrophobic nature of city living, there’s nowhere quite like South West England to blow off the cobwebs and clear those polluted lungs.

The region contains both Exmoor and Dartmoor natural parks, offering great opportunities for walks, wildlife and the manful activities in the great outdoors. There’s even stuff here for book lovers, given the rich literary history of these landscapes – inspiration for works as divergent as Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and the novels of Thomas Hardy.

The swirling mists of Exmoor, the untamed expanses of Dartmoor – these two parks represent some of the last areas of true wilderness in England. To conserve this, both were designated national parks in the 1950s, and they attract over 4.5 million visitors a year.

The parks – much like the rest of the South West – retain an air of mystery an intrigue. The Beast of Exmoor, a puma-like animal that came to prominence in the 1970s, was said to have killed over 100 sheep in 1988, leading to the Royal Marines conducting a search. Sadly (or thankfully!), no great cat was ever found. However, one eccentric theory holds that these creatures are from another dimension, and decide to slip in and out of parallel universes at will.

Ghost stories and hearsay continue to shroud both parks. Near the village of Challacombe, Exmoor, for example, it’s believed that a young servant girl appears only to men. Meanwhile, on Dartmoor, some deaths between Postbridge and Princetown are reported to have been caused by “the Hairy Hand” – a violent phantom that attempts to kill innocent motorists by pushing them off the road.

Local Traditions and Delicacies of South West England

If you disregard the ghouls and ghosts (and those pesky Barbary Pirates!), the South West remains a friendly and carefree place. The locals are a traditional bunch and enjoy their cider, cream teas and infamous pasties. When it comes to food, West Country delicacies are both traditional and simple.

First on our list is that Great British staple: The Cornish Pasty.

Adopted by Cornish miners and farm workers in the 17th and 18th century, wives would prepare pasties as a filling meal for their partners during their long days down the dark, damp and horrible tin mines.

Such was the depth of the mines, workers weren’t able to surface for lunch and needed something that could preserve its filling, stay tasty and be eaten with their hands. Typically, a pasty is stuffed with a filling of your choice and sealed within a circle of pastry, with one edge crimped into a thick crust. The whole idea was that a good pasty could potentially survive being dropped down a long mine shaft!

Thanks to its thick, crimped crust, workers could eat a pasty’s contents with dirty hands without contaminated the meal. The traditional filling is beef with potato, onion and swede, all sealed within a delicious pastry pocket. Nowadays, the pasty is more of an indulgence than a necessity, and they can be enjoyed all around the country. David Cameron has even been known to partake of a Cornish pasty two (at Leeds Station no less, though that is for another buzzmove area guide).

If you’re looking for a drink to wash down all that meaty goodness, look no further than a proper South West cider. Cloudy, unfiltered ciders made in the West Country are often called “scrumpy”, from “scrump”, a local dialect term for a small or withered. Such is the love of this alcoholic beverage in these parts that labourers in Devon, Wiltshire, Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset used to receive part of their pay in the form of cider (for which they had a substantial daily allowance). Somerset and cider go together like Belgium and beer: a match made in heaven.

Moving to South West England? Top Locations

Bristol

Bristol has a rich Roman and Iron Age history. It was also significant as one of the UK’s major ports and trading centres in the 18th century. This explains the charming dockyard area, nowadays a cultural centre with a number of restaurants and cocktail bars. Also host to one of the UK’s two major crime fiction conventions each year.

Cheltenham

Regency spa town located on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Famous for hosting cultural festivals throughout the year, including for literature, jazz, science, food and drink, and music. Also home to the Cheltenham Cup, one of the UK’s most famous horse races.

Exeter

Home to a celebrated university, Exeter is the county town of Devon located on the south-west coast. It was also the westernmost city in Roman Britain.

Gloucester

Economically dominated by service industries and the aerospace industry, Gloucester has a strong financial and business centre. With easy access to picture postcard countryside, the city is close to the Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean and the Malvern Hills.

Hereford

A cathedral city and market town in the south west of England, Hereford is well known for the production of cider, beer, and Hereford cattle. Perfect for those who want a blend of town and rural life.

Plymouth

Located on the south coast of Devon, Plymouth is the second largest city in the south west, after Bristol. The city has several ferry links to Brittany and Spain. It also remains the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.

Portsmouth

A port city on the southern coast of Hampshire, Portsmouth is still considered the headquarters of the Royal Navy, home to the world’s first dry dock – and still the site of major tourist attraction the HMS Victory (Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar).

Reading

The county town of Berkshire, Reading is a major employment centre to the west of London, and also a commuter town for the capital. Reading is the largest settlement in the UK without official city status. Reading is a large retail centre, and plays host every year to the Reading Festival. It’s also ranked as one of the most important economic areas in Britain.

Romford

A large town in the eastern part of Greater London, Romford is one of the largest commercial, retail, entertainment and leisure districts outside central London.

Salisbury

A cathedral city in Wiltshire, Salisbury is the county’s only city and is located on the edge of Salisbury Plain. It’s only 8 miles away from UNESCO world heritage site Stonehenge, which helps bring a gobs of tourism money to the city.

Swindon

A large town in north Wiltshire, Swindon is famous as a commuter town, with easy rail and road access to London. Swindon was a major hub for railway production and maintenance, and now has a museum to celebrate this legacy.

Taunton

Cider capital of Britain – at least traditionally – Taunton is the county town of Somerset. There are several local nature reserves, and the town is the headquarters of 40 Royal Marine Commando – as well as of government department Defra, the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and General Electric.

Truro

Truro is the only city in Cornwall, making it the southernmost city in the mainland UK. It grew as a result of the Cornish tin mining industry in the 18th and 19 centuries. Now the city is a popular tourist destination, with several annual events.

Weymouth

A popular tourist resort on the south coast of Dorset, Weymouth and nearby Portland are popular with sailors and yachtsmen. Tourism is the major source of income.

It’s easy to see why people view South West England as one of the best places to live in the UK. It’s an area of stunning landscapes, myths and legends, and traditional English delicacies and values. The people are friendly, there’s space to breathe and, with the ascendant tech-industry centred on Bristol, there’s are lucrative and varied job opportunities – with room to grow. It may still have that aura of a place that time forgot but if you’re moving to the South West, you’re unlikely to want to leave any time soon.

Compare the best house removal companies using buzzmove. Get up to 6 free quotes from trusted movers.