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From resorts to ancient ruins

Melanie Butler takes a trip through England’s South West to discover what makes the picturesque and historic region a perfect language study destination

The South West of England has long been a favourite holiday destination of the British and offers a picture-postcard vision of Britain: ancient ruins, seaside resorts, historic market towns, cathedral cities – and of course the famous cream teas. Officially starting where Bournemouth ends, the region encompasses five counties – Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. So let’s explore the region, visiting all the locations of English UK South West member schools, to discover why Brits love it so much.

Driving due north from Bournemouth, we first come to the cathedral town of Salisbury – a hop, skip and a jump from the ancient monument of Stonehenge – well known for its street markets, arts centres and charming individual shops. One of the most famous tourist attractions in the area is Longleat, a stately home and safari park just outside the historic market town of Warminster, in the Wylie Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty. To the south-west, in the county of Dorset, lies Sherborne, one of Britain’s most beautiful medieval towns, with its ancient abbey, two castles and cluster of historic schools.

Due west, just over the border in Devon, lies Budleigh Salterton on the Jurassic Coast, a Unesco world heritage site. The area boasts fishing villages, coastal walks and the magnificent Bicton Gardens. Nearby lies the cathedral town of Exeter, home to a bustling modern university and nestled between a coastal area famous for surfing, sailing and windsurfing and the Dartmoor National Park.

Just to the south-west lies Torbay, a region known as the English Rivera, where palm trees grown in the warm microclimate. The biggest of the three towns that make up the area is Torquay, one of Britain’s favourite holiday destinations with its marina, beaches and, of course, Kents Cavern, home to Britain’s earliest humans for 700,000 years. Next door Paignton is famous for its festivals, carnivals, regattas and annual children’s week.

Follow the River Dart north from Paignton and you arrive at Totnes, an old market town on a hill overlooking the river which is famous for its locally made products, both traditional and bohemian, and where, legend has it, you can buy anything from a walking stick to a didgeridoo. If you head south-west from here you arrive at Plymouth, regional capital of Devon and Cornwall and famous as a maritime city since the tenth century. From here you can wander the historic Barbican, shop at the stylish Armada Centre or have a night out at the Theatre Royal, one of the best in the country. Cross the Tamar and you are in Cornwall, England’s most westerly county. Right at its heart lies its capital Truro.

If you head north from Truro and then drive east through the spectacular scenery of the north coast of Cornwall and Devon you arrive in the county of Somerset. The inland county town of Taunton in the spectacular vale of Taunton Deane has flower boats, a mass of parks and gardens and an annual flower show known as the Chelsea of the West.

A few miles east you find Glastonbury, home to the legend of King Arthur and a world-famous music festival. Two miles away is the charming town of Street, headquarters of the typically English Clarks shoes.

Then northward to Bath, a 2,000-year-old city with Roman baths, a magnificent 500-year-old abbey and the famous Georgian architecture described so vividly in the novels of Jane Austen. Like Florence and Salzburg this city is a Unesco world heritage site.

Just north-west lies Britain’s fourth city, Bristol. The historic docks have been turned into a buzzing artistic centre and its stunning architecture, from medieval to modern, spectacular views and lively university scene makes it a perfect place to live and study. Indeed in a recent survey of international students the city was voted the best place to be a student in Britain.

The South West of England has everything to offer a language student, from the bustle of ancient ports to the quiet of medieval cathedrals, and from the best surf and sailing in the country to breathtaking walks though national parks, hills and cliff tops. Try it – millions of British people do every year.