South West England Overview




South West England – where I have spent much of my adult life – is the largest of the nine regions of England in area, at just under 24,000 km2, and has the longest coastline. Its topography is mixed, ranging from the major low lying areas of the Somerset Levels to the major upland areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor, in Devon, and Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall. It is drained by the major river catchments of the Tamar, the Taw, the Exe, the Parrett, the Avon, the Severn, and the Wye – along with minor river and coastal catchments. The region is largely rural, with land used for industrialised agriculture. Its major urban settlements include Plymouth, Torbay – that is Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham – and Exeter, in Devon, the South East Dorset conurbation – Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch – Bristol, Swindon, in Wiltshire, and Gloucester and Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. There is little, if any, true wilderness at present. Military infrastructure includes the Devonport Naval Base, in Plymouth, one of the Royal Navy’s three operating bases in the British Isles, and until recently the site of its nuclear submarine repair and refuelling facility, as well as, according to CND’s Nuclear Britain map, the Trident bunker near Corsham in Wiltshire. Major parts of the region inland are vulnerable to sea level rise, in addition to the coast, as shown in the eBook, online, in Figure 1 : in particular, the Somerset Levels and along the Severn Estuary.


Figure 1. Map of South West England
1 The Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall  2 Totnes, Devon  3 YHA Dartmoor  4 Frome, Somerset  5  Bristol    A  Devonport Naval Base  B  Corsham Trident Bunker


By 2043, the region will still be primarily rural but featuring a large area of wilderness potentially extending from the southern fringes of Dartmoor all the way to the North Cornish coast, to the North West, and to the North Somerset coast, to the North East. Rural areas will have been resettled for core agroecology. Urban areas will have been restructured with resettlement within cities and towns, and between cities and towns, away from sites at risk from sea level rise and major flooding. Extensive coastal management works will have protected the Somerset Levels from storm surges and permanent loss to the sea. Some military infrastructure will remain, including the now British Navy’s Devonport Base. The Corsham bunker will be a museum and visitor attraction.

My first Regional Ride – of about 75 miles – would be from the Eden Project in Bodelva, Cornwall, due east, on the main roads, to the town of Totnes, on the Dart, in Devon, and then up following the course of the river to Bellever in the centre of Dartmoor, and the YHA property there. For the second – about 150 miles – setting out from Bellever, I would join the main roads above the moor, riding due east across the south of Devon and Somerset, before heading north to Frome for a first appointment, and on to the University of the West of England’s Frenchay Campus in South Gloucestershire, just north of Bristol for another, before reaching my friend in the south of the city. The third, after breakfast in Bristol Harbour, I would make my way to Park Street in the city centre, and spend a number of hours at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity event I had seen advertised in the weeks leading up to my departure, before leaving for Wales on the motorway and the Severn Crossing, arriving in Cardiff, just under 50 miles away.

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