W E use the term "West Country" in a sense which
will not bear a rigid lineal demarcation such as is applied to the geo- graphy of a single county. We can lay down on the map no red-line boundary marking out where precisely the West Country begins ; but we can indicate its limits quite exactly enough for our present purpose. The men of Wilts, of Gloucesterrsof Somerset, and of Dorset are " men of the West" to their more easterly neighbours in Berks, Oxford, and Hants ; but their claim to be admitted as representatives of the West Country would be sturdily disputed by the inhabitants of Devon and Cornwall. These two last-named counties, again, form the heart of the West Country, but we should find ourselves trammelled by artificial limits if we confihed the appellation to them alone, to the entire exclusion of their immediate neighbours. Perhaps we shall arrive at a more natural definition if we look upon the West Country as including, with those sister counties of the extreme West, the western portions of the adjoining counties of Somerset and Dorset, reserving the other " Westerly" districts as a separate, though cognate subject.
Of this district, then, thus defined, it may be said in a general manner.that it is a triangular headland, extending between the
English and Bristol Channels, and forming one of the three great angles which the rough geography of the ancients assigned to the Island of Britain. Water-washed on its two longer sides, and stretching out boldly into the Atlantic Ocean, it seems to seek scarcely any other neighbour than the sea, whilst the irregularity of the surface of the waters by which it is nearly surrounded is rivalled by the waves of upland and dale which are its landscape characteristic. These uplands, again, generally precipitous on their eastern sides, seem to present natural barriers to ingress from that direction, and to mark out a district self-contained and self-reliant. One of the earliest writers indeed, who describes the locality, speaks of the inhabitants as " a stout and puis- sant people, taking heart of the soil as if self-emboldened by the inlets of the sea and the roughness of the country." If there is less natural boundary in any part it is on the side of Somerset, where the confused assemblage of hills and valleys which marks the rest of the district gradually divides into distinct ranges of hills, separated from each other by widening expanses of lowland, and thus opening the way for the open downs and spacious plains of Wilts and the broad valley of the Severn ; while the water frontier, narrowing from open sea to a ereat estuary, seems to invite closer intercourse with the neighbouring shores of South Wales. And it is in this very direction that the demarcation of the West Country is least distinctly defined in its local history.
In one respect—its peninsular character—the West Country seems marked out as a maritime district ; but there are natural causes which have prevented it from becoming such exclusively or altogether distinctively. By far the greatest portion of its sea-line is covered by high and precipitous cliffs, with as un- neighbourly an aspect seaward as that presented landward by the eastern slopes. The glimpses of the sea from the top of these natural battlements rather give the sense of freedom of view and distant impressions of life and power, than invite closer com- panionship, and the more accessible rural life asserts its natural advantages. The increasing breadth of the peninsula also towards its eastern boundary removes a considerable portion of the province from the influences of the sea, and leaves it to inland associations ; and to this result the depth and narrowness of the labyrinth of valleys, and the consequent restriction on the intercourse and ideas of the inhabitants, greatly tend. But the influence of the sea, though thus limited, is considerable ; for nature has provided for its introduction at many points by the numerous estuaries and river mouths with which she has pierced the barrier of cliffs, and by the harbours and roadsteads which she has provided at convenient intervals for the purposes of com- mercial traffic and naval equipment and refuge. We shall not be surprised, then, at finding in the West Country, if not an abso- lutely maritime district, one of the great nurseries of our maritime enterprise,—if not a country peopled by sailors, a coast well fur- nished with natural depots where the inspirations of the neighbour- ing sea may collect and find embodiment.
Over a district situated as is the West Country, the physical effects of climate could hardly fail to be very great. As the south-western extremity of the island is sheltered from the north by the mountainous barrier of Wales, and to some extent by the great Irish block of land, and from the east by its rampart of hills and its projecting headlands, a large part of the district is open to weather influences from the south and the west alone, while the inland breezes are greatly tempered by the close proximity of the sea. But the great variations in the level of the land, and the consequent variations in temperature, render it difficult to describe the climate of the West Country as a whole. The high platforms of Dartmoor and Exmoor are removed by their greater elevation, and the barren uplands of Cornwall by their exposure to the storms of the Atlantic, from the genial influences which affect the more favoured districts. Much greater moisture prevails in some of the lowlands than in others, and rain is of more frequent occurrence than in other parts of England ; but the showers being less heavy, the general rain-fall is but little above the annual average of the rest of the island. The guide-books tell us that Devon and Cornwall have a mean annual temperature of about 1° 5' above the midland parts of England, but in the summer the average temperature is cooler than the whole range of country from the South coast to the 53rd degree of latitude. The external results, however, of the great varieties of climate must be much more apparent now than in the days when cultivation added but little to the natural advantages of situation. All the oldest descriptions of the West Country depict it as a wild and rugged country, rich indeed in natural vegetation, but corresponding very little in its general aspect to the modern appellation of Devonshire—the "Garden
of England." It must indeed have presented in early times something of the appearance of a tropical jungle, though teem- ing with less luxuriant beauties. This untrammelled growth of vegetation in the lowlands must have then blended almost insen- sibly to the eye with the wild aspect of the moors and moorland forests, and the weather-beaten hills of the old " land of tin." But in its present stage of development, there is probably no part of England in which the contrasts of scenery, under nearly un- changed conditions of geographical position, are so great and so sudden.
It is difficult to pass beyond this general description of the West Country in its physical aspects without involving ourselves in details which fall rather within the duties of a county topographer than within the scope of our present plan. But we will endeavour as briefly as possible to describe the West Country (as we have defined it) in the several districts into which it naturally divides itself. Of these we may say there are eight, dis- tinguished by varying separate characteristics, in different degrees of subordination to their common provincial type. The chalk downs of Dorset, the pasturing ground of numerous herds of sheep and droves of cattle, and one of the dairies of England, pass into a dis- trict where the valleys are more luxuriant, and the hills attain a higher elevation, and where we find ourselves in a land of orchards and cider. The county frontier is here an artificial one, and we may obliterate it, and consider ourselves already in the district which bears the name of East Devon, and is sometimes called the valley of the Exe, stretching from the latitude of Tiverton to the lofty sea cliffs of Sidmouth and the mouths of the Exe and the Teign. The central and more southern parts of this district maintain strictly the valley character ; those, however, between Tiverton and Exeter, and between the latter place and Coluropton have " an irregular, billowy surface." Here the orchards of West Dorset are multiplied, and the cider produce is much more plentiful. Elms and oaks are the prevailing timber of the district, and the stiff soil of West Dorset also can boast of its oak trees as among the most magnificent in England. The pasture grounds are devoted chiefly to the dairy, and a Devonshire dairy has a significance of its own.
From the estuary which forms the mouth of the Exe the coast line trends almost directly south to the Start, the eastern point of a cleft headland, from the western point of which it again turns northwards, till it reaches the great natural harbour of Plymouth Sound. Enclosed by this coast line from the mouth of the Teign to the entrance of Plymouth Sound lies a district nearly 250 square miles in extent, called the South Hams. To this favoured spot the name is given par excellence of " the garden of Devonshire." Here indeed we see Devonshire life and scenery in its most typical form. Here we still meet in their perfection with the far-famed Devonshire cottages, with their thatched roofs and warm walls of " cobb," once at any rate so dear to the native mind that there is a country saying, " Good cobb, a good hat, shoes, and heart last for ever." Here, under the mild climate of this southern- most land of the West Country, snow and ice are almost unknown, and those valetudinarians of less favoured districts, the myrtle, gera- nium, fuchsia, and hydrangia grow fearlessly and blossom profusely in the open air. Orchards abound, and with them the " pound-houses " for the manufacture of cider, the average supply of which is ten hogsheads per acre. Here, too, we find the typical " Devonshire lanes," buried between their high hedge-and-tree banks, and end- less in their wanderings ; whilst the whole district exhibits " a suc- cession of winding comber, bold swells, and fine vales." The upper grounds of the South Hams are appropriated alternately to pasture and to tillage ; the lower grounds are chiefly cultivated as meadows. Cattle and sheep are bred and fattened in considerable numbers, and the butter and cream produce—who has not heard of the Devonshire clotted cream ?—attest the richness of the pasture grounds. As we approach the bill districts of Dartmoor and Chudleigh on the north the scenery becomes finer, while innumerable streams, descending from the hill-sides, traverse every part in their wanderings to the sea.
Leaving these pleasant cultivated districts of hill and dale, and passing northwards from the South Hams, we emerge on the mag- nificent wastes of upland and moorland (about 130,000 acres in extent) called Dartmoor and the Forest of Dartmoor, which form a sort of heart to the whole district between Start Point, on the English Channel, and Ilfracombe, on the Bristol Channel, and a great wall of demarcation between North and South Devon. This great upland, which is composed entirely of granite, attains a mean elevation of 1,700 feet above the sea, and has been compared to " a mountain squeezed down, and in the process split asunder, until the whole was one hilly wilderness, showing ever and .anon strange, half buried shapes, striving to uplift themselves towards the sky." Although its secluded character has been to some extent modified by the roads which now traverse it, yet still, "with the exception of the lands surrounding the Government prisons established upon it, and some small farms on the high road, far from each other, Dartmoor is entirely uncultivated, its gloomy hills and dales being seldom disturbed by other sounds than those of the rushing torrent or howling wind. A coarse
grass heather, reeds, the whortleberry, and moss are the principal produce of the granite soil ; trees vanish from the view on entering the moor, and even fern and furze are confined to the deepest valleys." The trunks of trees, however, often found in the bogs of the district, support the tradition implied in the name, that here at one time spread a vast forest. In the deep recesses of the waste great morasses form the cradles of some fifty streams, which descend on the adjoining lowlands. This is the birth-place of the Dart, the Teign, the Tavey, and the Taw. On the heights a few thousand sheep and cattle find pasturage, and the air, though cold and moist, is considered on the whole healthy. With the Dartmoor range commences also the great mineral dis- trict of the West.
Between this wilderness and the Cornish frontier lies the dis- trict called West Devon, which extends from a little to the north of Tavistock to the northern shore of Plymouth Sound. The surface, another sea of hill and dale, is marked especially by the number, narrowness, and depth of the valleys, " whose sides generally rise with a steep ascent from the banks of streams, and by the peculiar manner in which the intervening high grounds are rent and broken." It is a grass and corn district, with orchard- grounds interspersed, and " the dells and narrow valleys and the sides of the hills are clothed with abundance of wood." Here are the greatest rain-fall and the latest harvests of Devonshire.
Leaving West Devon and crossing the Cornish frontier, a great change comes over the inland scenery. "The hills which hither- to delighted us are now patched with fields, but otherwise are as bold and uniform as the ocean waves which they resemble in their undulations, while they are everywhere disfigured by stone hedges, disposed along them in straight lines with the utmost ex- actitude. A great part of this barren country has been stripped of the rocks which once imparted interest to the scenery, and the mining districts are rendered hideous by unsightly erections and heaps of rubbish, so impregnated with mineral matter that not a blade of grass will vegetate upon them." Striking, however, as is the contrast between Devon and the inland parts of Cornwall, the coast scenery of the latter is unrivalled in its wild and strange beauty, and " the banks of the rivers, and the deep valleys or bottoms with which the country is furnished, are in general well wooded and picturesque." Vegetation is much checked and stunted by the sea air, but industry and science have done something to mitigate this natural disadvantage, and it has been recently stated that in the Penzance district alone, in West Cornwall, there are above 1,500 acres of market gardening ground in cultivation, producing two crops of vegetables a year, to the value of not less than 50,0001. a year. But the natural wealth of Cornwall lies not upon its surface, but beneath its soil, and as the oldest mining district of Britain it is the home and workshop of a large and energetic population, marked by charac- teristics which have rendered them at all periods of English historya memorable race. The wages paid in the Penzance district are about 9,0001. a month, and the tin mines alone of Cornwall are said now to produce about 10,000 tons of metallic tin a year. The mineral district may be said to extend from Dartmoor and Exmoor to the Land's End ; lead, silver, antimony, iron, and other metals are among its products, but these are of trifling importance compared with the tin and copper. In 1851 the mines of Devon and Cornwall together were estimated to furnish one-third of the copper raised in the British Isles and other parts of Europe. The Dutch East Indies have been in modern times the only rivals to the Cornish tin trade, and the comparative position and prospects of the two are at the present moment a subject of warm discussion and dispute. But it is probably premature as yet to speculate on what would be the fate of Cornwall, if in the vicissitudes of commerce she once lost this great basis of her prosperity.
Cornwall is almost an island, for the Tamar forms its eastern boundary from within a few miles of its northern coast. It has been described as in shape a natural cornucopia. Its southern coast line may be roughly said to consist of two bays, one, and much the larger, sweeping from the mouth of the Tamar to Lizard Head. The northern coast line from the Land's End to Hartland Point, within the Devonshire frontier, forms one gentle sweep to the north-east, faintly divided by the point called Trevose
Head. These larger sweeps are indented with numerous smaller bays, and besides the smaller river mouths are pierced by two great estuaries, forming natural harbours of refuge to the north- ern and southern coasts. Passing round Hartland Point, the coast line bends south-east, and then forms a deep bay, facing nearly due north, on the eastern side of which an estuary, dividing almost immediately into two limbs, forms the mouth of the rivers Torridge and Taw, and the sea gate to the towns of Bideford and Barnstable, the capitals of North Devon. This district, which extends along the shores of the Bristol Channel to the frontiers of Somerset, and inland to the borders of Dartmoor and the Vale of Exeter, is in general a grain-producing district, but it is more emphatically that land of " combes " which the author of West- ward Ho! delights to describe. The quieter beauty of the valleys of the Torridge and the Taw is succeeded by more striking scenery, when the coast line, bending northward, reaches the neighbour- hood of Ilfracombe, the most northerly latitude of Devonshire ; and from this point to Lynmouth, near the Somersetshire frontier, we meet with the most beautiful coast scenery of either county. The climate, although the district is exposed to the influence of somewhat colder winds, is still genial enough to impart to the vegetation most of the luxuriant growth of the southern districts, while the air is lighter and less enervating.
With the remaining coast line to the estuary of the Parret, in Bridgewater Bay, we reach the limits of what may be more strictly called the West Country. The sea line of Somerset is very irregular, " in some places projecting into the sea in rocky promontories, and in others forming fine bays, with flat and level shores." We have already spoken of the distant ranges of hills, and wide valleys, and marshes which form the characteristic of this country. The most remarkable range of hills in the Western district is that of the Quantock, extending from the neighbourhood of Taunton to the sea. These rise to a general elevation of 1,000 to 1,100 feet, and in one part to 1,270 feet. Steep on the west side, the declivities are more gentle on the east, as they descend on that side into beautiful valleys. But the most striking highland district is that of Exmoor, an area of about fourteen square miles, stretching across the frontiers of Devon and Somerset, at a short distance from the coast, but lying almost entirely in the latter county. Like Dartmoor, it is a great tract of dark hills and valleys traversed by streams, and rising to the height of 1,668 feet on the eastern side and 1,610 on the west. The central part of the district—about 20,000 acres—formed the great Forest of Exmoor, which was enclosed in 1815, and a considerable acreage cultivated and leased in separate farms. But a large part of Exmoor still remains a wild heath, over which are scattered the juniper and the whortleberry, the home of the famous Exmoor ponies, and on the moor side of the red forest deer. The miner, however, has recently intruded on this solitude, and considerable tracts are now in the hands of three of the largest iron companies. The air of Somerset varies nearly as much as that of Devon, and between the temperature of the Vale of Taunton and that of the highlands, the difference is very striking. But it is a rich pasture ground and a fertile grain country.
But the wealth of the West Country is not confined to the produce of the land. The streams which add so greatly to the beauty of the scenery yield their contributions to the food of the inhabitants, and the long seaboard profits largely from the bounty of its neighbour. The trout streams are dear to the angler, but the sea fisheries form one of the staples of employment and support to the maritime population and of prosperity to the whole land. In the well-being of Cornwall especially this is an important ingredient. Several thousand persons are employed in the fisheries of St. Michael's Bay and St. Ives, taking fish to the amount of 140,0001. to 150,0001. annually.
Such, then, is the West Country. It would be vain to speculate on the effect which such a land, so varied in its physical aspects and so richlygifted by nature, must have produced and must produce on the minds of its inhabitants. Such impressions are slowly and insensibly imbibed, and cannot be easily traced in their particular influence or estimated in their extent. A soil abundantly repaying, yet still demanding labour, would foster habits of cheerful but easy in- dustry. Perhaps the near neighbourhood of the sea was not without its influence in the formation of that sturdy independ- ence of character which marks the men of the West. The sense of secure seclusion and quiet home-life may have brought with it the corresponding virtue of hospitality to strangers. The brighter aspects of the country and the more genial climate may have inspired a cheerful and gentle courtesy, while the deep shadows of the narrow valleys, the rapid alternations of cloud and sunshine, and the fantastic and dreary features of the wilder
moorlands may have had something to do with fostering super- stitions and promoting a belief in folk-lore. But there is one circumstance that must have produced important results. Under such varying conditions of physical existence there was security against sameness of character and pursuits. At least there is no monotony in the roll of fame of the men of the West.