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Devon is renowned for an assortment of things such as its spectacular coastline, beautiful beaches and of course the Devonshire cream tea, all making it a popular holiday destination. It is also the only county in England that has two National Parks and the only county in the UK to have a non-continuous coastline on both the north and south.
Want to know more? Our guide reveals all the vital information about our lovely county - read on...
Where is Devon?
You will find the glorious county of Devon lying in the heart of South West England, bordered by Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall. Take a look at our map of Devon to plan your next holiday in Devon.
There are approximately 1.1 million people living in Devon. The county has a relatively low population density in comparison to other regions in England.
A brief history of Devon
Human remains have previously been discovered in Kents Cavern in Torquay, dating back an estimated 30,000-40,000 years and it is thought that Dartmoor was inhabited by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers as far back as 6000 BC.
Devon’s name comes from the word Dumnonia, as it was once home to the Dumnonni Celts during the British Iron Age and Roman Britain, and is thought to mean ‘deep valley dwellers’. The Celtic region flourished for almost 500 years, although there were constant threats of invasions from the Anglo-Saxons, with many battles taking place against the West Saxons.
Eventually, the Kings of Dumnonia are thought to have withdrawn to safer strongholds in Cornwall and Devon had its first mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in AD 823. The area was originally part of the Wessex Sees of Winchester and then Sherborne but it was given its own Bishop in AD 905, which was based at Bishop's Tawton, though quickly transferred to Crediton.
Following King William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066, he quickly recognised the importance of securing the West Country and divided the rich farmland up amongst his Norman Barons. Since his reign, there were a number of further battles affecting Devon throughout the centuries, including the Civil War of King Steven, coastal attacks by the French and the Prayer Book Rebellion.
Geography and ecology
Devon is a very rural county, made up of hilly landscapes, coastal cliffs and sandy shores. As mentioned above, there are two National Parks in Devon, one being Dartmoor, which is the largest open space in Southern England. Here you’ll find granite tors, which entice walkers of all abilities to the area. The second is Exmoor, which lies in both Devon and Somerset, and is a large stretch of open moorland.
65% of Devon’s coastline is recognised as Heritage Coast, with the South West Coast Path running the entirety, offering an extensive selection of beautiful walks beside the sea. The coastal town of Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast, a section of coastline known for its impressive landforms and discovery of fossils.
Other places of interest include the English Riviera, noted for its sub-tropical climate and the North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which is centred around Braunton Burrows. You’ll find a wide range of wildlife in Devon, ranging from Dartmoor ponies to bottlenose dolphins. Devon has its own wildlife trust which cares for a number of nature reserves throughout the county.
Major cities, towns, and villages in Devon
Devon is home to two cities; the county town of Exeter, and Plymouth, also known as the ocean city. Both have a rich heritage and a wealth of things to do and see. Places of interest include Exeter Cathedral, Plymouth Barbican and Plymouth Hoe.
The south of the county is renowned for its coastal resorts and Torbay is one of the most popular destinations. Comprising of towns such as Paignton, Brixham and Torquay, the golden beaches, mild climate and leisure attractions are what draw many to the area. Other seaside resorts include Westward Ho!, Croyde and Woolacombe, which are all located in the north of the county.
There is also a wide selection of rural market towns throughout, from Barnstaple and Bideford to Okehampton and Tiverton, all with markets still running today.
Weather and climate in Devon
Devon has a rather mild climate and boasts some of the mildest winters in the world for its latitude. The county usually benefits from warm summers, which include hot spells as well as occasional rainy periods. Saunton and Croyde often record the highest temperatures in Britain, often due to easterly and southeasterly winds. The south-east coast of Devon, including places such as Salcombe and Exmouth, is one of the sunniest places in the UK. For up to date information for the weather in Devon, check the Met Office website.
Although located in one of the most southern areas of the country, Devon is still easily reached through various means. The train service in the area is mainly provided by First Great Western and Cross Country, with most major train routes passing through the city of Exeter. These include trains to London Paddington, Manchester Piccadilly, Aberdeen and Penzance.
Exeter also has its own airport, with flights regularly arriving from Newquay, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin to name a few.
If arriving by car, the county is also reachable via the M5, with five junctions leading into different areas of the region.
Economy and industry
Since the decline in industries such as fishing, mining and farming, tourism has become the main income for Devon. However, agriculture does still remain an important industry with local produce and dishes being one of the many attractions for tourists. Following the introduction of railways, which saw a rise in the popularity of seaside resorts, Devon has heavily relied on tourism.
Culture and customs
The Devon coat of arms was only introduced to the county in 1926 and includes symbols such as an ancient ship on waves, with additions of a Devon bull and Dartmoor pony in 1962.
The Devon flag was adopted in 2003 following a competition run by BBC Radio Devon, which called for locals to design the county a flag. The green and white colours of the flag were already used to represent Exeter University and the rugby union team, and the flag has since been dedicated to Saint Petroc who also has connections with the surrounding counties such as Cornwall. The green is said to represent the colour of Devon hills, the black the high and windswept moors and the white represents the salt spray on both of the coastlines.
The county is home to some unusual customs, with one of the most peculiar occurring on Bonfire Night each year. Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels sees local residents running through the town carrying flaming barrels of tar on their backs through large crowds and is a very popular event for spectators. Also, once a year, the residents of Westward Ho! come together to restore the pebble ridge which protects the burrows and this activity has been fondly named Potwalloping. Surfing is also a popular sport throughout the county and there are regular annual events that celebrate this such as the well-renowned GoldCoast Oceanfest in Croyde.
Devon is highly regarded for its fantastic fresh produce and the county has in fact been awarded Fair Trade county status since 2008. From fruit and vegetables to meat and fish, the county boasts a high standard of food that can be found across its variety of restaurants, markets and festivals. Not forgetting fish and chips, ice cream and fudge too!
The delicacy that the county is most renowned for would be that of the cream tea. A scone topped with clotted cream homemade jam, this sweet treat is a must try during a visit to the area. Pasties are also widely eaten in the county and are crimped on top and oval shaped, differing from the Cornish counterparts, which are crimped on the side and take a semi-circle shape.
One of the alcoholic beverages most often associated with the county is of course cider, also known by locals as ‘scrumpy’, as well as locally brewed ale. The county has previously boasted a variety of famous cider producers, with a number of apples specific to Devon’s ancient orchards. World famous gin is also produced in Plymouth and the distillery can be visited for a unique tour. Many fishing villages throughout the county host food festivals to celebrate Devon’s seafood and there is also the Exeter Festival of Food and Drink where the delicious local produce of the county is praised.
The county can boast three professional football teams with Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City playing in the Sky Bet League Two and Torquay United recently relegated from that division now playing in the Skrill Premier. The highest ranked non-league side before Torquay’s relegation was Bideford AFC who play in the Calor South Premier League.
Rugby is also popular in the county with Exeter Chiefs playing in the Aviva Premiership. The Chiefs won their first major trophy in 2014 winning the LV=Cup and more recently were crowned Aviva Premiership Champions for the first time in 2017. The county's other major rugby team, Plymouth Albion play in the division below Exeter, the RFU Championship. Plymouth has a successful basketball team in the city with the Plymouth Raiders recording their highest finish of 3rd in the 2007-2008 season.
Surfing is popular across Devon with some of best spots in the whole of the United Kingdom found on the North Devon coast. There are also National Hunt racecourses in the county at Exeter and Newton Abbot.
There are numerous famous people associated with Devon. In fact, many of Britain’s most notable mariners, such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville were all born in the county.
Devon has also produced a range of sporting stars, such as the first one million pound footballer Trevor Francis, former tennis player turned presenter Sue Barker as well as the Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, and Olympic diver Tom Daley who were both born in Plymouth.
There is also a scope of musical talent in the area, with singer Joss Stone, lead frontman of Coldplay Chris Martin, and all three members of the rock band Muse coming from Devon.
Although not born in Devon, many highly regarded wordsmiths such as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the crime writer Agatha Christie and the poet Ted Hughes, all lived in the county.
Ready to explore the region? Check out our range of Devon cottages and learn to live like a local!