Uniquely amongst English counties, Devon has two separate coastlines: to the south is on the English Channel and to the north, the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel. They are studded with resort towns, harbours and (more recently) surfing beaches. Devon is also home to two National Parks (Dartmoor and Exmoor) and includes the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel/Irish Sea. Note that Exmoor is shared with Somerset, which has the larger share.
Devon is one of Britain's most popular summer holiday areas and with good reason, with a scenic coastline and white sand beaches, turquoise waters, good sailing and surfing opportunities and accommodation for a variety of different budgets. Only Cornwall and South-West Wales can really compare.
Like its neighbour Cornwall, Devon boats two very different coastlines. South Devon located on the English Channel comprises the relatively gentle, pastoral coastline of the Exe estuary, Torbay (the "English riveria"), the South Hams including the very expensive estuary towns of Dartmouth and Salcombe - which is currently Britain's most expensive coastal location, outperforming even Sandbanks in Dorset - and the elegant city of Exeter, and wonderfully cited Plymouth. Mid Devon, located between the two coastlines, is relatively quiet with its classic Devonian landscape of thatched cottages, rolling green hills and bubbling river valleys. North Devon is a very different proposition altogether, located on the Bristol Channel which meets the Celtic Sea at Hartland Point. Where as South Devon is soft and gentle, North Devon has a very raw, cut-throat even guttural coastline - starting at the massive hog back cliffs of coastal Exmoor, which tumble down to the Bristol Channel culminating at the gigantic Great Hangman, the highest cliff in the West Country at 1043 ft. Exmoor ends, giving way to the harbour town of Ilfracombe, which in turn drops down to Bideford Bay, one of Britain's prime surfing locations (see below) with its superb white sand beaches and also harbouring quaint coastal villages such as Bucks Mills and Clovelly. Bideford Bay ends at stormy Hartland Point, which marks the boundary of the Bristol Channel, and also nearly the end of Devon and the begining of Cornwall's Celtic Sea/Atlantic coast. Coastal property in North Devon is significantly less than its southern seaboard, but netherless still some of the highest coastal prices in the UK - particularly the main surfing villages of Croyde and Woolacombe which thanks to their access to the Atlantic surf zone can always attract a premium on any property.
The name "Devon" derives from the Celtic people who inhabited the southwest of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion, the Dumnonii. Devon's flag is green, with a black and white cross.
Devon has produced tin, copper and other metals throughout its history. Tin was found in the granite of Dartmoor, and copper in the areas around the moor. In the eighteenth century, Devon Great Consols mine (near Tavistock) was believed to be the largest copper mine in the world.
Devon has the highest coastline in southern England and Wales on its Exmoor seaboard. The "hob-backed" hills of the Exmoor national park tumble down to the coast on Devon's Bristol Channel coast, culminating at the awesome "Great Hangman", a 318m (1043ft) hill with a cliff-face of 250m (820ft), while the "Little Hangman" has a cliff-face of 218m (716ft). The best way to see these cliffs is from a boat trip from Ilfracombe or (occasionally) Lynmouth or Swansea; the ferry service from Penarth in South Wales to Ilfracombe also passes by this massive coastline (see below).
Devon's Hartland point is the south-west limit of the Bristol Channel; in other words where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic ocean. The northern limit is St Anne's Head in Pembrokeshire, forty-eight miles from Hartland Point.
Many of the rocks that make up Devon are exceptional geological specimens consisting of the geological period between 416 million years ago and 360 million years ago. It was in homage to this that the period was called the Devonian.
Devon is unique in that it surrounded by three of the Celtic nations - Wales to the north across the Bristol Channel/Celtic Sea, Cornwall West across the Tamar Valley, while Brittany lies due south across the English Channel/Atlantic Ocean. Although not a Celtic nation in its own right, Devon netherless shares many similarities with its Celtic neighbours; Exmoor/North Devon has the same reddish-brown sandstone as found in the nearby Gower Peninsula; the granite of Dartmoor is exactly the same as found in Bodmin Moor and the Penwyth peninsula while the extrusive igneous rocks of South Devon can exactly be found in Brittany - probably because, before at one time Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Brittany and South-West Ireland were part of the same landmass. In 2007, BBC "Coast" presenter Neil Oliver travelled to Devon and Cornwall for DNA testing of West Country lineage and found that - overwhelmingly- that both Cornish and Devonians were of ancient British/Celtic stock. Like its neighbours in Wales, Ireland and Cornwall, Devon was not fully conquered by the Romans - the leigons established a dwelling in Exeter, most likely as a frontier post - but the rest of Devon was relatively untouched by the might of Rome - the wet, boggy moorland of Exmoor and Dartmoor no doubt providing an excellent barrier to the Roman war machine. This probably explains why the ancient Celtic DNA of Devon (and Cornwall) survives. Another Celtic connection is the fact, until the 20th century, the best way to travel was by sea - so, for example, it was easier for the population of North Devon to sail to the Vale of Glamorgan/ Swansea and the Gower Peninsula than to travel the dangerous, bandit ridden country lanes eastwards to Somerset and Dorset - likewise, South Devon had strong links to Brittany and South Cornwall yet the rest of Southern england, was, until the arrival of the railway/car, a distant place. Another "Celtic" connection is North Devon's surf culture found in Bideford Bay - like Ireland, Cornwall, Wales and Ireland surfing has becomne something of a cult lifestyle of the wind swept butterscotch beaches of Bideford Bay.
Devon's Geological Sites include:
Exeter has two main train stations, St. Davids (where most long-distance services call,) and Central. Central, unsurprisingly, is closer to the centre of town, but the two are within a short walk of one another.
If visiting from Cornwall, the railway will take you across the Royal Albert Bridge from Saltash (in Cornwall) into Devon. When crossing this bridge, you will enjoy marvelous views of the River Tamar, which it crosses.
If visiting from the south, the railway line between London (Waterloo) and Exeter via Salisbury will transport you into east Devon, with connections with other parts of Devon at Exeter (St Davids station).
If visiting from Somerset and places north of London and Bristol, the Great Western Main Line will take you to Tiverton Parkway station (a short drive from Tiverton itself) and then to Exeter. It will then carry on to Newton Abbot (where the line to Torquay and Paignton diverges from the main line) to Plymouth and then to Cornwall.
The M5 is the only motorway to enter Devon. Coming from Bristol from the north-east, it terminates in Exeter, where it continues on as the A38 towards Plymouth and into Cornwal. It also branches off north at Exeter onto the A30 which serves North Devon via Okehampton and then carries on into Cornwall.
The M5 can get very congested during the popular holiday periods and it only takes an accident to bring the whole route to a standstill. If you are travelling to Devon by car it is recommended that you travel either early in the morning or later at night to avoid the holiday build up.
National Express Operate services to many points in Devon from other parts of the UK, including Heathrow Airport and London. Tickets must be booked in advance.
Megabus Operate services from London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester to Exeter and Plymouth. Tickets must be booked in advance.
Latitudes and Longitudes in Devon can be obtained from an interactive travel map at Stairway to Devon.
Devon County Council has the most up-to-date information on buses serving all of Devon.
with England's only statutory Marine Nature Reserve
Surfing in Bideford Bay
Along with its nearby neighbours of North Cornwall (the areas around Bude, Padstow Newquay and Perranporth) and the Gower Peninsula across the Bristol Channel in South West Wales, North Devon's magnificently curved Bideford Bay is one the top surfing attractions in the UK, mainly because just like Cornwall and Gower, Bideford Bay faces westward into the vast Atlantic Ocean. The main surf areas are the white-sand beaches of Woolacombe, Putsborough, Croyde, Staunton and Westward Ho! Croyde in particular is rated as one of the best breaks in the West Country, as at low tide it boasts fast, hollow waves - just like Fistral or Langland's Bay Crab Island. Be warned however - in the summer Croyde gets extremely congested (both beach and village) and the car parking prices can seem unreasonable in the extreme - during the peak summer holiday months just trying to get into Croyde can be a nightmare, and the impossibly narrow main road into the village doesn't help matters. Fortunately, the nearby Woolacombe and Staunton offer plenty of parking spaces and beach space- even on a hot summers day during the school holidays there is always plenty of spare space available. If you're driving from the Ilfracombe area during the summer and wish to visit one of the Bideford Bay beaches then Woolacombe is probably the best bet - just a five minute drive from Ilfracombe, good parking (and more reasonably priced than Croyde), lots of space, excellent surf rental opportunities and plenty of places for food and drink, although in the peak summer months prices are a bit inflated, although that is true of food outlets around Bideford Bay - especially Croyde.
A good idea is to buy very thick surfing boots just in case you step on a weaver fish which can cause a very nasty searing pain in your foot (think of walking on glass) - weaver fish are a big problem around Devon, Cornwall and Wales - just ask the lifeguards and surf shops!(see below)
Ironically, Bideford Bay falls relatively quiet during the autumn and winter months in terms of cars and people - ironic, as this is usually the premier surfing time! From September to February a generous Atlantic swell and an on shore wind combine to make ideal surfing conditions in Devon, Cornwall and Wales. Although the temperatures are very cold, the days short and usually rain lashed and very windy, hardcore surfers prefer the dark winter months in Bideford Bay for the conditions potentially make for some tasty waves and meaty swells. Most winter wet suits can cope with the very cold water in any case. What's more, during the winter "off season" parking, accommodation and eatery prices are substantially reduced, and getting in and out of Croyde is much less of a problem!!
A useful foodies site for Devon.
Devon is a very safe place to live and visit. Crime levels are well below the average for England in part a reflection of Devon's rural population distribution.
Bideford Bay has magnificent surf beaches, but unfortunately, like its neighbours in South-West Wales and Cornwall it attracts legions of weaver fish, especially during the warm summer months. Stepping on one of these nasty specimens is comparable to walking on broken glass. Fortunately, most lifeguards on patrolled beaches have plenty of experience with this nasty experience. A good idea is to wear very thick surf boots that provide a decent level of protection.
The larger towns and cities in Devon have small but developing lesbian and gay communities, notably in Plymouth, Torquay and Exeter. Plymouth and Exeter have annual Pride events. In the more rural areas of Devon, homophobia can be common, and discretion is advised.