Heritage > Counties > England


Otherwise known as Devonshire the county of Devon covers some 2,594 square miles of the South West of England. It's principal towns are the cities of Exeter and Plymouth and the resort towns of Torquay, Paignton, Teignmouth and Ilfracombe.

Known for it's clotted cream teas and it's National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor, Devon has also always had a close affinity with the sea.

Plymouth Hoe is also famous for Sir Francis Drake playing Bowls as the Spanish Armada made it's way towards Elizabethan England with the aim of invasion.

The county is mainly agricultural with sheep and dairy farming being the main activities.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: The district of the tribe of Dumnonii.

Name first recorded: 851 as Dev Fenascir.

County rivers: Devon has more rivers than most counties including the Plym, Lyd, Tavy (‘the little water’). Bovey, Dart, Avon, Teign, Exe, Taw, Tamar (‘the greater water’ bordering with Cornwall), Yealm.

County Town: EXETER An ancient city, one of Britain’s oldest towns with a beautiful cathedral spared from the bombs of World War II.

Highest point: High Willhays at 2,039 feet.

Motto: "One and All"

Devon’s local government: Two-tier administration exists throughout the County of Devon apart from a single-tier government for the councils of Plymouth and the towns of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay known collectively as Torbay. Devon County Council is therefore restricted to the rest of Devon and shares power with the eight district councils of East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, West Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge and Torridge. A small part of Devon, namely the parishes of North Petherwin and Werrington, are administered by Cornwall County and North Cornwall District Councils.

The local landscape

Few counties in England can match the scenic variety of Devon. Lying between the Bristol and English channels, it has two contrasting coastlines with some spectacular countryside in between.

The north coast, like Cornwall’s, is fairly rocky with superbly wooded cliffs and, here and there, picturesque villages like Clovelly, where, in summer, donkeys still transport children down to the steep main street past whitewashed thatched cottages. Other resorts like Ilfracombe and Lynmouth are sheltered by the treeless tableland of Exmoor.

The south coast is altogether softer and the climate balmier - palm trees thrive in Torbay and the South Hams. A deeply indented coastline welcomes the sea well into the heart of the county.

Inland, Devon is denominated by the massive granite peaks of Dartmoor, which reach more than 2,000 feet in the north near Okehampton. It is a bleak and wild gorse-and-heather upland. The old red sandstone plateau of Exmoor gives rise to the River Exe which flows right across the county to the south coast, entering the sea near Exeter.

Local Towns and Villages

AXMINSTER Carpet making started here in 1755 with an eye to Turkish designs.

BARNSTAPLE Georgian-flavoured town, the largest in north Devon. Wool making and wharves once made this a prosperous merchants' port.

BIDEFORD Has literary (Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho!) and wartime (Armada) connections and is a quiet place off-season.

BOVEY TRACEY A small pleasant hillside town with a fine mainly 15th-century church.

CHAGFORD Once a centre both of the tin and wool trade. Nearby is Castle Drogo, the 20th-century 'medieval' home of grocery magnate Julius Drewe, designed by Lutyens.

DARTMOUTH Crusade ships anchored here en route to the Holy Land. This naval town's formidable 15th century castle could rake the estuary with cannon shot and the river could be closed off with a massive chain.

ILFRACOMBE Is the largest seaside resort in north Devon and once the fourth port of Britain. Varied countryside with cliffs and farmed hills.

NEWTON ABBOT Busy market town with fine local potteries and local cider companies.

PLYMOUTH By far he largest southwest town after Bristol. The Barbican is an attractive small urban area and site of the original town as Drake knew it: and the Hoe has outstanding coastal views.

SIDMOUTH Once a most fashionable 19th-century resort with Regency-style seaside architecture with its creams and whites and mass of wrought-iron balconies.

TORQUAY Quiet fishing village 'discovered' during the Napoleonic Wars and favoured by European royalty well before the Hello! era. Grand and glamorous. Nearby Kent's Cavern, a reminder of an earlier Ice Age.


Budleigh Salterton





Great Torrington





South Molton



Places to Visit

Powderham Castle, Exeter, Devon

Arlington Court, North Devon

Bickleigh Castle, Tiverton, Devon

Avenue Cottage Gardens, Totnes, Devon

Bayard's Cove Fort, Dartmouth, Devon

Bicton Park Gardens, Salterton, Devon

Bowden House, Totnes, Devon

Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh, Devon

Buckland Abbey, Yelverton, Devon

Cadhay, Ottery St. Mary, Devon


Mid May: The Devon County Show at Westpoint near Exeter with livestock parade, exhibition, food and drink marquee.

September: The centuries-old Widecombe Fair on Dartmoor, once attended by Tom Cobleigh and friends.

July/August: Teignmouth Regatta and Tor Bay Fortnight.

Late May-early June: English Riviera Dance Festival of modern, ballroom, disco and Latin American dancing in Torquay.

Famous names from the region

The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour (1967) was filmed partly in Teignmouth and Plymouth.

The television personality Noel Edmunds has a house in the South Hams, on the south coast of Devon.

Saltram House, the National Trust property just outside Plymouth at Plympton, was used as a backdrop for the Oscar-winning film version of Jan Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Dartmoor was supposedly the place where Sir Hugo Baskerville was killed by a phantom hound in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Ted Hughes, the Poet Laureate, lives at Barnstaple.

Pop singer Elkie Brooks has a home in North Devon.

Radio and television personality Angela Rippon lives on the edge of Dartmoor.

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