The county of Devon has been a favourite holiday haunt seemingly since time immemorial.
And it’s estimated that at least three million people visit Devon every year.
And, claiming pride of place as the most popular vacation destination is the Torbay area, known as The English Riviera’ and featuring resorts such as Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Its sheltered situation on the south-eastern coast of Devon provides it with a warmer climate than the rest of the county – hence its title of ‘English Riviera’.
Paradoxically, there seem to be several ‘Different Devons’ within the county’s coastline areas. While ‘The English Riviera’ resorts evoke visions of The French Riviera, with ‘illuminated night-time Torquay’ being almost reminiscent of a ‘midnight Cannes scene’, the North Devon Coast seems like totally dissimilar terrain, ‘cobbled Clovelly’ in particular being in a league of its own in the realms of being breathtakingly picturesque. And the East Devon coast, likewise, presents a completely disparate image, as does the western coastline that culminates in Plymouth.
Then, coastline apart, there’s also the ‘Inner Realms of Devon’ – such as Dartmoor and Exmoor.
The Dartmoor National Park occupies 365 square miles of south-central Devon, while the Exmoor National Park is located in the north and occupies 265 square miles, and is spread across both Devon and Somerset, with only a quarter of its area being in Devon itself.
Then, there is the area known as ‘Mid-Devon’, described as ‘a great swathe of land and rolling fields and scattered villages’. And north of ‘Mid-Devon’ lies ‘Tarka Country’ – having been so named following Henry Williamson’s book ‘Tarka the Otter’. And here one can follow the ‘Tarka Trail’ which is a long footpath that extends across ‘deepest Devon’.
Devon is therefore a county of ‘many images’ and one of Britain’s top holiday spots.
I first visited Devon with my mother and three year old son. It was early summer and we travelled by train to Torquay, and then on to Babbacombe where we had booked self catering accommodation.
Paradoxically, I had already visited ‘the French Riviera’, and, in retrospect, it seems strange that I had never previously been to Devon.
Babbacombe proved to be a delightful holiday location. Here one could combine the peace and serenity of a smaller resort with the lively sophistication of elegant Torquay – with its spacious esplanade, bustling harbour-side, stunning seafront, and popular pier.
In the course of our week’s stay we spent a day in Brixham, which I thought was one of the most picturesque fishing resorts I’d ever visited. Sheltered by the Berry Head peninsula, it was warm by the waterfront harbour – yet at the same time one felt one was breathing ‘champagne air’.
We saw the replica of Francis Drake’s ‘Golden Hind’ moored in the harbour – Drake having been a ‘Devonian’, and the ‘Golden Hind’ having been the boat that had taken him around the world.
We also saw the statue of ‘William of Orange’ that stood beside the quay – a statue that had been erected to commemorate his landing there when he arrived to claim the English throne.
Fresh shellfish and other fish – both cooked and uncooked – being a prominent feature of Brixham’s shopping avenues, we opted to settle for a picnic lunch, with freshly cooked (and also freshly caught) crabs being the main items on our menu agenda!
And we took our little feast down a steep path that led to a pretty little cove which appeared to be totally deserted. And we perched ourselves on some flat rocks and proceeded to consume what proved to be one of the most enjoyable picnics of our lives!
We also spent a day in Dartmouth, which stands on the west bank of the Dart estuary. Hailing from seafaring ancestors from both sides of my family, Dartmouth with its maritime history was of special interest to me, particularly since my father had trained at the Britannia Royal Naval College, which occupied pride of place at the top of a high hill.
The district known as ‘Boat Float’ – an area packed with boats and dinghies - was equally fascinating.
And, having explored all Dartmouth’s historic sites, including Dartmouth Castle, one can head south towards a lovely stretch of undeveloped golden sand – which for some inexplicable reason is known as ‘Blackpool Sands’!
And one can also take a cliff walk to Start Point, which offers some unsurpassable views of the vast expanse of ocean.
As a holiday venue, ‘The English Riviera’ would seem ‘to have it all’ – beautiful beaches, historic sites, scenic walks and a lively night life. And for me, it was a memorable introduction to the county of Devon.
It was many years later that I next visited Devon.
And, on this occasion, North Devon was my ultimate destination. By then we were a family of four – husband, wife, and teenage son and daughter.
There were so many locations in North Devon that have remained fixed in my mind.
I always remember pausing near Lynton on our outward car journey and gazing down at the stark sight of the Valley of the Rocks, claimed, according to legend, to have been created by the devil
Another unforgettable sight was the wide, seemingly unending expanse of sand that stretched for two miles, backed by extensive grassland on one side while bordering the surf-edged waves of the billowing sea on the other.
This was Westward Ho – a favourite haunt of kite flyers, and named after Charles Kingsley’s novel, but also claimed to be Kipling’s inspiration for his book ‘Stalkey and Co.’
But ‘cobbled Clovelly’ earns pride of place as my favourite North Devon village!
Described by all as ‘a perfectly preserved fishing village’, I will always remember walking down the steep little cobbled picturesque street, lined with attractive little houses of varying architectural styles, that led down to the small thickly wooded cliff-side harbour.
It was here that Charles Kingsley had lived, his father having been the Curate at the church. And a small ‘Kingsley Museum’ stands adjacent to a ‘preserved cottage’.
It’s claimed that 300,000 visitors come to the village every year……
I remember too pausing briefly at a small village pub and indulging in a generous quantity of exceptionally strong ‘home brewed’ Devon cider!
And I can honestly say that afterwards I all but flew up the narrow cobblestone street that led us back to the upper echelons of the car park.
My third visit to Devon involved a stay at the famous port of Plymouth – the county’s westernmost point.
Here the climate was exceptionally fresh and bracing while the historic site of Plymouth Hoe was particularly awe inspiring.
Plymouth’s history being inextricably linked with the sea, Drake’s statue, which dominated The Hoe, seemed particularly appropriate.
For it is here that Sir Francis Drake was purported to have been playing bowls when the Spanish Armada was sighted out at sea!
And it is from here that so many people set off on their various epic voyages. These included Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and even the Pilgrim Fathers – not to mention half a million emigrants
Alongside Drake’s statue on The Hoe there stands a massive monument dedicated to the dead who were killed at sea during the two World Wars.
Plymouth being a famous naval base, it was also a town that was targeted during the Second World War – and during 1941 it’s claimed that 1,000 people were killed and 20,000 homes destroyed by German bombs.
Beyond The Hoe lies ‘Drake’s Island’, which at one time, prior to the completion of ‘Princetown’ on Dartmoor, was used as a prison and was referred to as ‘Plymouth’s Alcatraz’!
Maritime monuments of every kind can be located at Plymouth, including: the lighthouse, Smeaton’s Tower, which stands on The Hoe; The Dome, also situated at the front of The Hoe, and described as ‘an innovative multi-media presentation of Plymouth’s past and present, which brings history to life’; The National Marine Aquarium, with its famed ‘shark tank’; The City Museum and Art Gallery; and ‘Buckland Abbey’, once the home of Sir Francis Drake, which despite much of the
property having been gutted by fire, still houses preserved rooms that contain an exhibition devoted to Drake.
Plymouth is a fascinating city to visit. And situated as it is just a few miles below the uplands of Dartmoor National Park (that occupies 365 square miles of south-central Devon) it is possible to combine a Plymouth sightseeing city visit with an exploratory countryside holiday tour of that particularly beautiful parkland area.
There are many, many more sights that can be seen in Devon – which would involve the volume of a virtual book to record!
Sufficient to say, in every sphere, holiday-wise, Devon represents ‘Britain at its very best’
Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.