Just as Kent is the ‘Garden Of Britain’, and anywhere beyond Birmingham is glibly termed ‘The Industrial North’, neither of which titles are anywhere near to true, the South-West tip of the old country is generically known as the ‘English Riviera’.
This is mainly due to the fact that this part of the country is blessed by having the Gulf Stream running up its coast, a massive river of warm (comparatively) sea water flowing all the way across the Atlantic from the West Indies, until it hits the ‘toe’ of Cornwall and splits into two, one part heading east up the English Channel, while the remainder goes north, past Wales, before eventually dissipating somewhere near Norway and Iceland. This means the climate here tends to be warmer and wetter than other parts of the country, to the extent that there are even palm trees growing there – imported of course, but nonetheless flourishing.
The heart of this piece of good fortune lies on the south coast of Devon at a city called Torquay, one of the area’s major tourist destinations on Torbay, alongside Paignton, Goodrington and the fishing port of Brixham. Torbay is wonderful for sailing, swimming and fishing – the first post-war Olympic Games were held here in 1946. Torbay is an excellent focal-point for many other places of interest in south Devon, Dartmouth, an easy car or train ride away, the town where all English Naval officers learn their ‘trade’ and the estuary of the River Dart, home of some of the best salmon fishing, anywhere!
A little way up river stands the ancient town of Totness, founded about AD907, since when it has always been an important market town. It has more recently become a thriving centre for the arts, music and theatre, with a growing population of “Bohemians”: peaceful, if slightly eccentric, art lovers. About twelve kilometres north of Totness you will find Buckfast Abbey, started in the twelfth century and still being worked on when I last visited, about forty years ago.
Another very important place to visit while in Devon is Dartmoor, a massive block of mainly granite, with the town of Princetown right in the centre, famous for being the home of Dartmoor Prison, England’s harshest jail. It was also ‘home’ for a time to Eamon de Valera, later to become Prime Minister of Ireland, and John George Hague, the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’, who killed and dissolved the bodies of at least six people. He was later moved to Wandsworth, where he was eventually hanged.
But the jail is only a tiny piece of Dartmoor. Travel the byways of the moor and discover Widecombe, the tiny village nestling in a deep valley, right in the heart of the moor. Widecombe is well known for the old folk song ‘Widecombe Fair’ featuring ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’. Whether he and his friends, all named in the song actually existed, I have been unable to find out! The moor itself is an area of sparse vegetation, dotted with farmhouses, domestic animals and Dartmoor ponies, who range freely throughout the area. The tops of many hills have mighty granite projections on them, called Tors.
Have you been to Devon? What are your memories or travel must-sees? Share in the comments below.