Devon is a large rambling county containing within its boundaries two coastlines, two cities, one complete National Park and part of another. The county remains one of Britain's most popular holiday regions, offering more variety in terms of scenic beauty and tourist attractions than most other counties in the UK. The Devon coastlines offer long sandy beaches, rocky coves, daunting cliffs, sparkling estuaries and a liberal scattering of picturesque fishing villages and old-world harbours. Inland Devon is most peoples idea of a rural idyll with its patchwork of irregular green and yellow fields sprawling over steep hillsides, interspersed with pretty thatch and cob country villages and down-to-earth market towns. The National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor are beautiful, unique landscapes, very different in character; they are conservation areas where visitors can roam freely over moors, heathland, woods, rivers and prehistoric remains.
History is all around, most particularly in the form of England's maritime heritage, so much a feature of the county's two lively cities Exeter and Plymouth. In addition, there are stately homes, castles and manor houses to visit as well as nearly 50 museums.
The north coast of Devon encompasses many changes in character from east to west. At its most easterly point around Combe Martin, the coastline is backed by Exmoor with deep coombes cutting their way down toward the sea between steeply wooded slopes. West of the moor, from the traditional holiday resorts of Ilfracombe and Woolacombe through to Bude, the coastline presents a spectacular sequence of towering cliffs and jagged headlands. Between the rocky promontories lie long stretches of flat hard beach, a haven for surfers riding the Atlantic rollers. Beyond Westward Ho, the coastline becomes ragged and rocky, especially around the treacherous Hartland Point, where the cliff face drops a spinetingling 325ft sheer to the violent breakers below. Often this stretch of coast is only approachable down perilously steep cliff paths. Here and there, however, charming little villages like Clovelly are found huddled against the cliff tops, perched high above their harbours and beyond the reach of the worst excesses of ferocious Atlantic gales.
Devon's south coast is quite different, the sea's aspect is more tranquil and the climate more favourable, hence there is a much larger concentration of the county's population clustered in and around its environs. In 1983 the resorts of Brixham, Torquay and Paignton, a long established seaside playground, were re-launched as the English Riviera, an exotic, yet still very English alternative to continental travel. It is noted for its colourful, luxuriant vegetation, its golden sands, the vivid blueness of sea and sky and the relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere particularly of its leading resort Torquay. North of the Devon Riviera lies the ancient city of Exeter, layered with centuries of history; Exeter and its immediate vicinity offers a great variety of fine buildings - cathedral, castles, abbeys, mansions, cottages, guildhalls and schools. South-west along the line of the coast is Devon's other great city, the historic port of Plymouth, cradle of Britain's maritime supremacy. The history of both cities, despite their being geographically remote from central England, is inextricably bound-up in the passing pageantry of the country's long history. Today, both also offer holiday recreations - sightseeing, fishing, swimming and boating in particular.
Lying behind much of the south coast looms the vast expanse of Dartmoor, a National Park since 1951 and principally a place to experience the great outdoors. Much of the Dartmoor uplands are covered in bracken and heather punctuated by stark, wind-torn granite outcrops rearing-up from amongst desolate bogs. The last great wilderness in southern England, Dartmoor is guardian to many prehistoric remains including hill forts, barrows, hut circles and mysterious standing stones, dating back some 6000 years - mute reminders of the moor's earlier inhabitants, thriving prehistoric communities. In addition to the rugged solitude of much of its terrain and the opportunity of communing with the base elements of nature, visitors can also enjoy the pleasures of picturesque villages such as Widdecombe and Buckland, charming old churches and the less forbidding lush rolling hills that fringe the moor.
Devon's rural heartland is generally unspoilt by modern development, working tractors are often the sole reminder of the 21 st cent. Townships here remain market towns in the true sense, operating as centres for the surrounding agricultural areas; genuine livestock markets rather than their more commercialised modern counterparts. Randomly scattered outside the towns are some of Devon's prettiest villages hidden amongst acres of farmed fields, hillocks, copses and meadows, the whole web laced together by alarmingly narrow lanes. Typical of Devon's remote and hilly central core is the 2-mile undulating footpath winding its course from Puddington to the aptly named No Man's Land.