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Devon is a popular seaside spot for English and overseas visitors. There are plenty of lovely little villages with narrow lanes and quaint cottages, there are delightful walks (on the coast and in two national parks) and tearooms serving, you guessed it, Devonshire tea with scones, jam and thick local cream. For the non-English they also serve Devonshire coffee. Devon is also steeped in maritime history. It's where Sir Francis Drake set out to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588, where the Pilgrim Fathers left to sail to America in 1620 and where Captain James Cook sailed in search of the southern continent in 1768.

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Exeter is the West Country's largest city, which has an amazing history. There was a settlement on the banks of the River Exe even before the Romans set up their administrative centre there in 50 AD. The city was later invaded by the Danish and then by the Normans under William the Conqueror in 1068. The city pretty much held invaders at bay until 1942 and Adolf Hitler. Heavy air raids reduced much of the city to rubble. This means it's now more a modern-looking city and, being a university city, it has a lively nightlife.

One magnificent building that missed the bombs is the medieval Exeter Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Peter. The original church was built in 932. In later years there was rebuilding and remodelling but the church that stands there today remains much the same as it was 600 years ago. While impressive from the outside, the treasures are within. The roof is the world's longest single expanse of Gothic vaulting but it's the little things that are most interesting. There are free guided tours Monday to Saturday, which are most worthwhile. You'll see the astronomical clock, which tells the phases of the moon as well as the time (dates back to 15th Century), the minstrel's gallery, a memorial to the author of Lorna Doone, R.D. Blackmoore and the famous sculpture, the Lady with Tow Left Feet. There's also the Great Screen (1325), which has the first representation of an elephant in England. You're also invited to attend evensong at 5:30pm each week night and 3:00pm on weekends. For those not afraid of the dark and pokey, you can explore the narrow passages under the city. They were built in the 14th Century in case maintenance needed to be carried out on lead water pipes.

There are fine walks and cycling through country lanes on Dartmoor. About 8 miles from Exeter is Powderham Castle (14th Century and still a family home) that has collections of French china and Stuart and Regency furniture. An interesting diversion is A La Ronde, a 16 sided house where the d�cor includes a shell-encrusted room, a frieze of feathers and collages of sand and seaweed. It would be a boring old world if we were all the same.

The South Devon coast is dotted with seaside resorts like Sidmouth, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. They are all linked by the South West Coast Path for walkers. Torquay is a large town and pretty touristy with a long promenade with colourful lights strung above. It's where Agatha Christie was born and the setting for the famous Fawlty Towers series with John Cleese. Christie fans will also enjoy Torquay Museum and Torre Abbey.

Dartmouth is an attractive town with narrow winding streets and a deep, natural harbour that has sheltered ships from the Mayflower in 1620 to the D-Day landing craft bound for France in WWII. Dartmouth Castle (just out of town) was designed in the 15th Century so that a chain could be connected to the castle at Kingswear to block off the estuary in times of invasion. 10 miles upriver from Dartmouth and 9 miles inland from Torquay is Totnes, a thriving arts community which was once one of the most prosperous towns in the country, being the centre for the wool and tin industries.

Plymouth is Devon's largest city, which was also largely destroyed by German bombs in WWII. The old quarter by the harbour, called The Barbican, has however been been preserved/restored. It's full of Tudor and Jacobean buildings, narrow streets with galleries and great craft shops along with a Victorian fish market. Most Americans also make a pilgrimage to the Mayflower Steps. (I wonder why..?!)

Near Plymouth is the 400-year-old home of the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe. It's full of antique (18th Century) furniture and has spectacular French, Italian and English gardens. 11 miles north of Plymouth is Buckland Abbey, which was bought by Sir Francis Drake after he circumnavigated the globe and now houses Drake's Drum. It was used before battle with the Spanish Armada to summon troops up on to the deck of the Revenge. Legend has it that if Britain is in danger of being invaded, the drum starts beating by itself. Guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Rising above a tiny harbour is Ilfracombe, the largest seaside resort in North Devon. Heading west from there are good surfing beaches at Woolacombe and Croyde Bay. Ten miles out in the Bristol Channel is Lundy Island, home to a pub, a church and 19 residents. It's a place many people ignore but it's a place where you can rent a holiday home (or even the lighthouse and the castle) and spend some time exploring the marine nature reserve, go cliff climbing or bird watching. The island was once home to colonies of puffins (Lundy took it's name from the Norse word for puffin), which are now on the highly endangered list. An interesting part of the island's history happened around 1930. The then owner of Lundy, an eccentric called Martin Harman, decided to seek independence from England. He closed down the post office and issued his own stamps in the denomination of 'puffinage' instead of sterling. He was ignored as being a bit 'loopy' until he issued his own currency with his own head in place of the king's and a puffin on the reverse. He was then arrested and convicted of counterfeiting.

Clovelly is a tiny village with one cobbled street that clings like a periwinkle to the steep slope above a pretty harbour. If you want to snap your own picture-postcard, this is the place. It really is a stunning photo opportunity...

Dartmoor National Park
has some of the wildest, bleakest and eeriest scenery in England. It makes for wonderful, atmospheric walks but because the mist can descend in minutes it's essential to take a map and compass. Postbridge in the middle of the park is a good base for walkers.

Within Dartmoor are many prehistoric remains with Grimspound being one of the most complete Bronze Age village sites in Britain. Dartmoor is where Arthur Conan Doyle based The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is a local legend of where he found his inspiration. In the 18th Century a landlady served alcohol to guests in a temperance house and her husband was horrified, took it and poured it into the East Dart River. A dog drank from the river, went mad and died and it's howling, demented spirit is said to still haunt the moors.

At Buckfastleigh (on the park's south-eastern edge) there's a church and graveyard, the last resting place of Sir Richard Cabell, once the most hated man in Dartmoor. When he died in the 17th Century, the locals built a heavy tomb to make sure he couldn't rise from the dead and black hounds were seen thundering across the moor to howl at his grave. More inspiration for ACDC?

Chagford is a lovely country town on the River Teign is a good walking and riding base. A mile or so out of town is Castle Drogo. It looks medieval but was built between 1910 and 1930 for a wealthy businessman. You can hire croquet sets for a game on the lawn. Don't forget to pack the cucumber sandwiches (crust off, of course!)




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