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The truth of that old saying about variety being the spice of life is clearly evident in this part of the West Country where mountains, moors, rocky crags and sun-blessed seaside resorts merge to create a unique travel experience.
On South Devon’s highest ground stands one of England’s few remaining wild places, the vast granite-based expanse of the rain-soaked Dartmoor National Park with its isolated villages, dense woodlands and soaring summits. In stark contrast, the area that surrounds this stunning 368 square miles of protected landscape has one of the country’s mildest climates and includes many picture-postcard villages, as well as the ‘Riviera’ of southern England at Torbay.
When the pieces of this geographic jig-saw are added together they form one of Britain’s most enchanting and unusual terrains. Dartmoor is fashioned from upland moors topped by exposed granite hilltops or tors.
The highest point is High Willhays at more than 2,000 feet above sea level. The region has inspired many writers and artists, most notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose famous detective, Sherlock Holmes had to confront the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ amid the peat bogs and teeming rivers of this special landscape.
The Dartmoor National Park is the largest tract of open country left in southern England and is most famous as the dramatic location of Dartmoor Prison near Princetown. The original jail was built in the 19th Century by French captives during the Napoleonic Wars.
Many prehistoric fragments lie on the moors, including hill forts, standing stones, barrows and hut circles, the latter being the remains of Bronze Age houses. Most of these monuments date to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age.
Although there is an obvious lack of industry here, the area was a haven for miners seeking tin, lead and copper during the medieval period and the men established their own ‘Stannary’ courts at Tavistock, Chagford, Ashburton and Plumpton.
Walking has become a major pastime and the Park boasts more than 400 miles of footpaths and bridleways while the annual Ten Tors Challenge involves the most intrepid ramblers trekking over steep-sided hills.
South Hams is a low-lying region of rural splendour that partly surrounds Dartmoor. Based on agriculture, farming and tourism, it has five main rivers – the Plym, Yealm, Erme, Avon and Dart – and a wealth of picturesque towns and villages. Many of these date back to the Middle Ages and boast thatched cottages and ancient taverns.
Modern industry is largely confined to the sprawling conurbation of Plymouth, a naval city with an illustrious history.
The adventurer Sir Francis Drake began his circumnavigation of the globe from here in the 16th century. His lead was followed in 1620 by the Pilgrim Fathers and in 1772 by Captain Cook. Fifty-nine years later the folk of Plymouth watched Charles Darwin embark for the Galapagos Islands.
South Devon’s natural wonders include Canonteign Falls – the highest waterfall in England - and Kents Cavern, site of the discovery of a 45,000-year human bone. Other finds have included fossils of sabre-toothed cat, bear, mammoth and wooly rhinoceros.
Railway enthusiasts should not miss a trip on the South Devon Railway that runs between Buckfastleigh and Totnes alongside the River Dart. Built in the late 19th century, the line has a number of steam locos as well as historic rolling stock and privately owned diesels.
Among the must-visit buildings of special interest are magnificent Buckfast Abbey, which dates to the 11th century, medieval Powderham Castle and Plant World Gardens boasting the only 14-acre garden planted as a giant map of the world.Read More