Devon is the third largest county of England and Wales, exceeded in area only by North York- shire and Cumbria, but many smaller counties boast larger populations. This is because Devon’s almost exclusive inland industry is agriculture, and because it has a large tract of land — Dartmoor — which is unworkable and inhospitable. The county’s largest centres of population are around its coasts, where fishing, seafaring and latterly the tourist trade have been its main economic supports.
The county’s famous natives are the naval heroes who gave Britannia rule over the waves — men such as Drake, Raleigh, Grenville, Hawkins and Gilbert. And the largest town of all is Plymouth, with its dockyard at Devonport and its naval barracks, and the old port where the Pilgrim Fathers embarked on the Mayflower, bound for the New World, in 1620.
Plymouth Hoe is known, by name at least, to every schoolboy in Britain, and as well as the inevitable statue of Drake, it sports the old Eddystone Lighthouse, removed from its rock 14 miles out to sea and re-erected here in 1882.
The south Devon coast is also host to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, whilst the north coast has a shipyard at Appledore dating back to the Tudor period. The nearby village of Westward Ho! was named after the seafaring adventure story by Charles Kingsley, another Devon native, more here.
The coastal churchyards are full of tragic tales of death on the high seas, with the names of foreign sailors and distant places on the headstones. Serafino Turchich, the mate of an Austrian barque wrecked on Northam Sands in 1868, has his last resting-place in the company of English master-mariners and shipbuilders, pilots, captains and ratings, who lost their lives on voyages home from far-flung places such as Valparaiso and Quebec.
Even the earliest settlers in the region favoured the coast. Kents Cavern in Torquay and the caves at Brixham are among the oldest sites of human habitation in Britain, where people of the Lower Palaeolithic period lived. Their tools and weapons of flint and bone have been found with the remains of bears and lions, mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
Neolithic settlers moved inland, however, to the uplands of Dartmoor. Grimspound is a prehistoric village near Manaton, with the remains of circular stone-built huts within a perimeter wall built to protect domestic livestock from the wild beasts that roamed the moor. If you want to learn more about neolithic sights in Europe check this site.
The Romans left the Celtic inhabitants relatively untouched, though they put their mark on the tribal capital of the Dumnonii, calling it Isca Dumnoniorum. Later it was to become Exeter, where a fine decorated cathedral rose in the late 13th century.