Devon and Cornwall Hotels and Holiday Cottages
At the western extremity of England, the counties of Devon and Cornwall encompass everything from genteel, cosy villages to vast Atlantic-facing strands of golden sand and wild expanses of granite moorland. The combination of rural peace and first-class beaches has made the peninsula perennially popular with tourists, so much so that tourism has replaced the traditional occupations of fishing and farming as the main source of employment and income. Enough remains of these beleaguered communities to preserve the region's authentic character, however - even if this can be occasionally obscured during the summer season. Avoid the peak periods and you'll be seduced by the genuine appeal of this region, which beckons ever westwards into rural backwaters where increasingly exotic place-names and idiosyncratic pronunciations recall that this was once England's last bastion of Celtic culture.
Although the human history of the region has left its stamp, it is the natural landscape which exerts the strongest pull, and not just in the beauty of the long, deeply indented seaboard. Straddling the border between Devon and Somerset, Exmoor is one of the peninsula's three great moors, its heathery slopes much favoured by hunting parties as well as by hikers. For wilderness, however, nothing can beat the remoter tracts of Dartmoor , which takes up much of the southern half of inland Devon. The greatest of the West Country's granite massifs, most of Dartmoor retains its solitude in spite of its proximity to the only major cities at this end of the country, either of which would make a good touring base. Of the two, Exeter is by far the more interesting, dominated by the twin towers of its medieval cathedral and offering a rich selection of restaurants and nightlife. Much of the city was destroyed by bombing during World War II, though the largest city of Devon and Cornwall, Plymouth suffered far worse, the consequence of its historic role as a great naval port. Bland postwar development inflicted almost as much damage as the Luftwaffe, although enough of Plymouth's Elizabethan core has survived to merit a visit, and the city, by capitalizing on its maritime associations, has succeeded in reviving its port area.
The coastline on either side of Exeter and Plymouth is within easy reach. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, and enjoying more hours of sunshine than virtually anywhere else in England, this part of the country can sometimes come fairly close to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean, and indeed Devon's principal resort, Torquay , styles itself the capital of the "English Riviera". St Tropez it ain't, but there's no denying a certain glamour, far removed from the old-fashioned charm of the seaside towns of East Devon , or the cliff-backed resorts of the county's northern littoral.
Cornwall too has its pockets of concentrated tourist development - chiefly at Falmouth and Newquay , the first of these a sailing centre, the second a mecca for surfers drawn to its choice of west-facing beaches. St Ives , too, has long attracted the crowds, though the town has a separate identity as a magnet for the arts. Despite the tourist incursions, this county is essentially less domesticated than its agricultural neighbour, in part due to the overbearing presence of the turbulent Atlantic, which is never more than half an hour's drive away. The restless waves give Cornwall's old fishing ports an almost embattled character, especially on the north coast, where the fortified headland of Tintagel - the most famous of the many places hereabouts to boast a connection with King Arthur and his knights - and the clenched little harbour of Boscastle are typical of the county's craggy appeal, but the full elemental power of the ocean can best be appreciated on the twin pincers of Lizard Point and Land's End , where the splintered cliffs resound to the constant thunder of the waves. And there's another factor contributing to Cornwall's starker feel - unlike Devon, this county was once considerably industrialized, and is dotted with remnants of its now defunct mining industries, their ruins presenting a salutary counterpoint to the tourist-centred seaside towns. One disused clay-pit, though, is the site of one of Cornwall's biggest success stories of recent times, the Eden Project , which imaginatively highlights the diversity of the planet's plant-systems, with the help of science-fiction "biomes" where tropical and Mediterranean climates and conditions have been re-created.
The best way of exploring the coast of Devon and Cornwall is along the South West Coast Path , Britain's longest waymarked footpath, which allows the dauntless hiker to cover almost six hundred miles from the Somerset border to the edge of Bournemouth in Dorset. Getting around by public transport in the West Country can be a convoluted and lengthy process, especially if you're relying on the often skimpy bus network. By train, you can reach Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, with a handful of branch lines wandering off to the major coastal resorts - though there's nothing like the extensive network the Victorians once enjoyed.
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