Exploring Devon

Article about Devon for senior and mature small group tours couple and solo travellers interested in stone circles, the Romans or English history including the Industrial revolution.

18 Jul 21 · 6 mins read

Join Odyssey Traveller on this tour of the West Country of England and the fascinating areas of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. This is an escorted small group tour for mature and senior travellers who are travelling with partners or as a solo traveller. This is a journey filled with stories of wreckers and ship wrecks, smugglers, pirates, medieval treasures, charming fishing villages along the Cornish coast, stunning cliff-top coastal views of the blue Atlantic, castles and romantic destinations traditionally linked to the legends of King Arthur, and the delights of ‘cream teas’ and Cornish pasties.

This article concentrates on the locations visited on the Devon section of the tour and starts with Bristol.

Bristol

Bristol is located about 190 km west of London at the joining of the Avon and Frome Rivers. Just west of the city, the Avon flows into the estuary of the River Severn, which itself empties into the Bristol Channel of the Atlantic Ocean. Bristol is an historic seaport and commercial centre. Its area is about 110 square km and its population in the 2011 Census was 428,234, but is now estimated to be 686,210.

The medieval town of Bristol was incorporated in 1155. The harbour was improved in 1247 by diverting the Frome to the west and building a stone bridge at the point of its former confluence with the Avon. During the reign of Edward III (1327-77) Bristol imported raw wool from Ireland and manufactured woollen cloth, which it sold to Spain and Portugal in return for sherry and port wine. By the 16th century Bristol had become a major port, a manufacturing town, and a distribution centre for both overseas and inland trade. From the city of Bristol, John Cabot sailed in 1497 on his voyage to North America.

During the later 17th and the 18th centuries Bristol prospered as a processing centre for sugar and tobacco (until 1740 when tobacco was shipped from the Americas to Glasgow for redistribution) imported from Britain’s colonies in the Americas, to whom it supplied textiles, pottery, glass, and other manufactured goods. The import of Jamaican sugar and cacao from West Africa led to the creation of the “sugar houses” of Bristol and to chocolate manufacture. By the 19th century, however, the rise of the Lancashire cotton industry, together with the limitation on shipping imposed by the Avon Gorge below Clifton, led to much of Bristol’s trade being lost to Liverpool.

The 1800s in Bristol demonstrated the ingenuity and cleverness of growing industrialisation. In 1809 tidal waters of the Avon and the Frome were diverted to create a floating, or tideless, harbour with a constant water depth. The engineer, John Loudon McAdam, improved Bristol’s roads (c. 1815) with his technique of laying raised-stone surfaces (macadamising), and the Bristol roads became a model for road improvements throughout Great Britain and the world. Bristol served as the launching point in 1838 for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western, the second steamship to cross the Atlantic. The coming of the railway in 1841, followed by dock extensions at Avonmouth and Portishead, led to a revival of Bristol’s trade, and a suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge, designed by Brunel and completed in 1864, further encouraged traffic.

The history of Devon.

Devon

The history of the county of Devon goes back to at least the Stone Age. At the end of the last ice age, Devon was one of the first places to be settled as the ice retreated. An adventurous traveller can see some of the earliest occupied sites at Kents Cavern (a series of caves) near Torbay, an Ancient Monument.

Up on Dartmoor, the history stretches back at least 8,000 years. It was not a moorland before modern humans arrived: it was oak forest. Settlers burned and cleared the land, which then regenerated as moorland. When farming technology arrived, the Neolithic peoples farmed and settled the land, leaving some of the most distinctive ancient relics in the UK behind: huge granite stone circles, menhirs, burial mounds and settlements. The oldest buildings in the UK are found here. Tin, copper, and lead mining was a major part of Devon’s ancient economy, with Devonshire tin being used in bronze across Europe during the Bronze and Iron ages. Ancient pre-Roman mines can still be explored.

The Romans arrived in Britain in AD 43 and stayed for around 400 years. However, in all that time they made a surprisingly small impact on Devon. Exeter (camp on the Exe) is a Roman town and has some fine Roman walls that can still be seen. On the whole, the Dumnonii, as the locals were called by the Romans, resisted Romanisation.

Dumnonii is the ultimate root of the name Devon. It is thought to refer to a Celtic tribe who lived in Cornwall and Devon at the time of the Roman invasion. The name possibly means “deep valley dwellers”, or “worshippers of the god Dumnonos”, but nobody knows for sure. As with Cornwall, the name for a local tribe came to mean the area they were found in. As they died out or changed, the name stuck and eventually evolved into Devon.

The kingdom of Dumnonia was a client of the Roman Empire, so it retained a lot of its autonomy in exchange for peace and trade. When everything fell apart in Rome, the Dumnonii expanded but retained a lot of the useful Roman aspects they had absorbed, like the structure of their church.

Although the Romans had left, their religion survived. Christianity spread across the island and by the 6th century, Dumnonia was Christian. Monasteries and cathedrals were built in the coming years.

Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The Anglo-Saxons came from what is now Germany and Holland, spreading from the East coast of England to eventually conquer most of the island. By the mid9th century, they had conquered the Cornish and Devonshire folk and subjugated them. Devon would never again be independent of rule from England. Once the last king of Cornwall was killed, the slow decline of the Western Peninsula as a culture independent from the English began. The peoples of Devonshire were known at this time as Cornish or West Welsh, which shows their Celtic heritage and their close association with the Welsh peoples to the north across the Bristol Channel. Unlike Cornwall, Devon was assimilated into Anglo-Saxon culture during the reign of Æthelstan (924 – 939), who set the border between Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Celtic Cornwall at the River Tamar, even today the border between Cornwall and Devon.

Vikings

Exeter played an important role in resisting the Viking invasions that began in the 9th century. However, in 1001AD, the Devonians were crushed and the Vikings made an attempt at settling the land. A few remnants of their occupation remain in place names like Lundy Island.

Norman Invasion and Occupation

Exeter resisted the Normans impressively enough that King William was only allowed into the city on honourable terms. He had understood the importance of Exeter and it continued to have important roles in the rebellions of the next few hundred years. The French invaded England through Devon several times, and the Yorkists and Lancastrians fought battles across the county during the Wars of the Roses.

Religion

The Prayer Book Rebellion started and ended in Devon, with the rebels eventually being slaughtered at Sampford Coutenay. This rebellion (in which thousands were killed in battles or executed) was over the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer (Church of England and in English) to replace that of the Church of Rome in Latin. During the Civil War, the region escaped much of the bloody fighting that took place elsewhere.

Sea Faring and Empire

The second man ever to make a full circumnavigation of the earth came from Devon: Sir Francis Drake. He also helped defeat the Great Armada. As trade and exploration (more plundering than anything) became increasingly important to England, the port of Plymouth grew. The rest of the county remained agricultural into the 20th century, but Plymouth was an important trade hub and a centre of military operations.

By the World Wars in the 20th century, Plymouth had become one of the most valued ports in the country. Accordingly, it was bombed flat. Throughout it all, mining remained a mainstay of the economy. At one point, the copper mine at Great Consols was the largest miner of copper in the world. When the output of copper declined, arsenic was extracted from the copper dumps and the mine became the largest extractor of arsenic in the world.

Today

These days, the economy is mostly agricultural and tourism-based. The Devonians are proud of their history and love to talk about it. Devon, also known as Devonshire, is a cultural bridge between Cornwall and ‘up country’ (as the locals call England). Devon is home to some of Great Britain’s most stunning scenery. Unique among English counties, it has two coastlines: south to the English Channel and north to the Bristol Channel and Celtic Sea. Exmoor and Dartmoor, in North Devon, offer southern England’s wildest scenery; while the cliffs of Devon’s northern coast are the remotest coastline in England, at points inaccessible by land or sea.

Devon is perhaps most famous for giving the world Devonshire tea, known locally as a ‘cream tea’. However, this seemingly innocuous tradition is the subject of fierce debate in the West Country, with Devon and Cornwall both strongly disputing which county originated the tea, and how best to serve it: Devonians place the clotted cream directly onto the scone, before topping it with a dob of jam, while the Cornish place jam first, then a dob of cream. The latter is the method followed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The cream is clotted cream, not really known is Australia and is totally sinful.

Beautiful view of the streets of Clovelly, nice old village in the heart of Devonshire
Beautiful view of the streets of Clovelly, nice old village in the heart of Devonshire, England

Related Tours

Silk Road specialist small group history tours for mature travellers

29 days

Aug, May

Travel on the Silk Road with Odyssey Traveller | Small Group Tour for Seniors

Visiting China, Kyrgyzstan

The Silk Road is an ancient trade route linking China and Imperial Rome through Central Asia. Few areas in the world remain as unexplored or offer such richness in terms of ancient and modern history, culture, and scenic diversity as Central Asia. Our Small group Silk road tours itinerary explores the Road through remote deserts and mountainous environments as we visit key sites between Xi'an and Bukhara.

From A$15,750 AUD

View Tour
Southern Africa Mature travelers affordable escorted small group tours

19 days

Apr, Aug, Mar

Southern Africa Tour | Fully Escorted Africa Tour for Seniors

Visiting Botswana, South Africa

Experience as a small group tour for couples and solo travellers, the beautiful landscapes of the Garden route and the unique wildlife at places such as Kruger National Park, Cape Town, Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve. During the program participants will have the opportunity to learn about the culture, the politics and the social issues facing South African people in Soweto and more. How the natural resource managers are caring for their wildlife reserves in the face of land enclosure, climate change and poaching.

From A$10,995 AUD

View Tour
Ancient History of Jordan

9 days

Nov, Jan, Apr, Oct

Ancient History of Jordan | Escorted Small Group Tour

Visiting Jordan

Explore Jordan, visiting its capital city, Amman Jordan, the ancient Desert Castles, Petra and the Dead Sea on a small group package tour for mature and senior travellers travelling as a couple or Solo.

From A$4,950 AUD

View Tour
Taiwan tours

13 days

Sep

Taiwan culture and history escorted small group tour

Visiting Taiwan

This small group program for mature and senior travelers, couple or solo includes many of Taiwan’s natural wonders; from Taroko Gorge, one of the seven wonders of Asia, to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan’s largest lake; Kenting National Park, with its 60 kilometres of coral-rimmed shoreline to the East Coast National Scenic Area, stretching 170 kilometres. Fully escorted tour of Taiwan

From A$7,250 AUD

View Tour
art tours for mature travellers

21 days

Sep

Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany Art Tour | Western Europe Art Tour

Visiting Belgium, France

Most of us have already experienced the grandeur of classic galleries such as the Louvre and the National Gallery. Travel with like-minded people in a small group tour and be surprised by the lesser-known but equally wonderful smaller art galleries across Northwest Europe.

From A$14,450 AUD

View Tour
Venice, Italy

27 days

Dec

European Cities Small Group History and Cultural Winter Tour

Visiting Albania, Croatia

An escorted tour A Journey that commences in Rome and takes in 12 destinations along its journey to Athens. This is an off season small group journey with like minded people. A small group tour across Southern Europe with local guides sharing authentic in-country authentic experiences for mature couples and solo travellers.

From A$14,995 AUD

View Tour
India tour

11 days

Nov, Mar, Oct

India Short Tour | Small group tour for seniors

Visiting India

A short small group tour for Mature and seniors couples and solo travellers of India and its icons. Bounded by the majestic Himalayan ranges in the north and edged by an endless stretch of golden beaches. India is a vivid kaleidoscope of landscapes, magnificent historical sites, such as the Taj or red fort royal cities, such Dehli, Jaipur , Agra and Madras colourful people, and rich culture.

From A$8,150 AUD

View Tour
Jane-Austen

22 days

Jun, Aug

Discovering the art and literature of England: Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and more

Visiting England

Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeares birthplace and Anne Hathaway's cottage as well as the Lake district a UNESCO World site and Dicken's London are part of guided tour for a small group tour of like minded people learning about the art and literature of England. Your tour leader and local guides share day tour itineraries to create a unique travel experience.

From A$1,540 AUD

View Tour
France small group escorted history tours

24 days

Sep

La Belle France small group escorted history tours for seniors

Visiting France

Travelling with like minded people on this small group we visit several culturally significant and picturesque regions of France, including Provence, Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux regions, where we sample wine and learn more about the tradition of wine-making. We also visit the Loire Valley to see its many castles. Finally, we travel to Bayeux, from where we we visit Mont St Michel and spend time up on the Normandy landing beaches with local guides.

From A$17,450 AUD

View Tour
contemporary Japan places of interest

21 days

Oct

Contemporary Japan | Small Group Tour

Visiting Japan

This small group tour organised by Odyssey Traveller, Contemporary Japan, will take you through modern life in this East Asian jewel. This contemporary tour for couples and solo travellers is an expedition through Japan’s major urban areas, beginning and ending in Japan’s tantalising capital, Tokyo. For the first 12 days we get our fill of Tokyo fashion, technology, culture, and sights.

From A$16,995 AUD

View Tour
India tour

22 days

Nov, Mar

Cultural and History Tour of India | Small Group Tour

Visiting India

Small group tour for mature and senior couples and solo travellers to India. Visiting Delhi and the red fort, Jaipur, Agra and so much more over 22 days explore the world of the Mughal.

From A$10,450 AUD

View Tour
Oman small group tour

13 days

Oct

Discover Oman

Visiting Oman

The Sultanate of Oman is a country of diverse natural beauties and fascinating human history. Oman boasts medieval forts and watchtowers, Bedouin villages, spectacular fjords, bustling markets, date palm plantations, and sand dunes.

From A$10,550 AUD

View Tour

Related Articles

10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain

10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain

10 Books to Read If You Are Planning to Visit Britain For Odyssey Travellers, Britain has and remains a key destination in the organisation’s collection of escorted small group educational tours offered each year. For…

16 Oct 17 · 2 mins read
Read Article
Britain canals and railways

15 books on Britain's Industrial Revolution

Fifteen books on Britain’s Industrial revolution This reading list on Britain’s Industrial revolution complements Odyssey Travellers escorted small group tour that traces via the canal and railway network, the evolution of this monumental change in…

16 Oct 17 · 2 mins read
Read Article
Lacock Abbey, Britain's National Trust

Britain’s National Trust role for successful small group history tours

Britain’s National Trust: Historic houses, gardens and natural wonders Britain is home to many attractions, many of them rich in the region’s history. Sites and artefacts are preserved beautifully, and […]

31 Jul 17 · 10 mins read
Read Article
Dartmoor, England

Dartmoor, England

Article about Dartmoor a unique landscape setting in England. Learn more before joining a educational small group tour for senior couple and mature solo travellers visiting Britain's England, Scotland and Wales.

31 Jan 20 · 2 mins read
Read Article
Castle Combe Road villages of england tour

English Village History

An English Village history. Prepared for mature and senior travellers, couples or solo traveller considering joining a small group tour of England's villages.

4 Apr 18 · 7 mins read
Read Article
Jane Austen

Exploring Jane Austen’s England

Exploring Jane Austen’s England Jane Austen The reach and magnitude of Jane Austen’s influence on modern readers may make one forget that she only had six novels to her name (three of which were published…

21 Aug 18 · 10 mins read
Read Article
Tresco Island

Isles of Scilly, England

The Scilly isles form part of a day trip on the escorted small group tour of Devon and Cornwall for seniors and mature travellers. Whilst on this tour the group also visit St Michaels Mount, Penzance, Glastonbury and Tintagel.

1 Apr 20 · 6 mins read
Read Article
Exmoor

Lynton and Lynmouth, England

Article about Lynton and Lymouth for senior couples and mature solo travellers. Explore Devon and Cornwall as part of a small group tour of England by coach or on a walking program.

30 Mar 20 · 5 mins read
Read Article
Questions about England

Questions about England

Escorted small group tours for mature and senior travellers to England. Designed for couples and solo travellers who like to explore and enjoy learning as they travel to Devon and Cornwall, Manchester or Newcastle, or learn about English villages and the romanticism of the Lake district and beyond.

25 Feb 20 · 2 mins read
Read Article
Senior couple power walking

Six Short Walks through Britain

Six Short Walks through Britain Britain is renowned for its walking trails, and many world travellers choose to roam its green, rolling lands. How better to get a sense of its dramatic landscapes? From granite…

21 Sep 18 · 3 mins read
Read Article
View of the Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel, East Sussex, England

South Downs Way, England

South Downs Way is a coastal walk starting in Winchester, England. An ancient Pilgrims walk. Learn more on a educational small group tour for senior couples and mature solo travellers to England.

31 Jan 20 · 3 mins read
Read Article
Stonehenge

Standing Stones in Prehistoric Britain

Standing Stones in Prehistoric Britain Stonehenge, England, United Kingdom The standing stones of Great Britain continue to be the subject of research and archaeological hypothesis. Britain is not the only location where standing stones are…

22 Aug 16 · 4 mins read
Read Article
Lincoln England

Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

A travellers guide beyond the landscapes of Medieval England supporting Britain's history from the Roman's to Queen Victoria and the industrial revolution.

18 Sep 21 · 14 mins read
Read Article
Exeter Cathedral

The Exeter Book

The Exeter book, an important Anglo Saxon work of literature preserved in Exeter Cathedral. Exeter is visited on a small group educational tour for senior couples and mature solo travellers as part of a collection of British escorted tours.

30 Oct 21 · 5 mins read
Read Article

Articles about England

Join 22,383 like-minded travellers receiving our weekly newsletter.

Special offers and promotions
A$350 AUD first trip travel voucher
The latest tours and articles