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Devon

Devon is a large county in South West England. The county is occasionally referred to as Devonshire, although that is an unofficial name, rarely used inside the county itself and often indicating a traditional or historical context. The county shares borders with Cornwall to the west and Dorset and Somerset to the east. Its south coast abuts the English Channel and its north coast the Bristol Channel.

Devon is the fourth largest of the English counties and has a population of 1,141,600. The county town is the cathedral city of Exeter and the county contains two independent unitary authorities: the port city of Plymouth and the Torbay conurbation of seaside resorts, in addition to Devon County Council itself. Plymouth is also the largest city in Devon.

Much of the county is rural (including national park) land, with a low population density by British standards. It contains Dartmoor 954 km2 (368 square miles), the largest open space in southern England.

The county is home to part of England's only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dorset and East Devon Coast, known as the Jurassic Coast for its geology and geographical features. It is also home to Braunton Burrows UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a dune complex in the north of the county.

Along with its neighbour, Cornwall, Devon is known as the "Cornubian massif". This geology gives rise to the landscapes of Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor, the latter two being national parks. Devon has seaside resorts and historic towns and cities, rural scenery and a mild climate, accounting for the large tourist sector of its economy.

Geography and Geology

The principal geological formations of Devon are the Devonian (in north Devon, south Devon and extending into Cornwall); the granite batholith of Dartmoor in central Devon; and the Culm Measures (also extending into north Cornwall). There are small remains of pre-Devonian rocks on the south Devon coast.

Devon gave its name to a geological era: the Devonian era, so named because of the abundance of the grey limestone found there. It was Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick who originally named the Devonian Period following research they carried out in Devon, and in particular, Torbay. They found some unusual marine fossils in the limestone at Lummaton Quarry and it was this discovery that lead to the time period becoming known globally as the Devonian.

The whole of central Devon is occupied by the largest area of igneous rock in South West England, Dartmoor. Devon's third major rock system is the Culm Measures, a geological formation of the Carboniferous period that occurs principally in Devon and Cornwall. The measures are so called either from the occasional presence of a soft, sooty coal, which is known in Devon as culm, or from the contortions commonly found in the beds. This formation stretches from Bideford to Bude in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape. It is also found on the western, north and eastern borders of Dartmoor.

Devon is the only county in England to have two separate coastlines; the South West Coast Path runs along the entire length of both, around 65% of which is named as Heritage Coast. Devon has more mileage of road than any other county in England: before the changes to counties in 1974 it was the largest by area of the counties not divided into two or three parts. (its acreage was until 1974 1,658,288: only exceeded by the West Riding of Yorkshire). The islands of Lundy and Eddystone are also in Devon.

Inland, the Dartmoor National Park lies wholly in Devon, and the Exmoor National Park lies in both Devon and Somerset. Apart from these areas of high moorland the county has attractive rolling rural scenery and villages with thatched cob cottages. All these features make Devon a popular holiday destination.

In South Devon the landscape consists of rolling hills dotted with small towns, such as Dartmouth, Ivybridge, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, and Totnes. The towns of Torquay and Paignton are the principal seaside resorts on the south coast. East Devon has the first seaside resort to be developed in the county, Exmouth and the more upmarket Georgian town of Sidmouth, headquarters of the East Devon District Council. Exmouth marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Another notable feature is the coastal railway line between Newton Abbot and the Exe Estuary: the red sandstone cliffs and sea views are very dramatic and in the resorts railway line and beaches are very near.

North Devon is very rural with few major towns except Barnstaple, Great Torrington, Bideford and Ilfracombe. Devon's Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman, a 318 m (1043 ft) "hog-backed" hill with an 250 m (820 ft) cliff-face, located near Combe Martin Bay. Its sister cliff is the 218 m (716 ft) Little Hangman, which marks the western edge of coastal Exmoor. One of the features of the North Devon coast is that Bideford Bay and the Hartland Point peninsula are both west-facing, Atlantic facing coastlines; so that a combination of an off-shore (east) wind and an Atlantic swell produce excellent surfing conditions. The beaches of Bideford Bay (Woolacombe, Saunton, Westward Ho! and Croyde), along with parts of North Cornwall and South Wales, are the main centres of surfing in Britain.

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