Gateway to the Classics: The Counties of England by Charlotte Mason
The Counties of England by  Charlotte Mason



Leafy Devon is the beauty of the western counties. It has a blue sea margin north and south, bordered with cliffs, which on the south coast are often of pink and grey marble. Trees fringe the coast almost to the water's edge, and the very cliffs are hung with creepers.

Much of central Devon is breezy moorland, bleak and barren enough; and there is another stretch of moor towards the north; but spurs from these high moors reach the coast, both north and south, and between these spurs are deep, shadowy combes, the valleys of the sparkling moorland streams.

The villages nestle in these combes; and very pretty a Devon village is, with its narrow, steep lanes, bordered by high hedges, and its snug-looking cottages, with thatched roofs and rosy walls of cob. Cob is made of the reddish mud of the district mixed with pebbles or straw. The villages often lie among great orchards of apple trees, and myrtle grows freely about the cottage doors.

Pleasant as the whole county is, the very garden of Devon is the South Hams, the district south of Dartmoor, and between the Tamar and the Teign,

This is the cider country, with orchards of apple trees like forest trees for size. Cider making is the great business of the autumn in the South Hams. The gathered apples are allowed to lie for two or three weeks exposed to the air; then, when they have begun to rot, they are ground in a mill; the broken apples, or cheese as it is called, is placed under a press, and the juice is drawn out. After one or two more processes this juice is put in casks, and is ready for use. Cider is the general drink in Devon.

Though so unlike Cornwall in many ways, Devon is built on the same kind of rocky framework. The central moors are of granite, and, like those of Cornwall, contain copper arid tin ore, the mines and stream works being managed in much the same way.

Though "clouted cream" is made in both counties, Devonshire has the greatest name for this delicacy; it is delicious cream (thick and solid enough to be cut with a knife), which is made by scalding the milk over a wood fire.

Junkets are another Devonshire dainty, made of cream and spice and all things nice, but how, only Devon folk know.


North Devon

The combes along the north coast lie between the spurs of Exmoor, which come down to the water's edge.

Exmoor itself is a tract of moorland rising everywhere into dark hills, of which Dunkerry Beacon (1668 feet) is the highest. The two Lyns, East and West, are mountain torrents, which, when they leave Exmoor, come tumbling along over stones, the one through a thickly-wooded combe, the other between bare, stony hills, till they flow into the sea by one mouth. Here stands the beautiful little village of Lynmouth, shut in among the cliffs. A steep road leads from Lynmouth to Lynton, which looks out over the moors.

Combe Martin is a long village, also lying in a valley. It is famous for its two silver-lead mines, which did England good service in the reigns of both Edward III. and Henry V., for they helped to bear the cost of the Hundred Years' War with France. The levels of these mines run underneath the village.

Ilfracombe, a watering-place, and Barnstaple, which has lace mills, and Bideford, which is built on a hillside and overlooks the Torridge, are all pleasant North Devon towns. Near Bideford is Clovelly, a fishing village, which seems to hang in the air. It is built on a hill-side so steep that the only way up is by a zigzag pavement, which ends towards the top in a flight of steps.

Lundy Island, about eighteen miles off, may be seen from Clovelly—a granite island, bordered by granite cliffs.



Dartmoor is a great granite tableland, which measures twenty miles each way; a waste, where there is no sound of living thing, bird or beast, but an awful stillness, broken only by the roaring of the winds and the torrents. No habitation is within sight for many miles; everywhere are billowy hills, and dark glens, where not even furze will grow. Heather, reeds and moss, and whortleberries are the moor plants.

There is a large morass in the centre of the moor, which will not bear the lightest footed creature, and here rise many of the streams which rush as brawling torrents across the moor, and then descend through the beautiful combes of South Devon. The Dart, Teign, Tavy, and the Taw all get their pure azure waters from this morass; azure except after heavy rains, when the torrents are red with the peat they have torn up. And this is not seldom; for north wind, south wind, east wind, west, every wind that blowsj seems to bring rain to Dartmoor. When there is* not rain, a thick sea-mist often wraps the moor for a week together. The prospect, when it is to be had, is very fine—the wide stretch of hilly waste, the faint tints of the hills, and their delicate shadows.

The Tors, great granite rocks crowning the hills, of all strange shapes, like castles, or giants, or huge beasts, are the most remarkable things on the moor. They all have names of their own, and give their names to the hills they crown. Yes Tor (2050 feet) is the highest; a good deal higher than the Cornish Brown Willy, than which, indeed, nineteen of the Dartmoor Tors are higher.

Cawsand Beacon and the Great Lynx, with its Tor like a ruined castle, and many others are visible from Yes Tor, which is itself a desolate hill, with streams of loose granite down its sides.

Fur Tor, Hound Tor, Rough Tor, Brent Tor, and Hare Tor are among the chief heights. Sheeps Tor, which is full of caverns and hollows and queer hiding-places, is the favourite haunt of the small folk of Devon, the Pixies, invisible to mortal eyes. Indeed, it is said that the Pixy king himself holds court among these dark hollows.

Perhaps you have never heard of the Pixies, but if you were Devon born you would know well enough about the small green people who sport in the dark levels of the mines. Many a traveller, so the country people tell, has been Pixy-led far out of his way under cover of the mist, to be lost at last in a morass. These Pixy fables are amusing, though we know they are not true.

There is a large prison on the moor, where more than a thousand convicts are confined; they are made to cultivate the moor about the prison walls.


The mines lie chiefly between Dartmoor and the Tamar, that is, in the Tavy Valley, and about the well-to-do town of Tavistock, where Sir Francis Drake was born. Copper, tin, lead, and other metals are found in this district. The two great copper mines, Devon Great Consols and Huel (Cornish for mine) Friendship, are among the richest in the world. The country about these is dark with smoke, and bristles with engine chimneys rising from among the huts of the miners.


Plymouth and the Eddystone

Plymouth, Stonehouse, and Devonport, all on the Plymouth Sound, are in fact one great town. Plymouth is the city, the trading place, full of shops and the stir of business; Devonport, built on higher ground, is the fashionable West End;  and Stonehouse is filled with hospitals and manufactories. Plymouth is supplied with water from Dartmoor, by a leet, or artificial channel. Sir Francis Drake had this leet brought into the town, and when the work was finished, people, Mayor and Corporation, went out to meet the stream, and followed it through the town with music and the firing of cannons.

In Stonehouse are the Naval Hospital and the Victualling Yard for the ships. The last is an enormous place, with a beef-house where there are always many thousands of pieces of salt beef in store; there are stores for vegetables, for books, for clothes, for bedding, and a long wing of the building for corn and baking. Within the bakehouse all the work is done by an invisible giant, a mighty fellow, who does the work of a thousand bakers at once; grinds the corn, kneads the dough, spreads it ready for biscuits, cuts it up, and has a sack of flour ready for the oven in two minutes. Steam is this rapid workman, who is employed in all the stores.

The great show in Devonport is the Dockyard. In the Building Slips  ships are to be seen at every stage, from the skeleton frame to the finished vessel. Near by are kilns where planks for the ships are steam-boiled to give them the proper curve. Then there is the blacksmiths' shop with its forty-eight forges, always filled with smoke and with a terrible din; in it too is Nasmyth's great hammer, heavy enough to pound a house down, yet so delicately managed that it can crack a nut without crushing the kernel. These are only a few of the things to be seen in the Dockyard, which is open to visitors.

The Sound is a great station for our ships of war; but the southerly winds made it unsafe until Mr. Bennie, a famous engineer, invented a way to keep the breakers outside of the harbour. He found that the action of the water had itself raised shoals of sand to a height little short of the top across the mouth of the Sound, and he thought that if rubble—rough blocks of stone some tons in weight as well as smaller stones—were cast into the sea, the waves would arrange it in the best shape to keep out the breakers. His plan was adopted; many men were employed in quarrying, and many vessels in carrying the stone and casting it into the sea.

The Breakwater has answered perfectly; the waves coming in and going out fixed the stones at the proper slope, and now, however stormy the outside sea is, the waters within the Sound are always calm.

A terrible danger to home-bound ships was the Eddystone, a narrow rook about fourteen miles from Plymouth, which is daily covered by the tide. A Mr. Winstanley, a brave gentleman of Essex, raised a lighthouse here to warn the ships of the hidden danger. It was a most difficult undertaking, for as fast as the foundations were laid at low tide, high water washed them away.

The work was finished with much toil, but it had not stood more than a couple of years when lighthouse and architect were engulfed during a great storm (1703).

In 1757 Smeaton planned the present lighthouse. It is said he looked about for a model of perfect strength, for some natural form which stood firm in the most furious gales, and he fixed upon the trunk of an oak, with its curve inward, and then its slight outward swell towards the top.

The building is of granite; the foundations, of marvellous strength, solid blocks of granite dove-tailed and clamped with irons to the rocks below and to each other.

It has stood for more than one hundred years, sending its light out a distance of fourteen miles; and the event has proved that the foundations were firmer than the very rock they were raised on* The sea has beaten against the rock beneath the building until it is nearly worn away; the old lighthouse must come down, and a new one is being built at a stronger point.


The Dart and Torbay

The Dart, with its rapid course and sudden bends, deserves its name (which, however, is derived from the Celtic word Dwr, which means river); these sharp turns make it look like a chain of lakes, for bit after bit of the river seems to be shut in by land. It begins on the moor, flows, a mountain torrent, through rocky defiles, through the ancient oak forest of Holne Chase, past quiet Ashburton and old Totnes. The valley becomes more fair and fertile as it reaches the sea; rich meadows, studded with trees, and apple orchards border the banks of the river, and at its mouth is the ancient town of Dartmouth, with its projecting upper stories.

Dartmouth fishers were among the first who went after Newfoundland cod, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert who took that island for Queen Elizabeth was a Dartmouth man.

Torbay, a beautiful bay with blood-red cliffs, lies between the Dart valley and that of the Teign. Torquay is under its north headland; it is a pleasant bathing-place, with a mild climate, where delicate people winter. Brixham, to the south of the bay, is a fishing town, the place of the Devonshire trawlers, who catch whiting, haddock, and other fish in a net about seventy feet long, shaped like a bag, with a beam at the mouth, which they trawl or drag along the bottom.

Most memorable in the history of Torbay are those July days of 1588, when the great war ships of the Spanish Armada ventured slowly past Berry Head. The little English ships, under the valiant "sea-dogs" of Queen Elizabeth, dashed in and out among them, sinking one or two, disabling many, firing a broadside and away again before the big Spaniards had time to turn round; while the English people stood in crowds watching and praying upon the shore.

The most famous of Elizabeth's captains wera Devon men; Sir Francis Drake, who was the first to sail through Magellan's Straits and round the world, attacking the Spaniards everywhere; Frobisher; Sir John Hawkins; Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the "most learned and pious of them all"; and, not least, Sir Walter Raleigh, his half-brother.

Farther north is Teignmouth, a large watering-place at the mouth of the Teign.


Exeter and the Otter Valley

Exeter, the Queen of the West, stands on the Exe; a city on a hill, and with hills around it. The cathedral with its two high old towers built after the Norman fashion, was the work of the Normans.

Crediton, where shoes are made, and Tiverton, where there are lace mills, are higher up in the Exe valley. Dawlish, in a sheltered valley, and Exmouth, on a hill, are two bathing-places near the mouth of the estuary.

The beautiful and costly Honiton lace, the manufacture for which Devonshire is most famous, is made chiefly in the Otter Valley. It is a snug valley, sheltered by hills on each side, well-wooded hills, from whose tops the pink marble of Devon crops up. The cottages lie among the orchards, and the lace-makers may be seen at work at their cottage doors. This delicate fabric is made altogether by hand. The lace-maker sits on a stool with a hard cushion on her lap; the pattern is sketched on a piece of parchment which is laid upon the cushion; pins are put through the pattern to mark it, and the worker forms the mesh and makes the pattern with many small bobbins on which threads are wound, fine threads for the meshes, coarse for the pattern. Though the lace is costly, it takes so long to make it that the workers are not very well paid.

Lace is made in the numerous lanes which wind about Budleigh Salterton, a delightful little watering-place, set in apple orchards; it is also made in the large red village of Otterton, in Ottery St. Mary, and in most of the villages in this neighbourhood. It is sent to Honiton or to Exeter for sale. Colyton, on the Axe, is another lace-making place. Axminster, on this river, was once a famous carpet-making place, but its trade has declined.

The vale of Honiton is as famous for its butter as for its lace; there, and in the Exe valley, the best Devonshire cream and butter are made.

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