- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

DARTMOOR NATIONAL PARK, England — Devon is half of England’s West Country — the rest is Cornwall to the west — and is in the larger area called South West England. Part of the Prince of Wales’ Duchy of Cornwall is in Devon.

A three-hour ride by car or a train from London’s Paddington terminal brings passengers to the Exeter St. Davids station, and then it is a short ride by car to Bovey Castle. Guests also may fly to Exeter.

The train is especially convenient for travelers arriving at London Heathrow Airport, for the Heathrow Express operates between the airport and Paddington, where the historic Great Western Railway (visit www.great-western-trains.co.uk and www.britrail.com) departs for the West Country and stations in between.

The Great Western was founded about 1830 to provide rail service to Bristol and Plymouth and the West Country and later expanded into South West England and the Midlands. Paddington Station was built by the railroad as its London terminal when that area of the city was still a suburb. Direct passenger service between London and Exeter began in 1844.

The train journey is relaxing, and a refreshment cart goes through the cars occasionally. Many of the passengers carry briefcases, but there is no shortage of luggage large and small.

Exeter St. Davids is a pleasant station, with newspapers, magazines and refreshments available, but Bovey Castle also provides a generous array of such journals. The city of Exeter, the regional capital of Devon, deserves a visit on its own.

In 1050, King Edward the Confessor was present when Leofric became the first bishop of Exeter. In 1068, William the Conqueror led his troops into Exeter to put down the first English rebellion against his authority.

A Saxon church was demolished to clear the site for St. Peter’s Cathedral, begun in 1112 and dedicated in 1133. Two large square Norman towers and the lower part of some walls remain from the original cathedral.

A novelty for Americans is the Prickly Ball Farm Hedgehog Hospital in Newton Abbot, which offers a hedgehog shop, the Whole Hog Cafe, picnic areas, a children’s play area, a tractor park, a hedgehog game quiz and a hedgehog maze. Just the place to take an ailing or orphan hedgehog. For more information, visit www.hedgehog.org.uk.

In geological time, the Devonian Period in the Paleozoic Era — sometimes estimated at 570 million to 250 million years ago — was marked by the appearance of the first fossil trees and forests and the disappearance of armored fish. The age was so named because of the variety of fossils found in Devon dating to about 415 million to 360 million years ago. Consequently, much of the Dartmoor area was forested at one time.

Dartmoor (visit www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk) became a national park in 1951, and although about 33,000 people live in the park, it receives an estimated 10 million visits each year. The River Dart has created a gorge in the park.

Dartmoor has many prehistoric remains that have endured because they are usually granite; ancient metal artifacts have not survived in the acid soil. The moor is “bestrewn,” as the Brits say, with standing stones, hut circles and hill forts. Near Mary Tavy, remains of tin mining can be seen. Mount Batten, a late Bronze Age settlement, was a tin port into the age of the Roman occupation.

Plymouth, on Devon’s south coast, is the county’s best known name to Americans, for it was from here that the Pilgrims sailed for the New World. A plaque and a small memorial platform on the side of a pier mark the Plymouth Steps, where the group may have boarded the Mayflower.

Plymouth is not the most charming spot on the coast, for most of the city was destroyed by German bombs during World War II and seems to have been rebuilt hastily with whatever was available. Plymouth’s Crownhill Fort was built in the 1860 as the largest — and most important — of the Victorian forts built to defend the city and naval base from attack by land or sea.

Today’s road from Plymouth to Tavistock generally follows a ridge road — dating from about 2000 B.C. — that connected the Plymouth area to the rest of the country.

Plymouth was farmland before it became a port in the 12th century. In the Domesday Book, it was called Sudtone, a name that survives in Sutton Harbour, Plymouth’s original harbor.

At the Plymouth Hoe — a promontory of land — Sir Francis Drake, born near Tavistock, Devon, is said to have played bowls before engaging and defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. A hoe was a promontory of land but now is used in connection with place names.

East of Plymouth, the Jurassic Coast (www.jurassiccoast.com), a World Heritage Site, begins in Exmouth in eastern Devon and continues for 95 miles eastward to Studland, Dorset.

Lyme Regis in Dorset is considered the heart of the Jurassic Coast, but there are many villages along the coast that are popular with visitors on vacation seeking beaches and quiet and pleasant places.

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