History fans will want to head to Devon this May to celebrate Local and Community History Month, a month long event that marks local history across the UK. All over the country you’ll find all sorts of fun things going on to commemorate important historical events, but as Devon still has the largest number of architectural remains across the moors, as well as links to the English Civil War and a connection to D Day, it is a great place to find out more about days gone past.
Here are a number of suggestions of places you can go to learn more about the history of the region.
Image by Kents Cavern
Kents Cavern is an ancient set of caverns that was widely used by prehistoric people and was said to be one of the earliest places in England to have been occupied by modern man. There are tours available of the cavern, as well as events and activities throughout the year. The caverns are in Torquay which has ties to literary history, Agatha Christie used to live in the town, her former residence is now a National Trust property which is available for tours, as well as the Agatha Christie mile which takes you around sites that you’ll know either from her life or from her books. In Seaton you’ll find Beer Quarry Caves, which has a history dating back over 2,000 years. The guided tour takes in the excavation of Beer Stone which has remained virtually unchanged from Roman methods. Ness Cove is a beautiful and virtually untouched beach that is only accessible via an old smugglers’ tunnel in Shaldon. There are a number of these smugglers’ coves dotted around Devon, another popular one is at Watermouth Cove and there are several in North Devon. Also in North Devon are the tunnel beaches in Ilfracombe. These are another fun way to experience local history. The four tunnels were hand carved in the 1800s and were built to separate male and female bathers.
Aside from being the root of several local myths and legends, Dartmoor was the home of Mesolithic people from about 6,000 BC. Even now, you’ll find evidence of farms, homes and monuments that were built in the Neolithic era and the moor is full of the remains of some of the oldest known buildings in the whole of England.
Combestone Tor, Dartmoor
As well as a vast array of museums and the cathedral which are great stops for anyone wanting to learn more about the region, you’ll also find several Roman walls which are still standing and a medieval walking trail for anyone wanting to learn about Britain during this period. Exeter was greatly affected during the blitz and much of the city had to be rebuilt in the 1960s, however, some buildings survived and spotting these among the newer ones is a fun challenge.
Much like Exeter, Plymouth suffered under the bombings of World War 2. As well as this, Plymouth is a hive of maritime history, you’ll find many famous mariners are associated with the place, from Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. Plymouth Hoe is famous for being the place that Sir Francis Drake decided to continue playing bowls despite the Spanish Armada being spotted! Plymouth was also the final departure point for the Mayflower in 1620 and was an important naval port during both World Wars.
Saunton Sands, North Devon
The Devon coastlines
Devon was an important strategic training area during World War 2, especially for the D-Day landings and you’ll find a memorial at Slapton Sands to commemorate those that lost their lives during a rehearsal. To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day there are a number of events taking place in the north of Devon. Many of the coastal villages and towns were used to station troops during World War 2 and you’ll be able to spot old Pill Boxes and Barracks.
Torrington was the site of one of the last major battles of the English Civil War. There are many towns around Devon that have connections to the main players of the Civil War, but the Battle of Torrington helped bring about the demise of Royalist power and eventually led to the execution of King Charles 1st. Visitors to the town in February might get to witness the marking of this event with a torch lit procession, attendees dress in 17th century costume and perform re-enactments. There are also Civil War Trails and visitor attractions that explore the history of the battle.
This is where the dinosaurs are! The Jurassic coast in east Devon is the place to go if you are a keen fossil hunter or want to find out more about the prehistoric era. You’ll find a whole host of events and activities all themed around the subject!
Image by Powderham Castle
Devon has several castles all over the region for you to explore, from Watersmeet Castle, Powderham Castle and Tiverton Castle. All of them are different and feature interesting architecture as well as fun facts about the time period they were built in. Many of the region’s castles have been refurbished and repurposed into tourist attractions, so you’ll find everything from theatre shows in the grounds to theme parks onsite.
Ride a steam train
Dartmouth Steam Railway offers visitors the opportunity to ride a steam train along the south Devon coast and take in the Dart Valley in a nostalgic way. At certain times of year there are special events suitable for all the family. Lynton and Barnstaple Railway is another option, having originally opened in 1898 and closing in 1935, much of the remaining station is as it was back then. Seaton tramway, though not a steam train is another retro travel option and a great way to sightsee.
Visit a working museum
In Cullompton you’ll find Coldharbour Mill, one of the oldest woolen mills in the UK having been in continuous production since 1797, visitors can explore life working in the mill as well as seeing how the mill works today. In Plymouth, Plymouth Gin is the oldest working distillery in England with the gin there being made to the original recipes since 1793. Guests get the opportunity to learn more about the heritage of gin, as well as sampling a few glasses!
Head to a National Trust property
Wherever you are in Devon, you’ll find National Trust properties, with everything from medieval manor houses, like Bradley Manor in Newton Abbot, to Agatha Christie’s former home, Greenway House and Compton Castle, a fortified manor house dating from 1340 which is in Paignton. In Barnstaple you’ll find Arlington Court and the Carriage Museum which is a regency house and Coleton Fishacre House in Kingswear which is reminiscent of the Jazz Age.
Clovelly, North Devon
Visit a ‘chocolate box’ village
The North Devon village of Clovelly is an ancient fishing village that was once owned by the Royal family. It is now in private ownership and has no vehicular traffic, with much of the original features, such as the cobbled streets, passageways, lanes and cottages remaining. Cockington, near Torquay, is another village that is well worth a visit. It is full of thatched houses many of which date back to the 16th Century and full of narrow lanes.
Image by Tiverton Canal Co
Tiverton is home to romantic castles, houses and the last horse drawn barges in the country. The Great Western Canal runs through the town and can be explored via the famous horse drawn barges, the canal is well worth a visit and has many attractions around it from walking trails to cycling trails and more it was originally a transport line but is now more known as a beauty spot. Aside from this, you’ll also find Tiverton Castle, Bickleigh Castle and Knightshayes Court, one of the finest surviving Gothic Revival houses.
Head to the markets
There are a number of historic Pannier markets around the region, the most famous being in Barnstaple and Tiverton. Barnstaple in particular is one of the oldest boroughs in the UK, so history fans will definitely need to visit! Speaking of famous markets, Brixham’s fish market is one of the busiest in the UK and has been in use for years. It is also home to the Golden Hind, which is a recreation of Sir Francis Drake’s flagship.
Are you planning to explore Devon during May’s Local and Community History Month or coming to Devon for the D-Day anniversary events? We’d love to hear about all the historical facts you discover during your trip! You can get in touch with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.