With its two National Parks, glorious coastlines and diverse landscape, Devon is an endlessly fascinating county. There are plenty of opportunities to learn more about the region at the many stately homes, museums and heritage attractions that can be found around the county. Here are our suggestions for places to learn more about Devon during your break.
Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, is Buckfast Abbey, which is home to a community of Benedictine monks. The site itself was founded by King Cnut in 1018 and since then has been developed to be the tranquil, picturesque place that it is now. It is the perfect place to learn more about the Benedictine movement, as well as to spend time in the gardens.
Image: Exeter Cathedral
While on the subject of historic, religious buildings in Devon, Exeter Cathedral is one of the most spectacular buildings of its kind in Europe. The cathedral features the world’s longest uninterrupted Gothic stone vaulted ceiling and a medieval astronomical clock. While you’re there, you have the choice between exploring on your own and using the time for your own quiet reflection or joining one of the guided tours, where you can hear first hand all the history and hidden secrets of the cathedral site.
One way to learn about Devon’s past is to visit one of the many museums. From small collections focusing on their own individual towns and villages to huge, world famous museums, there is something for everyone here covering generations of local history.
While in Exeter, be sure to visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery. Located not far from the cathedral, the museum is free to visit and has an ever changing programme, making it a staple on every visit to the city – no two trips are the same! The displays and exhibitions are spread across several spaces and feature everything from glassware to clocks and watches, local history, exotic animals and more.
Image: Torre Abbey Museum and Garden
Fans of Agatha Christie will want to head to the Torre Abbey Museum and Garden in Torquay. Set within one of the most historic buildings in the Torbay, the Abbey features over 500 works of art, family friendly trails and a packed programme of events and activities. In the garden, you can find the Agatha Christie Potent Plants display – inspired by the author’s fascination with poisonous plants – if you’re visiting the area to find out more about Torquay’s best known writer, Torre Abbey has to be on your list.
If your interest in local history lies with the agricultural and industrial parts of Devon’s heritage, make time for a visit to Bicton Countryside Museum. Set within the world famous Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, the museums origins date back to the 1950s and the exhibits continue to grow year on year. With displays featuring vintage forming machinery and an insight into traditional farming practices, you can really immerse yourself in Devon’s past.
It isn’t just agriculture that Devon is known for, it also has a rich maritime history which can be explored at The Box in Plymouth. A fairly new attraction, the Box is one of the UK’s most exciting cultural attractions, with contemporary art and heritage combining to create a truly unique visitor experience. Nine permanent galleries showcase the story of Plymouth and temporary visiting displays look at the wider history of the UK.
Image: The Box
If you have a particular subject of interest, you don’t have to wade through lots of exhibitions at some of the larger museums to learn more. There are small establishments with a strong focus on individual parts of history, like Sidmouth’s Toy and Model Museum where you can indulge in a little nostalgia with their collection of vintage toys and models. Or for a more hands on experience, take a trip to Coldharbour Mill, the UK’s oldest working woollen mill. Having been in continuous production since the 1700s and largely untouched since the industrial revolution, this working museum is the perfect pace to learn more about the heritage of wool making. To this day, the mill uses traditional methods to create high quality yarn and fabrics and you can watch the team at work during your visit.
If you like the sound of having a more hands on experience, there are plenty of places where you can learn more about the region in a more interactive setting. One place is at Beer Quarry Caves. With over 2000 years of history, the caves have been used for quarrying Beer stone since Roman times and the methods remain virtually the same. The stone from the caves have been used to build some of the UK’s most recognisable buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral. There are more caves to explore in the Torbay, at Kents Cavern, one of Europe’s top and most exciting Stone Age Caves. This labyrinth of caves, complete with entertaining guides, makes for a fun underground adventure and with seasonal activities, you can get involved with workshops and events. Another way to indulge in some nostalgia is to visit South Devon Railway where you can ride steam trains along a picturesque route alongside the River Dart. With a packed calendar of events and activities throughout the year, there is always something to do here and there is something special about riding a steam train!
Image: Kent's Cavern
One way to experience the region’s history is to visit a castle or two – there are loads to discover in Devon but one of the most popular is Powderham Castle on the outskirts of Exeter. Home to the Courtenay family for over 600 years, Powderham Castle is unique in that it is a family home as well as a top visitor attraction. Within the castle walls you can find out everything there is to know about the family and their association with the county, while outside there are acres to explore with a walled garden, nature trails and more. Plus, the gardens are often used for live music performances, with Michael Buble scheduled to appear later this year!
It isn’t just castles that we have in abundance, Devon also has a number of stately homes and manor houses, many of which are now under the management of the National Trust and similar organisations.
One historic estate is Dartington Hall located near Totnes, the estate has Grade II listed gardens, a historic home, live arts events, eateries, accommodation and even cinema screenings. With a wide programme of events, Dartington Hall is a great place to visit with the whole family, there’s always something to see and do.
These are just a few of the many heritage attractions in Devon that can help you discover more about the region. Find more attractions on our website here.