Devon RCC
Devon map

A Brief History of Devon

The history of the county of Devon goes back to at least the Stone Age. At the end of the last ice age, Devon was one of the first places to be settled as the ice retreated. An adventurous traveller can see some of the earliest occupied sites at Kents Cavern near Torbay, an Ancient Monument.

Devon map

A map of Devon

Up on Dartmoor, the history stretches back at least 8,000 years. It was not a moorland before modern humans arrived: it was oak forest. We burned and cleared the land, which then regenerated as moorland. When farming technology arrived, the Neolithic peoples farmed and settled the land, leaving some of the most distinctive ancient relics in the UK behind: huge granite stone circles, menhirs, burial mounds and settlements. The oldest buildings in the UK are found here.

Tin, copper, and lead mining was a major part of Devon’s ancient economy, with Devonshire tin being used in bronze across Europe during the Bronze and Iron ages. Ancient pre-Roman mines can still be explored.

Roman Invasion

The Romans arrived in Britain in AD 43 and stayed for around 400 years. However, in all that time they made a surprisingly small impact on Devon. Exeter is a Roman town and has some fine Roman walls you can still see. Some towns like Nemeton are named after Roman deities, but on the whole, the Dumnonii, as the locals were called by the Romans, resisted Romanisation.

Dumnonii is the ultimate root of the name Devon. It is thought to refer to a Celtic tribe who lived in Cornwall and Devon at the time of the Roman invasion. The name possibly means “deep valley dwellers”, or “worshippers of the god Dumnonos”, but nobody knows for sure. As with Cornwall, the name for a local tribe came to mean the area they were found in. As they died out or changed, the name stuck and eventually evolved into Devon.

After the Romans Left

The kingdom of Dumnonia was a client of the Roman Empire, so it retained a lot of its autonomy in exchange for peace and trade. When everything fell apart in Rome, the Dumnonii expanded but retained a lot of the useful Roman aspects they had absorbed, like the structure of their church.

Although the Romans had left, their religion survived. Christianity spread across the island and by the 6th century, Dumnonia was Christian. Monasteries and cathedrals were built in the coming years.

Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The Anglo-Saxons came from what is now Germany and Holland, spreading from the East coast of England to eventually conquer most of the island. By the mid 9th century, they had conquered the Cornish and Devonshire folk and subjugated them. Devon would never again be independent of rule from England. Once the last king of Cornwall was killed, the slow decline of the Western Peninsula as a culture independent from the English began.

The peoples of Devonshire were known at this time as Cornish or West Welsh, which shows their Celtic heritage and their close association with the Welsh peoples to the north across the Bristol Channel.


Exeter played an important role in resisting the Viking invasions that began in the 9th century. However, in 1001 AD, the Devonians were crushed and the Vikings made an attempt at settling the land. A few remnants of their occupation remain in place names like Lundy Island.

Norman Invasion and Occupation

Exeter resisted the Normans impressively enough that King William was only allowed into the city on honourable terms. He had understood the importance of Exeter and it continued to have important roles in the rebellions of the next few hundred years. The French invaded England through Devon several times, and the Yorkists and Lancastrians fought battles across the county during the Wars of the Roses.

More Modern Times

The Prayer Book Rebellion started and ended in Devon, with the rebels eventually being slaughtered at Sampford Coutenay. During the Civil War, the region escaped much of the bloody fighting that took place elsewhere.

Sea Faring and Empire

Sir Frances Drake

A statue of Sir Frances Drake

The second man ever to make a full circumnavigation of the earth came from Devon: Sir Francis Drake. He also helped defeat the Great Armada. As trade and exploration (more plundering than anything) became increasingly important to England, the port of Plymouth grew. The rest of the county remained agricultural into the 20th century, but Plymouth was an important trade hub and a centre of military operations.

By the World Wars in the 20th century, Plymouth had become one of the most valued ports in the country. Accordingly, it was bombed flat.

Throughout it all, mining remained a mainstay of the economy. At one point, the copper mine at Great Consols was the largest in the world.

These days, the economy is mostly agricultural and tourism-based. The Devonians are proud of their history and love to talk about it, so be sure to ask them.

Travel solo

Travelling Solo in Devon

The UK is one of the safest countries in the world to travel solo. The locals are generous, crime rates are comparatively low, public transport is readily available (if quite expensive), hotels and homestays are everywhere, and people are used to travellers doing their thing.

Devon is no exception. If you are passing through or planning an extended stay, doing it solo is one of the best ways to do it.

Choose your Own Itinerary

Travelling in groups always means a lot of compromise. Doing it solo means you can get up in the morning without a plan and choose exactly what you want to do that day, no arguments.

Be More Social

Doing things by yourself means you have to meet people and make introductions if you are going to get anywhere. This might sound like very hell to some but as a confidence booster and a way of getting to know somewhere, it is the best way to do it. Because you have to meet new people in order to do anything, you get the inside story from the locals. The best hidden surf spots, the best cream teas, the best hidden gardens, they’re all easier to get the low-down on if you’re doing it solo.

Want to Surf? Go Surf!

Westward Ho beach

A surfer at Westward Ho beach, Devon

The surfer’s curse is the inevitability that you have a day off to hit the waves and the wind is blowing offshore, flattening all the swell. When you’re with a group, you might have a day set aside for surfing. Almost inevitably, there will be no swell. The gods of the oceans are fickle like that. If you’re doing your own thing, however, you can just check the surf reports for the local areas and head to where the swell is when it’s blowing onshore. Much easier to get some great surfing in.

Travelling Around Devon Solo

Devon is well endowed with roads and car hire companies. Of course, it’s always cheaper to hire a car between a few people, but you can get a small car or motorbike for not very much more.

Getting around Devon is not too difficult. There are a lot of winding A roads, tiny villages, and secluded spots, but if you have a good sat-nav or have got the low-down from the locals, you can find your way to anywhere in Devon within a couple of hours by car.

Trains are less reliable (this is England, we love to bash the train service) but you can get to any of the major hubs in Devon very easily. Connections to smaller towns and villages are intermittent, so double check before taking the train there – the train back might not be until tomorrow!

Walking in Devon Solo

With thousands of B&Bs, hotels, youth hostels, and homestays throughout Devon and along the coast, a very popular way to explore Devon by yourself is to walk it. You can go from one town or village to the next in a days’ beautiful rambling and almost always find somewhere to stay. Check ahead, of course, but you should be fine.

Can I Hitchhike?

Unfortunately, hitchhiking died out a lot in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s when a number of serial killers spoiled the fun for everyone. You can still hitch a ride in a strangers car or lorry but it is quite difficult. Being a lorry driver myself I never pick up hitchhikers anymore simply because of insurance reasons, however I feel the perception of hitching is very different to the reality: it’s a safe way to travel in general, if you can get a ride. Always take a photo of the number plate and car before you get in, post it online so people know where and when you took the ride.

In reality, the most dangerous aspect of being a hitchhiker in the UK today isn’t getting into a car with a serial killer but being a passenger injured in a car accident because of an irresponsible driver.

Need Someone to Talk to?

Travel solo

A visitor to Devon travelling solo

Travelling solo can be lonely. As great as it is to choose your own path and do your own thing, you do need some human contact now and then. Happily, the people of Devon are welcoming and friendly. With a fabulous selection of pubs to choose from, a weary traveller can get a few pints of scrumpy and a good chat just about anywhere in the county. The same is true for tea shops, they are everywhere!

Otherwise, you can always find a group or tour to join in. The number of beautiful castles, manors, abbeys, and ruins around the county is almost embarrassing, so you do not have to go far to find somewhere to explore. Tag along with a group, make some friends.

Be Safe

Although Devon is one of the safest counties in one of the safest countries in the world, it can still be dangerous. Always leave your contact details and itinerary with someone you can trust and make sure they know where you are going before you go. When you get there, send a check-in text so they know you’re safe. If it looks scary, don’t bother, there are lots more options.