Pointing away from England into the Atlantic, the dangling limb of land holding the country's westernmost counties of Devon and Cornwall has long wielded a powerful attraction for holiday-makers - not to mention second-homers, retireINTRODUCTION
Pointing away from England into the Atlantic, the dangling limb of land holding the country's westernmost counties of Devon and Cornwall has long wielded a powerful attraction for holiday-makers - not to mention second-homers, retirees, artists and writers, and anyone keen on rugged landscape and ever-changing coastal scenery. The two counties have a markedly different feel and look: Devon's rolling swards of pasture, narrow lanes and picturesque thatched cottages are a striking contrast to the craggy charms of Cornwall, imbued with its strong sense of Celtic culture. The essential elements, however, are shared, first among which is the sea - the constant theme and the strongest lure, whether experienced as a restless force raging against rocks and reefs, or as a serene presence bathed in the kind of rich colours more readily associated with some sultry southern Mediterranean shore. You're never very far from the coast in Devon and Cornwall, where the panoramic sequence of miniature ports, placid estuaries, embattled cliffs and sequestered bays are linked by one of the region's greatest assets, the South West Coast Path, stretching from the seaboard of Exmoor to the Dorset border. Most visitors, however, are primarily drawn to the magnificent beaches strewn along the deeply indented coast, ranging from grand sweeps of sand confronting ranks of surfer-friendly rollers to intimate creeks and coves away from the crowds and holiday paraphernalia. The resorts catering to the armies of beach fans which inundate the southwest every summer also come in all shapes and sizes, from former fishing villages to full-blown tourist towns offering every facility, from sedate Victorian watering-holes to spartan beaches backed by caravan parks and hot- dog stalls. It is this sheer diversity which accounts for the region's enduring popularity, and which has made it the destination of travellers since the Napoleonic wars forced the English to look closer to home for their annual break.
Inland, the peninsula offers a complete contrast in the form of three of the country's most dramatic wildernesses, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, whose appeal extends to cyclists, riding enthusiasts and nature lovers as well as to walkers. Alongside these barren tracts, Devon and Cornwall can also boast supreme specimens of English rural life - unsung hamlets off the beaten track, where clustered cottages and brilliant flower displays perfectly complement the lush meadows and tidy dells surrounding them. But even these idyllic places can be invaded and spoiled in high season, and therein lies the rub: the millions of tourists who descend on the M5 motorway every summer are the biggest threat to the beauty and integrity of the West Country, some corners of which have been irreparably ruined. Though tourism represents a godsend for the local economy at a time when both farming and fishing - which traditionally provided the main employment in these parts - are in the doldrums, it can only favour the small proportion of locals who are well-placed to adapt and benefit from the passing trade, while the seasonal nature and fluctuating trends of the work leave many without much backup. Moreover, the demand for second homes and inflated prices have meant that many locals are literally priced out, and you'll find hotels and B&Bs managed and staffed by people with every kind of accent except the local one. The pressures of the holiday industry have also given many places an artificial veneer, as if they've been preserved to match some ideal vision of a pre-industrial, "authentic" England, as apparent in some of Devon's cosily gentrified villages or Cornwall's quainter fishing ports, where the cloying nostalgia is underpinned by a sharp commercial sense. On the plus side, though, the southwest's popularity has meant that zealous care is taken to preserve some of the prettiest sections of coast and countryside in a more or less "natural" condition, limiting development and unconsidered exploitation. Though this has not proved sufficient in the case of, say, Land's End, whose spectacular glory has been desecrated by an amusement complex, other equally dramatic headlands remain relatively unscathed....Continua