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Devon is a large county in the South West of England. Alternatively people refer to the county as Devonshire, but it is an entirely unofficial name, often indicating a traditional or historical context. The county shares borders with Cornwall to the west and Dorset and Somerset to the east. Its coastline follows the English Channel to the south and the Bristol Channel to the north.
Devon is the third largest of the English counties and has a population of 1,109,900. The county town is the cathedral city of Exeter, and the county contains two independent unitary authorities: the port city of Plymouth and the Torbay conurbation of seaside resorts. In addition to Devon County Council itself, much of the county is rural or National Park land. 365 square miles (950 kmē) are occupied by Dartmoor and as a result of its rural land use it has, by British standards, a low population density.
The county is home to England's only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the Dorset and East Devon Coast, known as the Jurassic Coast for its geology and geographical features. Along with its neighbour, Cornwall, Devon is known as the "Cornubian massif". This geology gives rise to the landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, which are both National Parks. Devon has seaside resorts and historic towns and cities, plus a mild climate, accounting for the large tourist sector of its economy.
The name 'Devon' derives from the name of the Celtic people who inhabited the southwestern peninsula of Britain at the time of the Roman invasion c. 50AD, known as the Dumnonii, thought to mean 'deep valley dwellers'. In some of the Celtic languages, Devon is known as Dyfnaint (Welsh), Devnent in Breton, Dewnans (Cornish) and reconstructed as Deunens/Deunans in (Old Devonian).
William Camden, in his 1607 edition of Britannia described Devon as being one part of an older, wider country that once included Cornwall:
It was in ancient time, inhabited by those Britains whom Solinus called Dunmonii. But the Country of this nation is at this day divided into two parts, known by later names of Cornwall and Denshire.
There is some dispute over the use of 'Devonshire' instead of Devon, and there is no official recognition of the term 'Devonshire' in modern times. One theory is that the 'shire' suffix is due to a mistake in the making of the original letters patent for the Duke of Devonshire, resident in Derbyshire. However, there are references to 'Defenascire' in old English texts from before 1000AD, which translates to modern English as 'Devonshire'. The term Devonshire may have originated around the 8th century, when it changed from Dumnonia to Defensascir.
Devon was one of the first areas of England settled following the end of the last ice age. Dartmoor is thought to have been settled by Mesolithic hunter-gatherer peoples from about 6000 BC. The Romans held the area under military occupation for around 250 years. Later the area became a frontier between Brythonic Dumnonia and Anglo-Saxon Wessex, and it was absorbed into Wessex by the mid-9th century.
Devon has also featured in most of the civil conflicts in England since the Norman Conquest, including the Wars of the Roses, Perkin Warbeck's rising in 1497, the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, and the English Civil War. The arrival of William of Orange to launch the Glorious Revolution of 1688 took place at Brixham.
Devon has produced tin, copper and other metals from ancient times. Devon's tin miners enjoyed a substantial degree of independence through Devon's stannary parliament, which dates back to the twelfth century. The last recorded sitting was in 1748.
Devon is one of the rural counties, with the advantages and problems characteristic of these. Despite this, the county's economy is also heavily influenced by its two main urban centres, Plymouth and Exeter.
Like neighbouring Cornwall to the west, Devon is disadvantaged economically compared to other parts of southern England, owing to the decline of a number of core industries, notably fishing, mining and farming. Consequently, most of Devon has qualified for the European Community Objective 2 status, particularly around Exmoor, Bideford Bay and the Hartland Point peninsula which is somewhat cut off from industrial Britain by road and rail transport - although these areas of North Devon are only 20 miles (32 km), by boat from Swansea in Wales. A proposal, which has the backing of both the Welsh Assembly Government and the South West Regional Assembly, as well as Devon County Council is to have a year-round ferry service from either Ilfracombe or Bideford to Swansea which would help stimulate and build economic growth for both South-West Wales and the North coast of Devon and Cornwall.
The 2001 UK foot and mouth crisis harmed the farming community severely.
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