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The soils of Devon are extremely various, and may generally be characterised according to the rock, or stratified substances which they cover, as granitic, slatery, calcareous, arenaceous, argillaceous, gravelly, and loamy. The poorest is the soil covering the granite of Dartmoor, which has also the disadvantage of a cold wet climate. That which lies on the slate district is more or less fertile, and fit for all purposes of agriculture.
The most uniformly fertile soils are in the red sandstone district; but the richest are those occurring in contiguity with limestone or greenstone rocks, in many parts of the slate district; especially in that beautiful southern district, commonly called the South Hams and sometimes the "Garden of Devon", and having for its natural boundaries Dartmoor and the heights of Chudleigh on the north: the river Plym on the west: Torbay and Start Bay on the east: and Bigbury Bay and other parts of the coast of the English Channel, on the south.
The red colour which characterises the best soils, both in the South Hams and the eastern division of the county, and which seems to be so closely connected with the principle of fertility, proceeds from an abundant mixture of iron, in a highly oxidated state. The soil of that part of the South Hams which is bounded by the Erme and Dart rivers, is general1y a rich friable loam, of a hazel nut brown colour, mostly on a substratum of slate; but that east of the Dart as far as Torbay, is richer and redder, and generally on a substratum of marble rock. There are extensive tracts of rich meadow and arable lands in the valley of the Exe, Taw, Teign, Otter, and other rivers.
The Vale of the Exe, commonly called the Vale of Exeter, has in its northern parts an irregular billowy surface, presenting eminences of considerable magnitude; but its central and more southern parts preserve the vale character. Its northern boundaries are the hills that range from Clanaborough, by Halberton and Uffculm, to Blackdown, a dreary mountainous ridge, which, with its contiguous branches, skirts the eastern side of the vale. On the south-east it is bounded by the heights of Sidmouth, East-Down, and Woodbury; and on the west by the mountainous ridge of Haldon, and the undulating eminences that stretch towards Bow-Nymet. This vale is one of the most fertile parts of the county, and its most prevalent soils are strong red loam, shillet, or foliated clay, intersected with veins of ironstone, and a mixture of sand and gravel. North of Hatherleigh and Holsworthy, and eastward to Chumleigh, Bradninch, the soil is chiefly clay; but north of this is a gravelly district adjoining both sides of Dartmoor. Towards Hartland Point, there is much clay and moorland; a vein of black soil runs through Filleigh and Swimbridge; and a narrow vein of red soil from North Molton to Challacombe.
The rich red soil of the South Hams, which is of great depth, is sometimes worked as marl pits, and used most beneficially as manure for the poorer lands. The chief manures are lime and sea sand. Limestone is got in various parts of the county, and extensively burnt in kilns on the banks of the navigable canals and rivers.
The Climate of Devonshire is so mild on the southern coast that, in flourishing gardens, orange and lemon trees, myrtles, etc., grow in the open air, with little shelter during the winter. The laurels and bays of Devon are held to be the most beautiful evergreens in the world. Broad leaved myrtle trees have grown here to the height of 30 feet, with branches spreading nearly from the roots, where the stalk or trunk was from 1 1/2 to 2 feet in circumference.