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Devon gave its name to a geological era: the Devonian era, so named by Adam Sedgwick because the distinctive Old Red Sandstone of Exmoor was studied by geologists here. The other major rock system is the carboniferous sandstone which stretches from Bideford to Bude in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape.
Devon's Exmoor coast has the highest cliffs in southern Britain, culminating in the Great Hangman, a 1043 ft (318 m) "hog-backed" hill with an 820 ft (250 m) cliff-face, located near Combe Martin Bay. Its sister cliff is the 716 ft (218 m) Little Hangman, which marks the edge of Exmoor. The other major rock system is the carboniferous sandstone which stretches from Bideford to Bude in Cornwall, and contributes to a gentler, greener, more rounded landscape.
One of the features of the North Devon coast is that Bideford Bay and the Hartland Point peninsula are both west-facing, Atlantic facing coastlines; meaning that a combination of an off-shore (east) wind and an Atlantic swell produce excellent surf. The beaches of Bideford Bay (Woolacombe, Saunton, Westward Ho! and Croyde), along with North Cornwall, and the coast of South Wales, are the main centres of surfing in Britain.
Rising temperatures have led to Devon becoming the first place in modern Britain to commercially cultivate olives.
The administrative centre of the county is the city of Exeter. The largest city is Plymouth, and the conurbation of Torbay (including Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) are now unitary authorities separate from the remainder of the county which is administered by the County Council for the purposes of local government.
Devon County Council, is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, consists of 33 Liberal Democrats, 23 Conservatives, four Labour and two independent councillors. At a national level, Devon has five Conservative MPs, three Liberal Democrat MPs, and three Labour MPs.
In December 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government referred Exeter City Council's bid to become a Unitary Council to the Boundary Committee. This was because they felt the application did not meet all their strict criteria. The Boundary Committee will report back to the Government by the end of year. The Boundary Committee will be asked look at the feasibility of a unitary Exeter in the context of examining options for unitary arrangements in the wider county area.
The main settlements are the cities of Plymouth, a historic port now administratively independent, Exeter, the county town, and Torbay, the county's tourist centre. Devon's coast is lined with tourist resorts, many of which grew rapidly with the arrival of the railways in the 19th century. Examples include Dawlish, Exmouth and Sidmouth on the south coast, and Ilfracombe and Lynmouth on the north. The Torbay conurbation of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham on the south coast is perhaps the largest and most popular of these resorts, and is now administratively independent of the county. Rural market towns in the county include Axminster, Barnstaple, Bideford, Honiton, Newton Abbot, Okehampton, Tavistock and Tiverton.
There was no established coat of arms for the county until 1926: the arms of the City of Exeter were often used instead, for instance in the badge of the Devonshire Regiment. When a county council was formed by the Local Government Act 1888 it was required to adopt a common seal. The seal contained three shields depicting the arms of Exeter along with those of the first chairman and vice-chairman of the council (Lord Clinton and the Earl of Morley).
The county council received a grant of arms from the College of Arms on October 11, 1926. The main part of the shield displays a red crowned lion on a silver field, the arms of Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cornwall. The chief or upper portion of the shield depicts an ancient ship on wavers, for Devon's seafaring traditions. The Latin motto adopted was Auxilio Divino (by Divine aid), that of Sir Francis Drake.
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