From this neck the peninsula thrust westwards for some 130 miles: it first broadened to a width of more than 70 miles in Devon, and then narrowed rapidly towards Cornwall's western tip. A ride of at least four days separated east Devon from London. Cornwall was even more remote: it retained its Celtic place names and, particularly in its western districts, its Celtic tongue.
The northern coast of the peninsula was bounded by the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic, and its southern coast by the English Channel. From the lowlands arose extensive areas of hill country and three expanses of highland - Exmoor, Bodmin Moor and the central granite mass of Dartmoor. Streams, rivers and estuaries were abundant. The Taw, Torridge and Camel flowed to the northern coast, but most of the important rivers - including the Exe, Teign, Dart, Plym, Tamar, Fowey, Fal and Helford - ran south. Several originated on Dartmoor, the height of which combined with the maritime environment to ensure a heavy fall of rain.
Patterns of economic activity were largely determined by this physical matrix. Arable farming, producing grain, fruit and vegetables, prospered on the fertile lowland soils, as in the Vale of Exeter or between the Teign and the Dart. The main areas of cattle-raising - for leather, beef, milk, butter, cheese and cream - were the poorly soiled highlands like the fringes of Dartmoor. Sheep-farming, both for meat and for wool, was particularly important; it was strongest in districts with abundant grazing and with arable land requiring manure. Practised mainly in enclosed fields behind high, weather-protective hedges, agrarian activities of this nature remained fundamental to the region's economy. Yet other enterprises were also important.
Tin was extracted from the rich deposits, particularly in Cornwall but also on Dartmoor. An extensive fishing industry was sustained by the numerous rivers, estuaries and harbours; by 1570 this had expanded to include the fisheries of Newfoundland. Estuaries accommodated shipbuilding, while local stone and timber provided material for the construction and furnishing of houses, farms and churches. Among the most profitable of non-agrarian activities were the spinning, weaving, fulling and dyeing of cloth. Concentrated in particular localities with access to sheep and to markets, as around Exeter, this industry produced the celebrated 'kersey'.