I have fond memories of Exeter from my childhood but as a teenager I kinda hated its small-town feel. I was a “youth” then and as such
I was I thought I was far too cool for Devon (!). As a result of this, I am still guilty of being dismissive towards the South-West of England. So after a recent visit (which was lovely!) I feel compelled to set the record straight and celebrate all the good things about Exeter!
1: The Cathedral Green
The Cathedral Green is the area of grass around the Cathedral, surprisingly enough. In the summer this is packed with everyone from office workers to students to grannies. Everyone seems to congregate here to eat lunch, meet friends and bask in the sunshine.
The Quay is the area where the River Exe passes through Exeter. This is a pleasant place to stroll and eat ice cream in the summer. As a kid I always enjoyed the tiny ferry that takes you across the river for 30 pence. There are a few cafes and bars on the quay, as well as craft shops in the alcoves cut into the cliff.
This is a bizarre story – an old black and white timber-framed house used be situated about 100m away, but in 1961 it was moved in one piece to make way for a new road. It has a definite lean to it in the manner of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
Nearby Stepcote Hill looks like something out of a Charles Dickens novel; cobbled and steep and running between an old church and another timber framed house. Hard to believe that horses used to walk up this! The old church in question (St Mary Steps Church) has the Matthew the Miller Clock on the exterior. This is a clock with wooden figures like toy soldiers. I seem to recall from my childhood that these strike a bell when the clock chimes! However these were covered up for maintenance on my last visit.
In recent years the Princesshay area of Exeter has been redeveloped into a swish mall in the city centre. This has brought new restaurants and shops. Many of the latter are too posh for me and I wonder who shops there, but hey! It adds to the shops already available on the High Street. The cafe in Debenhams has a good view of the Cathedral.
Exeter holds an annual summer festival to celebrate the arts. The opening and closing night of this are really fun, with street performances and fireworks. I really enjoyed this. There are often outdoor cinema screenings and outdoor theatre performances – particularly Shakespeare in the Park. It is worth keeping your eye out to see what is going on especially during the summer months.
There are lots of leisure activities in Exeter – for example kayaking at Haven Banks on the Quay. In an hour’s drive you can be on Dartmoor or Exmoor hiking or camping to your hearts delight. This is really good if open spaces help you to recuperate. There are also several cinemas (including the independent Picture House cinema) and theatres.
It’s only about 10 miles to the South Devon coast, and pebbley beaches such as Budleigh Salterton and Brandscombe, as well as the more touristy Exmouth and Sidmouth. It’s a longer drive to the sandy beaches of North Devon such as Woolacombe, and the cute fishing village of Ilfracombe. See my blog about Devon Beaches.
On the hill overlooking the city is a park called Rougemont Gardens. This is home to an old castle called Rougemont Castle, funnily enough. This is a pleasant place to stroll around and is normally covered with beds of roses. Another upside to Devon is that it is a pretty safe area and crime is rare. That said, it’s probably best to use normal common-sense precautions and stick to daylight hours when wandering around deserted parks.
9: The Underground Passages and City Walls
The Underground Passages are pretty cool. There is a network of tunnels underneath Exeter City Centre from the old days when I think they carried water under the city. You can go down into these tunnels, wearing a hard-hat of course. The tunnels are about 6 foot tall but they taper down in height until there is a special tunnel that only kids can go in (unless an adult wanted to crawl!). I loved this as a kid! This is a fun and unusual thing to do but certainly not suitable for those who suffer from claustrophobia!
If you’re a history buff you will enjoy the city walls, parts of which are still preserved from Roman times. There are parts of these all around the city centre. There is a video in the information centre at the Quay explaining the history of Exeter.
10: The Prison
Well I couldn’t think of 10 and I couldn’t call it “Top 9” now could I?! The Prison is interesting as it’s in the city centre which is quite unusual. I can’t think of another city in the UK which has a prison in the centre! Hopefully I will not have to become better acquainted with it!
So there you go! Ten things I love about Exeter! I guess it is pretty cool really 🙂 There is plenty to do for a short break and it has easy access to other attractions in Devon.
Can you think of anything other things about Exeter that I have missed?
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