Travel Writer Hannah Lay shares her favourite places to spend a wintery weekend in EuropeWritten by Hannah Lay on 15th February 2019
Best of Britain | Exeter
Travel writer Tom Leaman writes about some of Exeter's lesser-known treasures.
As an exiled but lifelong Devonian, I like to think that I hold some knowledge of my nearest city, Exeter, that thus far has gone largely unused. Initially founded as the Roman town of Isca Dumnoniorum in 55 AD, the ancient heritage of Exeter still remains today alongside more contemporary landmarks; possible sites of inspiration for the Harry Potter series and even the 2016-17 Rugby Premiership-winning club. Here’s a short guide for what to expect from Devon’s capital.
The most well-known part of the city is without a doubt the stunning Cathedral of Saint Peter, located a stone’s throw from the High Street. The cathedral green can get incredibly busy in the summer months, but despite this the cathedral is well worth a look if only for the fifteenth century Gothic architecture (though a Luftwaffe attack in 1942 led to extensive restoration, a process described by King George VI as ‘the greatest jigsaw puzzle in the world’).
Furthermore, the unique- not to mention highly Instagrammable- ‘House that Moved’ demonstrates the clash of the old and the new that still exists within Exeter. Located near the River Exe, this fifteenth-century house was physically moved around 70 metres in 1961 to create the unusual landmark that stands today. Alongside this, 70% of the city’s Roman walls still stand, which can be seen on the Wall Trail. The walking route also takes you through Northernhay Gardens and past Rougemont Castle, which was alluded to in Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Away from the more historical areas of the city, the quay offers a scenic perspective of Exeter. From quirky independent shops to traditional waterside pubs, cafés and restaurants (Samuel Jones Smoke and Ale House being a firm favourite), the quay provides both a cheap few hours’ entertainment or an opportunity for an excursion with reasonable canoe and bike hire.
On the topic of sport, any mention of the city over the past few seasons is intrinsically linked to the 2017 Aviva Premiership Champions, Exeter Chiefs. The club’s home stadium, Sandy Park, stands on the outskirts of the city and holds 12,800 spectators. If you prefer round balls, Sky Bet League 2 club Exeter City are well worth a visit for a reasonably-priced exposure to ‘one of the most atmospheric ground in the lower leagues’ (to quote the BBC’s Guy Mowbray on the clubs 2-2 draw with Premier League Liverpool).
If you are less Sports Night and more Harry Potter Society, Exeter has you covered; JK Rowling famously studied at the University of Exeter, and a myriad of online forums proudly show the role of the area in influencing the series. The most obvious comparison is Diagon Alley and the city centre’s Gandy Street, a narrow passageway filled with both independent retailers and smaller chain stores. The Old Fire House, a popular student pub, is also supposedly the foundation The Leaky Cauldron is modelled on, although much of this is up for debate. A quick Google search brings up around a dozen other possible ‘Potter points’ in the city.
For food, the Fat Pig near Fore Street specialises in smoked, locally-sourced produce with a small, ever-changing seasonal menu. The Oddfellows is a gastropub and bar which offers a ‘kitchen theatre’ as you can watch your food being made in the exposed kitchen. A slightly more student-budget friendly restaurant is the Imperial, a Wetherspoons worth a visit purely for the Orangery (conservatory) structure designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. For other mainstream, high-street restaurants, the Guildhall shopping centre offers the typical inner-city eateries.
For a cultured yet modern city break, Exeter should certainly be on the list.