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City of history

20 February 2015

by Sue Dobson


On the River Exe, Exeter is about 60km north-east of Plymouth, with good public-transport connections. From Exeter, the M5 links the south-west with the West Midlands. 


Devon's county town, home to the Met Office and a respected university, Exeter has a long history and plenty of heritage to discover, despite the heavy wartime bombing and 1950s rebuilding of much of the city centre. It is an official host city for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

What to see

Stand in the nave of the Cathedral Church of St Peter, and discover why Alec Clifton-Taylor described it as "one of the supreme architectural pleasures of England". Light floods through windows on to honey-coloured stone, and, above grey-blue Purbeck marble pillars, ribs arch and branch like palm trees.

The minstrels' gallery, built in 1350, has 12 stone angels playing musical instruments, including bagpipes and a recorder. Seek out the 15th-century astrological clock, believed to have inspired the nursery rhyme "Hickory dickory dock".

Most cathedrals have moved the organ to one side, but not Exeter. Supported by the great screen at the top of the nave, it dominates the choir, where the misericords under the canons' stalls, from the 1250s, are thought to be the oldest complete set in England. The east window has glass painted in 1303; a few years later, carpenters were carving superb canopies - look above the Bishop's throne.

The celebrated twin towers were built under the auspices of William the Conqueror's nephew, William Warelwast, Bishop of Exeter in 1107. Tower- and roof-tours present panoramic city and country views. The elaborate stonework of the west front will stop you in your tracks.

Stroll the grassy green Cathedral Close, bordered by historic buildings, and then head to Queen Street to visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery for diverse collections in a Victorian Gothic-revival building. The town's most unusual attraction - but not for the claustrophobic - must be the underground passages built during the 14th century to carry water to the cathedral and to the town.

The River Exe meanders through the city, and the revitalised historic quayside, where the Custom House is a reminder of maritime importance, is a popular leisure attraction. 

Where to eat and drink

At weekends, the street-food market at the Guildhall Shopping Centre showcases the best Devon produce, and imaginative dishes from around the world. On the cathedral yard, there is the historic Royal Clarence Hotel. In St Martin's Lane, the Ship Inn claims to have been Sir Francis Drake's favourite drinking spot.

Near by

Dartmoor National Park offers adventures in a wild landscape; the oldest section of the 95-mile long World Heritage Jurassic Coast is in nearby Exmouth.

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