The best place to start an exploration of Exeter has to be Cathedral Green. It’s been the heart of the city since Roman times and it still is today. All signposts lead to the Cathedral and so it’s easy to find.
Standing centre stage of course is the Cathedral itself whilst surrounding it are some interesting and harmonious buildings which somehow managed to survive the blitz.
At No.1 Cathedral Close is Mol’s Coffee house, built in the 16th cent with genuine features inside although the Dutch style gable was added in 1879. Look out for the coat of arms of Elizabeth I dating from 1596.
No.5 Cathedral Close dates from 1700 and No.6 from 1770. Numbers 7, 8, and 9a were originally medieval courtyard houses and numbers 10 & 11 were the Archdeacon of Barnstaple’s residence.
Back up in Cathedral Yard the Royal Clarence Hotel is recognised as the first hotel in England and is now called the Abode Exeter and run by local celebrity chef Michael Caines.
Cathedral green is, and always has been, a magnet for visitors, locals and students alike and the best way to start (and end) a visit to Exeter.
For a family day out from Exeter the former Stately Home of the wealthy Acland family, Killerton, is well worth a visit.
The house and its gardens was built in 1778 by Sir Thomas Acland, a Devon landowner and businessman, initially as a temporary residence but became the family home for the next 165 years.
In 1944 the head of the family was the peer and former Liberal MP Sir Richard Acland. Following his conversion to Socialism, and subsequent joining of the British Common Wealth Party, he decided that such ostentatious ownership didn't agree with his deeply-felt principles and bequeathed Killerton, along with its 6,400 acre estate, to the National Trust.
The National Trust have retained the appeal of the house as a family home and it is now open to the public 10 months a year (closed November and January). Each room has kept its individuality but instead of being a sterile roped-off museum the National Trust have actively created a living dwelling where visitors are welcome to sit and read in the library or play the piano in the music room.
Children too are encouraged to roam pretty much at will and a popular challenge for them is to find the hidden mice secreted around the property and its gardens.
The wooded grounds too are fully accessible, and dog-friendly, with miles of footpaths and all sorts of interesting features such as the Bear Hut and the Ice Store to explore. For those with mobility problems Killerton offers a free, volunteer-manned, electric buggy service to get around and many of the paths are wheelchair suitable.
The link below takes you to my Broadclyst page where you'll find fuller information.
Alternatively visit the NT site here - www.nationaltrust.org.uk/killerton/
Fantastic Day out, learning about different types of medieval combat, and life in the 15th century. Got to try on armour, use real swords, and generally mess around in my personal dreamland. They also do Roman and Renaissance Days and i cant wait to go again next time. I had a brilliant day out with my family, Well worth a visit www.relicsuk.com
Paintball is a fun and safe activity for families, corporate events, schools, colleges and people from all walks of life for players aged 11 years or more.
Skirmish Exeter is located in Stoke Woods, an 80 acre site, 5 minutes drive from the centre of Exeter. The site boasts eighteen separate and unique gaming areas including bridge siege, Trench games and jungle swamp games. To aid cover during gameplay, many barricades have been erected with naturally wasted logs and branches. The terrain varies from fairly open areas with large mature trees to extremely dense, almost dark, pine forest.
There is a main reception area which includes car parking, toilet facilities, rest area and a picnic/BBQ area with tables.
Safe spectator viewing is also available to non-participating visitors
For the younger ones aged 8 upwards we also provide laser games which are a safe alternative to paintball using infra red technology to mark players instead of firing projectiles.
You can play for a full day or a half day of paintball. A half day consists of 4-6 differently themed games, and a full day has 8-10 games and a BBQ lunch is avaliable.
More information on Skirmish Exeter can be found at www.skirmish-paintballexeter.co.uk
This building in Cathedral Close is unmissable: it really draws the eye.
You may have read that Mol's was opened as a coffee house by an Italian called Mol in the 16th century. There are stories that Elizabethan seafarers such as Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins met there. That is not the case: much of that 'history' was concocted by one Mr Worth, who ran gallery in the building around the turn of the 20th century. Advertising hype, perhaps?
Buildings 1-5 in the Close, including 'Mols', were originally built by the Cathedral Authorities to house 'annuellars', a type of priest Later, the buildings were let to various people including, in 1585, one John Dyer. It was Dyer who placed the Royal Coat-of-Arms on the frontage of the building: at that time the ground floor was used as a Customs office for the port of Exeter.
When the new Customs house was built down by the docks the building became an apothecary (chemist shop) and a haberdasher (buttons, ribbons, thread etc) before, in 1726, first being advertised as a coffee house....run by one Mary Windy. It is likely that the name 'Mol' came from a variation of Mary: Molly.
Mol's remained a coffeehouse until 1837, and has subsequently housed art galleries, jewellers and speciality shops (as it does now).
Obviously the building has undergone numerous changes and renovations over the centuries, but it is still very striking. As I said at the start: literally unmissable! :-
There are some truly ancient buildings in the area surrounding the Cathedral (always known as a 'close' in England). This area is where those who worked in and for the cathedral were traditionally house.
There were once seven gates into the close area: St Petrock's (see tip) was one of them
Of course, most of Exeter's ancient close buildings have long gone..destroyed in bombing or before then. But a few remain, to the northern edge of the close.
Look at the doorways and windows in particular. They give away a building's age.
The buildings in the photos almost certainly date from the 1400-1500s.
Exeter was quite badly bombed during the Second World War, with 18 raids between 1940 and 1942 flattening much of the city centre and destroying many of its ancient buildings. So the city does not contain quite the number of architectural sights-of-interest one might expect, given its history.
But there are buildings to spot, and it is worth looking up as you move through the heart of the city. Modern plate-glass frontages often hide the fact that the building itself is much older. The buildings in the photos are not truly ancient: they date from the 1800s, in the main, but are still interesting.
Check the rooflines. :-)
You'll find St Martin's at the corner of Cathedral Close, very near to the cathedral. The St Martin to whim it is dedicated was a 4th century (300s) Bishop of Tours, France.
It is an ancient church indeed. What you can see now dates back to the 1400s, but the foundation of the church was much earlier than this. St Martin's is no longer used for services but is still very much cared-for, looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust.
It is built of local Heavitree stone, a type of red sandstone, with a slate roof. The chancel arch is thought to be the oldest part of the building, possibly part of the earlier church which was consecrated in 1065.The tower was added in 1675. There metal bands around part of the tower to stabilise it and it has also been rendered. This helps with stabilisation as well (and stop bits of stone falling on the heads of passers-by) and is in keeping with the past appearance of the church.
The interior contains 17th and 18th century monuments and a reredos and altar rails brought from the nearby St Paul’s, demolished in 1936. There is also a lovely 'wagon roof' , painted white with black beams...a semi-cylindrical vault which is common in Devon churches of the time.
I liked St Martin's very much. Although no longer in use it still retains a feeling of quiet and calm.
I knew nothing of this until I happened to walk past what is clearly a very old building (timber-framed) and saw it was called 'The House that Moved'. So I just had to google it when I got back home.
Number 16 Edmund Street (or 'the Merchant's house) was and is three storeys high, dating from around 1500 or possibly earlier. It was and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.
In the early 1960s, as Exeter recovered from its wartime bomb damage and needed to widen its roadways, the house was due to be demolished. But, amazingly, local outcry prevailed and...even more amazingly...the whole 21-ton structure was bound together, hoisted onto a set of rails and slowly, slowly inched away from its original location and into its new one.
It was a truly magnificent achievement. You can read about it, and see photos, here:
and you can watch an archived BBC TV news report of the house moving here:
Exeter cathedral is a wonderfully light and airy Medieval cathedral, and an absolutely unmissable place to visit if you are in the city (or the area).
It is built on the site of the city's original Roman settlement. The first Norman building (1114) had two towers, which were kept when the cathedral was extended and rebuilt. That's why the cathedral is particularly light and airy.
Make sure you look at the detailed frontage before you enter: it is full of intricate carvings and sculptures, worn by time and weather and protected by netting from pigeons but still wonderful. Originally (they date from between 1342 and 1470) they were brightly painted.
And make sure you look up when you are walking around the interior. The wonderfully arched roof was created as a 'Vision of Heaven' and is simply stunning. There are magnificently-carved roof bosses (the round stones which lock the ceiling vaults in place).....over 400 of them. Just above the pillars are elaborate carvings (corbels): check those too, and look especially for the musician standing on a dog, and the 'tumbler' (acrobat) performing a somersault.
The cathedral is filled with memorials which span the centuries, from elegantly-draped Regency Greek maidens mourning the dead to the anatomically-exact decaying corpse once fashionable in Medieval times, knights in full armour and their ladies, early Christian bishops, Crusaders, plaques and graveslabs galore.
Go into the Quire (choir) to see the wonderfully-carved Medieval misericords, wooden ledges under the seats provided to ease the tired bottoms of Medieval monks as they stood through night-time services. You'll see an elephant on one of them...the carver had clearly never seen a real elephant!
And whilst your're in the Quire make sure you look at the elaborately-carved bishop's throne, dating from 1312. There are no screws or nails in this 18m-high structure, just superbly-skilful carpentry and wooden pegs. It's covered with tiny heads...human and animal.
Exeter cathedral suffered bomb damage during the Second World War but, thankfully, it was minimised by precautions already taken and by subsequent restorations. But you can still see the scars in some places.
There is so much to see and enjoy in this wonderful cathedral you should allow at least a couple of hours for your visit.
Guided tours can be booked and, of course, anyone can attend the daily services (details on the cathedral website)
Entrance fee of 5GBP for adults as of January 2012..
While taking a shortcut on the way back to the car I was surprised to stumble across some great remains of a great Chapel and Almshouses. They were founded by Canon John Stevens in 1457 to house thirteen poor men.
In 1894, Lady Hotham financed their restoration and they were handed over to the Church Army as a hostel. During the second war, servicemen were billeted in the buildings. The bombing of May 1942 destroyed the Almshouses and Chapel. Rather than clear the ruins, the City Council landscaped the ruins as a memorial to that dreadful night. The redevelopment of Princesshay has seen the area behind the ruins opened out and rear access created.
Glass panels have been erected where doorways used to be. In the glass panels you can see pieces of pottery, jugs and other historic finds which have been excavated at the site.
As you walk around the City of Exeter you can see the remains of the City Walls wherever you go. Almost 70% of the walls remain; they are almost 2000 years old have repelled rebellions and have been the scene for many civic ceremonies and celebrations. There are nine information panels dotted at certain points around the wall which all form part of a great looking walking trail. For further information see website below.
A Norman Romanesque Cathedral was first built on the site of the Present Cathedral in 1114, it was two thirds of the lengh of the present building. The Norman Cathedral was re-built in 1265 and over the years has been enhanced and re-built in the decorative Gothic style and has since been preserved and protected in order to create the masterpiece which we see today. It is one of the most visited places in the west country. It has the longest uninterrupted medieval gothic vaulting in the world. If you are feeling particularly flush you can part with £8.50 and take a roof tour which takes you can walk along the medieval vaulting and climb to the North Tower where on a clear day you get some great views over the City. (251 steps in total).
Opening times and Prices;
Monday - Saturday
Open: 09.00am Last Entry: 4.45pm
Seniors and students £3.50
Within a family children under 18 years are free.
There has been a quay in Exeter since Roman times. However, by the 14th century boats could not get up the river to unload, because of weirs built across the river, so in the 1560s John Trew built a canal to provide access to the Quayside.
Today Exeter Quay has been transformed into a vibrant area full of find swanky Café’s, bars and riverside eating places. As you stroll along you will pass some delightful stalls selling local crafts from historic vaulted cellars and bonded warehouses. The Quayside visitor centre is also worth a visit, here you will find information on how the quayside was developed and details of the local history of the area.
There is a pay and display car park just a few minutes walk away, you will see the car park signposted 'Cathedral and Quay' as you enter Exeter.
At Exeter Quay you can hire Pedal boats, canoe's take a scenic boat trip or just a ferry to the other side. The latter is not just any ordinary ferry. For a small fee you can cross the river on this unique vessel which is not powered by motor or sail, oh no… there is a rope/chain across the river by which the captain of the boat pulls the vessel along from one side to the other!