If you need a rest from the long, dark autumn, Exeter should be top of your list of spots to consider. A good weekend away requires two things: a fun Saturday evening and a relaxing Sunday morning, and Exeter offers both.
Exeter’s major tourist draw is undoubtedly its tremendous cathedral. The towers are architecturally unique, and date to the 12th century. The real highlights of the cathedral are the multi-coloured library room and the minstrel’s gallery (an ornate, carved wooden balcony).
Entry is charged and the audio guide is engaging but tricky to follow in places. Some tours, including rooftop tours, are due to restart soon but were sadly unavailable during my visit.
The square outside the cathedral will host Exeter’s main Christmas market from November 16, which promises to be a festive wonderland where you’ll be able to drink beer in the shadow of the magnificent cathedral and shop for unusual handmade gifts.
Wandering down the hill from the cathedral towards the quayside, you find a rejuvenated area full of cafés, restaurants, and pubs. Exeter was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, resulting in a modern city centre, but tranquil spots are still possible to find. Its blessing as a relatively compact city means, once there, walking is the only means of transportation required.
Another highlight worth exploring is the network of vaulted Underground Passages that run beneath the city’s streets and can be explored on guided tours that run throughout the winter weekends (£6 per adult).
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Exeter, as the food scene continues to develop. For dinner, Harry’s, a workaday name but a brilliant bistro, offered a good balance of British dishes and good wines at very reasonable prices (a really good dry Riesling set me back just £6), and seafood restaurant @Angela’s offered high-quality fresh local fish, including a fillet of Brixham hake (£22) that was delicious. Lunch at the Rum & Crab Shack is a must – the zesty soft-shell crab salad (£11.95) was sublime, and the atmosphere was chilled out and cosmopolitan.
There are also better bars than is immediately obvious. Crockett’s, Exeter’s newest gin bar, is tucked around the corner from Exeter Central station. Off a small street of independent fashion boutiques, the Saturday night atmosphere was lively and good fun, with a huge range of gins to sample.
Hiring a bicycle is a good way to get out of the city and clear the head on Sunday morning with a relaxing ride down the River Exe. Saddles & Paddles offer a great range of well-maintained hire bikes (£10 for three hours), offering a low-cost and chilled way to while away some time. The traffic-free route through picturesque Riverside Valley Park, all the way to the mouth of the estuary at Topsham, was enjoyable and a thoroughly peaceful escape.
It was a shame to have to leave the bike and head back to the railway station, but returning to Bristol couldn’t have been easier: regular train services run from Bristol Parkway and Temple Meads, taking less than an hour. Travelling by road is unproblematic too, with a straight run on the M5, traffic permitting.
Easily navigable on foot, with plenty of sights to fill a weekend away, Exeter is a great place to visit as the nights draw in and the cathedral windows shine in the darkness, the sound of carols drifting out into the square.
To find out more about planning your trip to Exeter www.visitexeter.com.