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Exeter: The jewel of the west

Often overlooked by its better known neighbours of Bristol and Plymouth, Exeter is a great place to spend a day or two. Exeter's compact city centre has excellent shops which back onto the Cathedral Green, a great place to enjoy a picnic in the shadow of the 14th century cathedral. Surrounded by quaint shops and restaurants, this quiet backwater is just one of the hidden gems of this historic university city. Discover more about this splendid city before planning a cultural holiday in Devon.
The university city of Exeter bundles an excess of delights into its small city walls. Wonderful architecture, ancient history, museums, theatres, shops, restaurants, parks and walks along the river offer days out which can be taken at any pace you choose.

Those visiting for the first time should avail themselves of a free guided walking tour with the local Red Coat guides. You simply turn up at the Quay House Visitor Centre or outside the Royal Clarence Hotel in Cathedral Yard at the appropriate time and take one of the themed tours. They cover topics such as Cathedral to Quay; Introduction to Exeter; Churches, Cemeteries and the Catacomb; Ghosts and Legends; Murder and Mayhem; Mediaeval Treasures and a whole lot more. If something free can be described as excellent value-for-money, these tours certainly are!

The Gothic Cathedral is a must-see. Founded as a monastery by Althelstan in 1050, the current imposing building was consecrated in 1133. The oldest surviving parts are the two impressive towers and the decorated West Front has some of the finest sculptures in England. Look for Christ and the Apostles in mid-centre and the wonderful nativity scene, and that’s before you even step inside. The rest you must discover for yourself.

Surrounding the Cathedral Green is a row of lovely red brick buildings which include the former Customs House (look for the Royal Coat of Arms over the door). Now housing a coffee shop, venture upstairs to see the oak panelled room which is decorated with an elaborate frieze of family shields including those of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

The half-timbered house at No 8 Cathedral Yard hides an amazing secret. Enter the wide arched doorway of what is now the University Law Library and walk down the flagged passageway. Look up through the first floor windows and get a glimpse of the most amazing hammer-beam roof in the southwest of England. Not only is it quite magnificent and over 500 years old, it is an exact copy of the roof in Westminster Hall, London.

Next door, number 10 is the home of the Bishop of Crediton with a beautiful 17th century carved oak door. The lovely building at the end of Cathedral Yard is the Royal Clarence Hotel.

Back on the main High Street amidst familiar chain store names is the impressive Guildhall with its front portico. The building is 800 years old and is open for visitors and has a fine collection of local silver and city regalia.

Other historic treats for visitors are the Underground Passages beneath the city, Rougemont Castle on Castle Street, St Nicholas Priory which is at the centre of the Mint and Tucker’s Hall on Fore Street, a magnificent guildhall built for the city’s weavers, tuckers and shearers of the local woollen industry, dated 1471.

Once you have visited you will understand why Exeter has earned the title “Jewel of the West”.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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