Exeter’s a historic, relaxed & vibrant city sitting neatly in the rolling Devon countryside. Recent years have seen significant change, mostly enhancing it’s laid-back character and charm and as cities go, it seems to suffer few of the problems of others of similar size.
There’s a little bit for everyone here. The international University, vibrant arts and culture scene, good pubs, clubs and music, and as a result of it’s unique situation, a thriving ‘outdoorsy ‘culture. The Council cottoned-on a while back and now like to promote Exeter as such, attracting people from all over the country looking for quality of living and a settled family life.
You’re never far from the countryside. The forests of Haldon Hill can even be seen from the High Street. You’re 5 miles from the sea at the historic port of Topsham where the River Exe meets the estuary, with Exmouth beyond. Along the coast to the east you have the pretty ‘Jurassic’ coastal towns of Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Dawlish, Teignmouth and Torquay to the west. The rolling Devon countryside is all around.
Geography has shaped much of Exeter’s development over the centuries. The River Exe flows gently by the popular ‘Quayside’ area where the old Customs House still stands and where you’ll find bars, restaurants and independent craft shops. Though perhaps not quite a Chester or a York, Exeter’s majestic 13th Century Cathedral and Green stand just behind the main street, not far from the cobbles of Gandy Street. There are remains of the old roman wall, trips down the 14th century underground passages and guided walks conducted by the city’s ‘Red Coats’.
Exeter’s split neatly in two by the River Exe. On the lower, flatter south-west side you have The Quay, where you’ll find attractive waterside apartments and access to the riverside and park. In St Thomas, the 1920’s terraces are an attractive and affordable option between main southern arteries of Alphington Road and Cowick Street.
The city centre’s up the hill on the other side of the River. Newtown, St James’s (Football ground) and St David’s (Mainline station) provide some affordable more central options.
The 1930’s rows of Heavitree and Polsloe have proved particularly popular over the years with families looking for good quality housing stock, a friendly neighbourhood feel, shops, parks and good local amenities, including the R,D & E Hospital.
Neighbouring St Leonard’s is the leafier part of town, covering both sides of the Topsham Road all the way to the Heavitree Road. Here you find substantial houses, a number of private schools and the small but pleasant Magdalen Road shops. Waitrose arrived on Heavitree Road about 3 years ago and it only helped in boosting St Leaonard’s rep as the ‘smart’ end of town.
Pennsylvania and Duryard rise up steeply from the town centre to the North. It’s a stiff walk but as a result you’ll find peaceful neighbourhoods, great views and fantastic housing stock. The University’s here too. Students tend to live nearer the bottom of the hill. Lecturers and those with cars (!) further up.
There’s been a fair bit of building on the outskirts of late. New neighborhoods are popping up all the time like Beacon Heath to the west and now the huge project and of Cranbrook, a bold project to create a ‘new-town’ with shops, schools, community centre; even a church. It’s just the other side of Junction 29 of the M5 on the way to the airport.
Topsham, Exton, Lympstone are popular estuary villages and prices reflect that. As well as being near the water, they have a nice community feel, good schools, decent amenities and are on the railway line between Exmouth and town.
Dawlish, Starcross and Exminster are close, or a bike ride away on the estuary cycle path, and 30 minutes by rail there’s Honiton. Worth a look if ‘small-rural-town’ is your thing.
The state school system is thriving. There’s good choice at Primary and Secondary. Some like to specialise. St Peter’s is strong on languages. Exeter School for the Deaf has a very good reputation.
Private schools include Exeter School (Mixed), Maynard (Girls), Magdalen Chapter (Mixed to GCSE), Cathedral School (Prep) Bramdean (Mixed), St Wilfrids (to GCSE) and The Steiner Academy. Many but not all are found in the St Leonard’s area. Nearby independants include Blundell’s, (Tiverton) St Peter’s (Lymptone) & Taunton.
The University, Exeter College, Bicton College (for outdoor & countryside pursuits) St Luke’s teacher training college, Peninsula Medical & Dental School and many more.
When the Met. Office arrived, others followed. Flybe, EDF, DEFRA & Barratt and Exeter University are all here and the new Science Park at Junction 29 is vying to be a major hub for UK tech. firms. New businesses arrive all the time.
There’s been some big investment in Exeter’s cultural scene. The RAMM Museum was recently completed, as was the New City library. There’s the Phoenix Arts Centre, Picturehouse Cinema, Cathedral & choir, comedy, jazz.. Incidentally, The Cavern Club has always punched above it’s weight, regularly attracting some of the biggest names in music.
There are 3 cinemas & 7 theatres (!) if you count Westpoint Exhibition Centre. Northcott, Barnfield & Bike Shed to name a few.
Voted ‘Britain’s blandest High Street’ in 2005, things have changed a lot. The Princesshay shopping precinct opened in 2007. The 1950’s tired Post Office and old precinct have been replaced with cool glass buildings and sleek brand stores like Neil’s Yard and The Apple Store. Coffee culture has definitely arrived and up-market fashion and jewelry outlets reflect Exeter’s changing fortunes.
John Lewis is the new kid on the block. Some complain that the independents have been pushed out but there are empty units at favourable rates so perhaps not quite yet.
On the edge of town to the west and south there’s the usual supermarkets and electrical outlet/furniture malls. Dart’s farm near Topsham provides the antidote with an array of interesting often locally sourced gifts & farm produce, outdoor store, wholefoods cafe and more.
Marsh Barton is the go-to place for trade stores and car showrooms. Ikea’s on the way and there’s talk of a couple of new railway stations linking the business parks with the town centre.
Exeter does adventure particularly well. Here’s just a taste.
On the Quayside, there’s the new £multi-million Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre, The Climbing Centre, soon-to-be-expanded Rowing Club, John Bridger Marine Store. There’s canoe & bike hire, A/S Watersports (kayak shop) & Tad’s surf shop.
There’s sailing at Starcross & waterskiing & kitesurfing at Exmouth, Birdwatching at the RSPB reserve at Topsham & Dart’s Farm and fishing on the sea, canal, river or Dartmoor.
The National Park of Dartmoor is 40 mins away where you’ll find rivers, walking, biking, camping, fishing, climbing, kayaking to name just a few. If you’re in to mountain biking then Haldon Hill’s the place a purpose-built off-road facility of forested graded trails
Exeter Chief’s Rugby ground, Arena Athletics Stadium, John Lloyd Gym & 2 or 3 leisure centres
Traditionally things have been slow to develop but local celeb-chef Michael Caines has brought new life to the city with his ‘Abode’ restaurant at the Royal Clarence Hotel on Cathedral Green. Southernhay House, Harry’s, Magdalen Chapter are all good. So too are an increasing number of small independents like Lily’s on Fore Street and Al Farid in Cathedral Yard. A ‘Jamie’s Italian’ is about to open too.
Rendezvous Winebar, Southernhay, The Cosy Club, The Monkey Suit & Coolings are a few.
Time Piece Club/Bar (An Exeter institution), Mama Stone’s (Joss Stone’s Mum!), The Cellar Door and the famous ‘Cavern’ Club just off Gandy Street.
Multi-culturalism was slow to reach Exeter but it’s getting there. There’s now an increasing diversity of cultures, colours, religions and languages and residents appear to be embracing change positively.
Parks & open spaces
Exeter is a green city. The largest park is the flood relief area between the river and canal. It begins at the Quayside and runs for nearly two miles before turning in to an RSPB wetland reserve, passing under the M5 and joining the estuary at Topsham. Other parks include Ludwell Valley, Mincinglake and Stoke Woods. There’s a 13 mile ‘Green Circle’ walk/run too if you fancy a circumnavigation of the city – a great way to get your bearings.
Hospitals – the Royal Devon & Exeter near the centre.. (NHS) & Nuffield (private)
Devon County and Exeter City Council share the task.
Labour have 27 Councillors, Conservatives 10 & Liberals 3.
Ben Bradshaw (Labour) is a the local MP.
As the gateway to the South West, Exeter is well plugged-in to the national network. The M5 brings you straight down from the midlands and the north. Bristol’s an hour away. There’s the A38 beyond to Plymouth, A30 to Cornwall.
In town, conjestion can be a problem, particularly at rush hour and school pickup times, most notably on routes heading west and south. It’s an old city and a re-think is needed.
Stagecoach seem to have the monopoly. There are regular buses in all directions in and outside the city. There are Park-&-Rides and buses connecting to most outlying towns and villages.
Exeter’s on the main line to Bristol (1hr) and London (2hrs 10) but connects to Waterloo too through east Devon, Dorset via, amongst others, Honiton, and Yeovil, Salisbury and Basingstoke.
Beyond Exeter, trains slow down a lot. The coastal line to Plymouth and Cornwall is one of Britain’s most scenic and repaired now, following last winter’s storms.
Many feel Exeter Airport is yet to fully realise it’s potential. Flybe run the show with a selection of UK & European flights. There’s a new morning flight to London. Other flights a little limited. With the catchment Exeter enjoys, the hope is that we’ll soon be properly ‘international’. KLM, if you’re reading this…
It would be wrong not to mention Exeter’s cycle network here. Off-road commutes are now possible all the way from Exmouth and other estuary villages taking you right in to town along Riverside Valley Park to The Quay and town.
In summary, in Exeter you have a bit of everything. People who live here seem to enjoy the work-life balance that being so close to the countryside allows, and yet high speed trains, the M5 and airport mean that you don’t feel cut-off. Trips to London for example are easy, and yet 3 hours after leaving you’re back, and enjoying a quiet drink watching the sun set over the Exe estuary.