Exeter (pop. 114,000) is the county town of Devon. Before being heavily damaged by bombing during WWII, it was considered second to Bath as an architectural site in southern England. If Exeter's heritage has suffered, it remains an attractive city, with a few notable buildings, the more prominent of which is the gothic cathedral.
Exeter was founded by the Romans in 50 AD as Isca Dumnoniorum as the administrative capital for present-day Devon and Cornwall. The Romans built baths and a defensive wall, and parts of the latter still survive to this day.
The town was ravaged by the Danes in 876, taken by William the Conqueror after a 18-day siege in 1068, then developed as a wool trading port. A weir was built on the Exe River, blocking sea traffic to Exeter, but in 1563, Britain's first ship canal was constructed to bypass the weir and Exeter survived as a trading port.
In 1942, the Luftwaffe (German Airforce) bombed 40 acres of the city, and many historical buildings were lost or badly damaged.
The main attraction is undoubtedly Exeter Cathedral. It was founded under Saxon rule in 1050 as a cathedral dedicated to St Peter, when the diocese of Devon and Cornwall moved from nearby Crediton to Exeter.
William Warelwast, a nephew of William the Conqueror commissioned a new Norman-style cathedral, which was completed in 1133. The two transepts still date from this time.
Walter Bronescombe was appointed bishop in 1258, and decided to rebuild the cathedral in the Decorated Gothic style, like that of the cathedral of Salisbury, and was not completed until 1400.
Notable features of the interior include the great clock, the pulpitum screen (built in 1325), the minstrels gallery, and the ceiling bosses, one of which depicts the murder of Thomas Becket.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (open Mon-Sat 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, admission free) retraces the city's history since prehistoric and Roman times. It has archeological artifacts, glasswares and costumes from around the world. It even has a reconstructed 16th century town house.
St Nicholas Priory is a Benedictine monastry founded in 1087, unusually located in the heart of the city. William Hurst, who sat in Parliament for Exeter and was Mayor five times, purchased the monastry in 1549. It became a property of the City Council in 1913.
How to get there
Trains run between Exeter and London Paddington (2h30min, £32.50 saver return), London Waterloo (3h, £31.90), Bristol (1h, £22.40) and Penzance (3h, £32.70).
National Express buses connect Exeter to London (4h to 4h50min, £20), Bristol (1h45min to 2h, £10.75), Penzance (4h30min to 5h20min, £20.50) and Birmingham (4h20min, £30.50).
Bus X38 make the journey to Plymouth in 1h15min, while bus 39 and X39 take up to 1h45min.
Train timetables & reservations