After living in Exeter for the last couple of months, I've stumbled across quite a catalogue of unusual ways to spend your time in and around this ancient city.
With buildings from as long ago as Roman times, spanning through the ages to encompass our ugly concrete additions, Exeter is quite literally a walk through the ages.
Over a series of miss-match articles, I'm going to show you some of the quirky places to find in the city as well as ways to escape into the countryside and beaches of Devon.
Find your next bedtime read among the dusty volumes and new editions that are crammed around the walls of the two-story cave that is Bookcycle. There's no pressure from the volunteers who work there, but any donations go towards books and educational materials for developing countries and the gradual reforestation of rural Britain.
You can read more about the project at www.book-cycle.org.
Enjoy a couple of pints down by the canal.
Pubs have always been an intrinsic part of British culture and Devon is deep into cider country. The Double Locks plays on it's quintessentially English setting with a decorative red telephone box and territorial guard swan. With plenty of space outside, you can relax, bring a dog or even camp for the night.
Sunbathe on the Cathedral Green.
Enjoy the most impressive space in the city with a picnic and a view that's remained constant for the last six hundred years. Take a closer look and notice the weather beaten carvings, their different expressions and strange creatures hidden in the elaborate decoration.
Woodbury Common and Castle
A little further away and even older is Woodbury Castle. This Iron Age hill fort, later to be the site of the Battle of Woodbury Common in 1549, is now little more than a raised ring of Earth. I found the trees have an atmosphere of their own, strangely silent in their eternal struggle to out do each other and reap the light of the sun.
There was a magical tinge to my footsteps as I emerged from the far side of the woodland to find the coconut smell of gorse bushes and a clear view out over the ocean.
Dolbury Hill, Killerton
On the subject of Iron Age hill forts, there is also the intriguing Dolbury Hill. Woodland backdrop to Killerton manor, this monument is built on the site of an extinct volcano. Less treacherous these days, it's another a good place to go walking. There are ancient wild flowers such as garlic and bluebells and you're likely to spot the tiny Dartmoor ponies that have taken up residence.
Hop on a train to the seaside.
Although Exeter doesn't have it's own beach, Devon is lined by fantastic coastline; you don't have to travel far to find a nice spot. For convenience and accessibility, Exmouth comes out on top and it's a pleasant little town for slurping an icecream or trying some of this county's* famous cream teas. The half hour train journey is a great opportunity to spot unusual water birds that live on the Exe Estuary, patchwork allotments and the occasional fox or deer.
*I am torn here as people from Dorset, where I grew up, claim the cream tea as their own with an equal level of assertion.
If you're willing to travel a little further and are looking for somewhere really special, try Elberry Cove.
Without my own transport, the best way I found to reach this secluded patch of pebbles was to catch a train to Paignton before walking west for an hour or so. Along the coastline you'll pass by strings of colourful beach huts, endless fish and chip vans and a range of tacky holiday spots, reminiscent of an imaginary Brighton in times gone by.
Further on, the path weaves through wild flower meadows and trees, until the woods engulf you and you can begin to head down to the shore...
For even more ideas try: Weird and wonderful things to do if you find yourself in Exeter- part 3.
Other potentially interesting articles for people travelling in the UK...