So you would like to spend some time in South West England but are unsure where to stay because there is such a variety of interests and so much beautiful scenery to tempt you? How about the city of Exeter, county town and capital of the County of Devon with its fascinating mix of old and new, a compact central area, all surrounded by glorious countryside and within easy reach of the sea?
It has a long history which can be traced back to around 200 B.C. when the earliest settlers, the Celtic Dumnonii people inhabited the high ground bordering the river today known as the Exe. About 2000 years ago in 50 A.D. the Romans arrived and colonised the area with a fortified settlement on this same high ground which today forms the central part of the city. In Roman times the area was known as Isca. In later years there were occupations by the Danes, Saxons and Normans, the first bridge over the River Exe was built in the 13th century, and in 1282 the Countess of Devon built a weir across the river about three miles downstream towards the sea which led three hundred years later to the construction of England’s first ship canal restoring navigation of a sort with small boats to the quayside at the foot of the hill into the town.
Today there are glimpses of these past ages all around the modern city from the underground passages originally built to bring water right into the centre, parts of the city walls, the 16 century Guildhall, thought to be the oldest in England, down to the river with remnants of earlier structures alongside today’s Exe Bridges forming a huge roundabout to cope with Exeter’s road traffic. And no visitor to Exeter could fail to be impressed by the glorious 11th century St Peter’s Cathedral set in Cathedral Green and accompanied by the historic buildings some dating back to Tudor times. It was such a tragedy in November 2016 when the historic Royal Clarence Hotel, believed to be the oldest in the country and set amongst these ancient structures was almost destroyed by fire. It was only through the untiring efforts of the fire and rescue services over several days that the fire did not spread to the adjoining buildings and there were no casualties. So much of Exeter’s past can be seen in the marvellous collection of relics in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Queen Street.