Exeter is a convenient base to discover the West Country. I would explore a nearby port with its Dutch architecture, savour local wines and follow a canal for a pint at a local
Seen all the sites of Exeter, the historic capital of Devon? Now it's time to explore nearby, at a leisurely pace.
Day One - A ferry ride to a canal-side pub.
Head for Exeter's historic Quay. With the city built on a hill (It was a Roman settlement after all), the quay is tucked away, down the hill, behind the cathedral and other buildings. It can be easily overlooked. Follow the numerous metal fingerpost signs dotted around.
Browse in the numerous craft shops, with the Custom House dating back to 1681 providing a stunning backdrop. For a bar snack or drink, try The Prospect Inn. With seating indoors and out, it's a favourite location to view life on the quay, whatever the weather. www.heavitreebrewery.co.uk. For something different, take the modern Butt's pull ferry (Easter to October) across to Terricina Piazza. It takes only a few minutes and costs a few pence. The piazza is named in honour of a twin town, which is located 80km south east of Rome. There has been a ferry here since 1641. www.exetercruises.com. In the Piazza, look out for the remains of a disused railway line that has three rails, one being for Isambard Brunel's different gauge.
Our main purpose today though is to escape the city. Near the old covered market you will find the ferry to the Double Locks Pub. The Kingsley is a vessel dating back to 1926, carrying up to 58 people, 7 days a week June through to September and weekends, April, May & September. Return tickets cost £5 for adults, £2.50 for children. www.exetercruises.com.
The journey takes about 30 minutes and you soon find yourself in the quiet countryside.Whilst the crew operate a number of locks, look back for sweeping views of the quay and the cathedral above. The Double Locks boasts a large garden and a number of canal-side tables. www.doublelocks.com. Try some of the west country ales on offer. My suggestion would be an Otter Ale or one from the St Austell Brewery. A main course will cost around £9 for say venison meat balls or £11 for a platter to share. Meals are served 12 noon to 2.30pm, and again between 6pm and 9pm Monday to Thursday, from noon to 9pm,Friday and Saturday and noon to 6pm on Sunday.This is a popular watering hole for locals and visitors alike, especially on a sunny weekend. Plan your journey and you can even connect with another vessel at the pub and continue onto the Turf Pub www.turfpub.net. Feeling energetic? Alternatively, you can always cycle or walk along the towpath. Before leaving the Quay, call into the Quay House Visitor Centre for more detailed information. Open April-October daily 10am to 5pm, November-March, weekends only 11am to 4pm.
Day Two-Sampling Devon wines
Head north along the A396 and between Bickleigh and Tiverton you will see a small turning left to the Yearlstone Vineyard. Coming from Exeter, it is just past an old bridge and the Fisherman's Cot pub.
Devon's oldest vineyard, established in 1976, it has panoramic views over the vineyards to a typical English vista of a village sports field and rolling hills. Before tasting, I recommend taking one of the self-guided walks (£3.50). This includes a reward of a tasting at the end. Food and drink is available at Charlotte's Kitchen which is incorporated in the small centre. Enjoy some local cheese for around £5.50 or some of their homemade cake, especially if orange drizzle cake is on the menu. If the weather is fine, you can eat out on the terrace soaking up those views.
When it comes to wine, the Pink Fizz is a favourite (c£25 a bottle) or their light and fruity, Number 4 at £8.
The vineyard is open from March throughout the summer, Wednesday to Sunday 11.00-16.00. www.yearlstone.co.uk. If your visit has hooked you onto English wines, pick up a Devon Vineyard Trail Leaflet from here or a Tourist Information Centre for details of eight other vineyards open to the public.
Day Three-exploring riverside Topsham, with its Dutch influence.
Catch a train to Topsham, www.fgw.co.uk. On what is branded the Avocet Line, trains leave every 30 minutes or hourly (off-peak) from Exeter St Davids or Exeter Central (City Centre) stations. Within 15 minutes you will find yourself in a charming village on the River Exe. Don't be put off by the busy road you walk down from the station. You will soon lose yourselves in the warren of streets.
Topsham is noted for its independent retailers; a cheese shop, clothing boutiques, butchers and fruit and veg shops to name a few.
Wander around and take in the Dutch style architecture. This has been influenced by the past trading links of this once busy port. Look out for hidden views of the river. My favourite is from the small garden across the road from the Topsham Museum (free), on The Strand. Look out for a wealth of wildlife on the Exe. Depending on the season, you could see avocet, oystercatcher, curlew, little egret and if you are really lucky, grey seal.
For a pint and a pause, try the Lighter Inn, tel: 01392 875 439. Situated on Fore Street, near the quay. it is a good half-way point for a circular walking tour from the station. Opposite the pub, in an old warehouse, is an antiques and bric a brac emporium www.quayantiques.com. located on several floors. Look out for west country related items. Open 10am to 5pm daily.
Nearby is the departure point for bus service "T" back to Exeter, if you want a change from the train. Further along, on the Goat Walk, a narrow pedestrian footpath by the river, is another panoramic viewpoint. Sit and enjoy sweeping views across the river. It can be a real suntrap and ample seating is provided.
If you are looking for food, the small Avocet Cafe, again on Fore Street, but nearer the station has a menu focusing on local products. Expect to pay around £7 for a light meal and a drink. Opening hours are 9am to 5pm (2pm on a Wednesday), closed Sundays, www.avocetcafe.co.uk. For an evening meal, our favourite is La Petite Maison at 35 Fore Street, back towards the Lighter Inn, telephone (01392) 873660, www.lapetitemaison.co.uk. Friendly staff and an interesting menu of, for example, fillet steak, seabass or venison will cost about £40 per person for two courses with wine and coffee.
Back in Exeter, if you are looking to stay in the City Centre, The Abode Exeter is hard to beat. Overlooking the Cathedral Green the area is considered the heart of the city. Expect to pay in the region of £100 a night for two people. Lunch time in the Champagne Bar is fast becoming a tradition for me. For around £15 enjoy a glass of champagne and a roast beef and horseradish sandwich in a relaxed but professional atmosphere. An alternative is the Jurys Inn Exeter. Expect to pay around £79 a night for two people. It is convenient to the city centre and the bus station.
Exeter will surprise you. Often overlooked for the more well-known coastal holiday destinations,it offers a wide variety of sights within the city and nearby. In most cases, you do not need your own transport. My visits to the Double Locks Pub and Topsham were by public transport. It is possible to visit the vineyard by bus, but there is a 20 minute walk from the nearest stop and there is no footpath.
What more could you want? Chose from a thriving city, spectacular countryside or a sweeping coastline. Why not all three?