Posted on July 26, 2007 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Graduate School in Oxford

David took Monday and Tuesday off and we had a nice four-day weekend in the "West Country." We spent Saturday night in Exeter and then Sunday and Monday in Penzance (yep, of Pirates fame) near the western tip of Cornwall.


It was a three-hour drive from home to Exeter, which is in the county of Devon. Like Cornwall, Devon is known for its green countryside and delicious cream teas.

As often happens when we head southwest, we passed Stonehenge along the way. It never ceases to amaze us to drive past such a famous historic monument on our way someplace else. It is of course unfortunate that two major highways run right past Stonehenge, but it makes road trips more fun!

As we got closer to Devon, the weather began to improve, which was pretty exciting. Traffic was also nice and light... until it wasn't. We got into quite a traffic jam for maybe 10 miles and it was no fun.

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We finally arrived in Exeter around 2:30pm and briefly settled into our B&B before heading out again. It was a nice place and we got a family room for the price of a double, which was cool. The bed was really comfy.

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Almost immediately after we set our stuff down, I headed straight for Exeter Cathedral, which was about a 10-minute walk. My guidebook said it closed at 5:00 and I wanted to be sure to have enough time to explore and photograph it all. David moved the car and relaxed for a bit and met me there about 20 minutes later.

exeter cathedral: nw view

Exeter Cathedral is rather unique in its design, with two big Norman (12th-century) towers on either side and a Gothic (14th-century) west front covered in weathered sculptures of kings and other notable people. We never got the blue sky I would hope for photographing the outside, but by dropping by several times throughout the evening, we at least got patches of blue.

exeter cathedral: nave
This is Exeter Cathedral's main claim to fame: the beautiful Gothic nave. Its vaulted ceiling is the longest Gothic ceiling in the world, which in part is because there's no central tower to interrupt it. It runs for 300 feet and is decorated with round things called "bosses" at the joints, which are painted with medieval themes.

gothic reflections
They've thoughtfully provided mirrors on little carts to give necks a rest.

This is where the two towers are at the center of the cathedral, which is called the transept crossing. Above is the pretty screen or "pulpitum" that divides the nave from the choir and supports one of the largest organs I've ever seen.

glorious choir
The choir is very beautiful and all its woodwork dates from about 1260. It has one of the most complete sets of misericords (those funny medieval carvings under the seats) in England, and yet they were roped off! So disappointing.

But at least I got to take photos of the carved bench-ends, which were also quite cool.

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Lion bench-end.

After all our hard work, we relaxed at the outdoor tables of the Cafe Bar, which is right next to the cathedral and has a fine view of it. It was a fantastic restaurant too - David raved about his coffee and my hot chocolate was like a melted dark chocolate bar (England has yet to get marshmallows right, though). We both ordered a slice of carrot cake and it was so very good. Perfect, moist cake and perfect frosting.

The rest of the evening was very relaxing, just wandering around aimlessly around the city and pondering where to have dinner. Exeter is a nice city but the cathedral is really the only big attraction, so that gave us an unusual opportunity to relax and take our time. But in our wanderings we encountered several interesting sights.

Nice church and a pretty Tudor (16th-century) shop on Cathedral Close, near our snack break table.

ship inn, exeter
The Ship Inn near the cathedral, reportedly the preferred pub of Sir Francis Drake.

st catherine's almshouses
These interesting ruins right in the city center were 15th-century almshouses for the poor.

rougemont castle gatehouse devon witches
This castle gatehouse was set up by the Norman ruler William the Conqueror shortly after he conquered England. It was also the last place in England where women were convicted of witchcraft and executed (1685).

In an interesting coincidence, next to the castle was a park in which there was a big stage set up for a performance of Macbeth. We took a walking path up above the stage and enjoyed a great rendition of the song "Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble" by the three witches. It had lots of drums and great rhythm and it stuck in our heads.

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Cool old stairs near the Roman walls (which we never saw) and the church appropriately named St. Mary Steps.

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A nice parish church and St. Nicholas' Priory, a monastery founded in 1087 of which only the refectory (dining hall) remains. Both were closed.

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As we walked past this church, bells were ringing so loudly we couldn't even hear each other by shouting. We thought the bells must be from the cathedral, which was nearby, but when we stopped by later, we learned it was coming from this church. A man was just closing up when we arrived looking hopeful, and he kindly let us in. It turned out to be very interesting - the man explained that only the front half of the building is still a church, and it is mainly used for bell-ringing. In fact, a touring group of bell-ringers had just left! We did not know that there were touring bell-ringers.

The fanciest McDonalds we've ever seen, on the High Street.

A Wagamama with a cathedral view! (Sort of.) We love that restaurant but, amazingly, had dinner elsewhere.

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Wagamama was part of a nice new area of Exeter, still under development. I was really impressed by it and especially liked the modern apartments above left.

The white building on the left is the Exeter branch of Pizza Express, one of our favorite restaurants. It had an even better view and we had delicious pizzas and gelato.