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Thursday, 04 August 2016

18 hours in Exeter

For me, Exeter was always a ‘passing through’ sort of place: heading through on the way to school or to play rugby, passing through for visits to family and friends. Two weeks ago I was there again and what a change from 15 years ago.

Then, Exeter seemed a fairly humdrum sort of city, despite having the most beautifully located of universities, a lovely cathedral, the Northcott Theatre, a small airport and an historic quayside, next to the River Exe.

Since then, of course, the Met Office has moved to the area, a new town called Cranbrook has grown up to the east of the city, a science park is being developed, Exeter Airport has expanded (now serving about 15 countries) and there have been other multi-million pound developments in the city itself, a shopping area called Princesshay being one of them (pic).

All this has come with a big change in the retail and restaurant scene. There’s a large John Lewis store and a Waitrose, and as we wandered around we spotted Hollister, The White Company, Carluccio’s, Jamie’s Italian, Reiss, Karen Millen, Hobbs, Russell and Bromley, Zara, Hotel Chocolat and Crew Clothing to name a few.

There were a handful of little squares and outside spots for cafés/restaurants as well. And at the Royal Clarence/ABode Hotel - opposite the cathedral and said to be the oldest hotel in the country - is ABode Restaurant, once run by well known chef and Exeter-born Michael Caines.

And there’s more to come, including a £70 million regeneration scheme around the old bus station site (new swimming pool here) and a £12 million redevelopment of part of the Guildhall shopping centre. The latter will focus on food and drink. An IKEA is coming too.

Last but certainly not least, Exeter has one of the best club rugby sides in the country, its ground hosting three matches during the World Cup last year. What 15 years of drive and ambition have done for the old Roman city. And that’s before you mention the nearby coast and countryside.

Exeter Tourist Information: www.visitexeter.com

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