We got up to overcast and a forcast of more showers in Bristol, so we reviewed our plan (which had some built in flexibility) and decided to head straight for Exeter, where the forecast was for pretty much sun all day. (One of the nice things about England is the forecast can change over quite small distances.) We arrived in Exeter in brilliant sunshine and walked into the center of the city.
The town center sits up on a hill, with a lovely cathedral and quite a bit of the city walls still intact. The main shopping district was heavily rebuilt after WW2, but a subsequent remodeling made it quite a bit more attractive.
We walked up the main street, were charmed by the Riddle Sculpture-
Exeter Cathedral has the standard cross shape. It was originally built in Norman times but the only remaining parts of the old Norman cathedral are the two square towers. The rest of the cathedral was built in a span of only 80 years in the 1300s and is remarkably consistent in early English Gothic style. (Apparently, during a crucial period when the trend was for ripping things out, they had a bishop who put his foot down and insisted on retaining the original screen, only opening an archway through it.) It has amazing vaulted ceilings:
We took the cathedral tour and learned a good deal (there are many more photos in the slideshow at the end). One detail that charmed us was the door to the bell tower:
See the dark shadow at the bottom of the door, slightly to the right of center? That is a cat door for the cathedral cat, who liked to hunt in the bell tower. They don't have a current cat, the guide told us, because naturally when the last bishop retired, he wanted to take his cat with him. But no doubt some future cat will appreciate it.
By then it was lunchtime, so we checked out a local farmer's market (very worthy, but not selling ready-to-eat food) and opted for bakeshop which sold us hot pasties, which we took and ate out on the cathedral close. It was beautiful and sunny and the area was full of people enjoying the weather. There were a couple of gentlemen sitting with two dogs just downwind of us, and once the dogs got a whiff of pasty on the air, we had their complete attention until the food was gone. (Their owners cruelly and unfeelingly prevented them from ambling over to try and have a taste for themselves. We were just as happy for that!)
Then it was time for our tour of the medieval tunnels. They were built to house water pipes, let still leave them accessible for maintenance (for some reason, the residents had disliked having their yards dug up every time they needed to fix a leak). It's not certain whether this was a big help in maintenance- certainly people could get to the pipes, but the pipes were sealed with tallow and fat, and rats apparently ate at the joins, possibly causing more leaks. Also during various civil disturbances in later years the lead pipes were stolen to melt down for bullets. About half the tunnels were the original medieval constructions to bring water to the cathedral, and the rest were added in Georgian times to bring more water for the town. There was remodeling down over the years to increase capacity, until Exeter finally built a modern water treatment plant and discontinued use of the tunnels altogether.
Walking through the tunnels was a rather eerie experience- you could hear the street traffic overhead, and the tunnels were very narrow and cramped. It was quite sobering to realize that they had been used as air raid shelters in WWII, and that 300 people had been crammed into a space too narrow to walk through without turning sideways.
After the tour, we walked around and followed signs down to the river front, where the river Ex flows through Exeter.
After a certain amount of wandering around and dithering, we settled on a burger place in the student-y part of town for dinner and some more gentle strolling before returning to our hotel to fall over. (This was about the time this trip diary started to become more of an outline and less of a narrative--so many sights to see, so little time!)
Today's slideshow had many more cathedral pictures, as well as some of our wanderings about Exeter. Look for photos of the city walls, which can be traced through the present day city, as well as the remnants of old buildings preserved amongst the modern.