Sunday, 10 October 2010

Going West

I’ve had a week off. No work on the bookshop (, no guiding, lots of beer and quite a lot of travel. My son moved from Southampton to Exeter recently so the trip was mainly to see what he’s up to. I liked Exeter. I liked it more than Southampton which I found fascinating and disappointing in almost equal measure. Both cities were bombed extensively in WW2 and so the extent of 60s infill in the centres is extensive.
Exeter seems to have plenty of old buildings and is intriguingly hilly. My best memory will be of the walk from the old wharf area along the River Exe and its parallel canal to the deliciously mellow, wood fire warmed, nicely stocked, Double Locks pub. It is a treasure and, though we were not welcomed into the near empty bar, it does have the feel of a real pub. During an evening in the city there were more treasures to imbibe in and a feast of mini-pies in the bar-cum-restaurant of a nice Young’s hotel.
The cathedral in Exeter is impressive, especially the fine vaulted ceiling which stretches with diminishing breadth into the distance. I was interested to see a plaque to R D Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone. I connect him with Exeter since he attended Exeter College in Oxford, but he was in fact born much nearer to Oxford than Exeter. However, I found that his father was a man of Exeter originally and that Blackmore did spend most of his life there. I was pleased to see the memorial to Bishop Stapledon: he was the founder of Exeter College and, I learned, was murdered in the riots that followed the removal of Edward II from the throne.
After Exeter we moved to Salcombe, a pleasant town which lies on the coast of a ria – a sea inlet rather than a river mouth. The ria looks stunningly beautiful as you descend towards the town, its colour varying from aquamarine to slate grey according to angle and sun. Finally we holed up at Plymouth and refreshed our sparse knowledge of the Spanish Armada and Sir Francis Drake by circumventing the Sound, walking the Hoe, staring at Drake’s statue, and wandering around the city museum. Plymouth, like Southampton, is excellent in parts and like Exeter and Salcombe is perfectly placed in its watery surroundings.

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