The City of Exeter
Exeter has retained its position as the administrative capital of Devon, with its University being a valuable asset to the ongoing prosperity of the city. Exeter is close to the sea, the river, the Moors and a fun and safe place to live.
Exeter - A City with History
In the first century AD the Romans, as they explored Britain, came across a settlement on a bluff above the bend of a river. They found that it was at the lowest crossing-point of the largest river in the area, so its position was strategically important to them, enabling them to maintain control of the surrounding countryside.
For this reason, they built a permanent fortified camp there, calling it Isca Dumnoniorum, the River of the Dumnonii – the Celtic tribe that lived in what is now Devon and Cornwall. They built no permanent settlements further westwards, and relied on their garrison at Isca to keep the wild tribesmen of the peninsula at bay. This system worked well, and over the next 400 years Isca grew into a populous and thriving city.
It had the significant advantage of being the first Romano-British port of call for traders from the Mediterranean, and so its citizens had first choice of the exotic items – spices, silks, pottery – brought in by ship from overseas. The Fosse Way started at Exeter, and ran right through the centre of England to Lincoln, creating an efficient outlet for the imported goods – and fat profits for its merchants.
So lucky citizens of Isca were able to live comfortably and well. They would have been able to enjoy home comforts such as central heating and plumbing and, when they went out, tavernas, libraries, a wide variety of shops and, of course, the baths; the remains of a major bathhouse complex have been discovered in the city centre.
Although over the centuries the name Isca evolved to become Exeter, the importance of the city did not change significantly. It was prominent in the Middle Ages, its strong religious foundation extending its power over the whole of Devon and Cornwall, and this influence ensured that Exeter also became the centre of local government and civil administration. It was of strategic value during the Civil War, and grew in importance until in the early 1700s it ranked fourth of the cities of England.
But in the Industrial Revolution, because the countryside around Exeter lacked the coal required to fuel the steam engines needed to power mills and factories, the economic status of Exeter declined. As a result, the rapid 19th-century development that overwhelmed so many important English towns and cities did not affect Exeter, and it stayed comparatively untouched until the 20th century.
It was instead the post-war reconstruction of the 1950s onwards after the bombing of World War II that changed the face of the city so much that it’s now of comparatively little interest to tourists. However, this could be seen as a benefit to local residents, who can enjoy visiting its surviving places of interest and ancient buildings without being crowded out by seasonal visitors.
Business and Pleasure
Exeter has retained its position as the administrative capital of the region, and it is once again becoming more and more important economically. Its university is important, becoming not only more recognised as an institution of quality in itself, but as a valuable asset to the ongoing prosperity of the city.
Electronic communications mean that more businesspeople can enjoy living and working in a city that – as recognised by the Romano-British – provides a comfortable and civilised lifestyle, with clean air and easy access to the open spaces of unspoilt moorland and the sea. Some forward-thinking organisations have recognised this; the Met Office, for example, has moved its headquarters to Exeter, and is now one of the major employers in the area.
Exeter in the early part of the 21st century has a population of around 115,000. It is twinned with Rennes in Brittany, Bad Homburg in central Germany, the Italian city of Terracina near Rome, and the Russian city of Yaroslavl near Moscow. Access to Exeter from the rest of the UK and from western Europe is easy and quick – it has a motorway link, a mainline railway service and an international airport.
A Cathedral City
Exeter Cathedral, originating in Norman times, took over 250 years to construct, developing through the centuries into a Gothic-style building. Its treasures include a volume of the Domesday Book and the Exeter Book, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon literature in existence.
Exeter also has the oldest public gardens, Northernhay Gardens, and civic building, the Guildhall, still in use in the UK. There are several other buildings of historical interest, including a ruined Norman castle; there are also theatres and museums, and, just a few miles away, the impressive Powderham Castle.
Some towns and cities turn their backs on their rivers – but the Exe is bordered by a series of attractive parks, gardens, riverside walks, footpaths and nature reserves from the moment it flows into the city until it reaches the open sea at Exmouth.
Exeter City Council and the Exe Estuary Management Partnership (EEMP) have a deliberate policy of protecting the waterways – that’s the river itself and the Exeter Ship Canal – and ensuring that residents and visitors (both human and wildlife) can benefit from these natural resources.
So in Exeter itself you can go rowing, canoeing and windsurfing; you can take cruises around the Port of Exeter and along the canal; and you can watch, or participate in the waterborne events such as dragon-boat racing and regattas that are staged regularly. And there’s Exeter Quayside, a historic area that’s become a favourite place for people who want to go messing about in boats – or just relaxing in interesting surroundings, and watching other people doing it.
Meanwhile, the broad and sheltered Exe estuary has long been a favourite spot for people who enjoy getting back to nature. In winter, there’s the spectacle of thousands upon thousands of wildfowl and wading birds, and the upper reaches of the estuary are visited by increasing numbers of avocets. There are footpaths downstream from Exeter and around much of the estuary, so it’s a great place for walkers.
It’s great for sailing and other watersports, too. The EEMP has designated specific areas for the various activities, so powerboaters can enjoy themselves without disturbing wildlife or frightening swimmers, and fishing enthusiasts don’t conflict with canoeists.
For the boat-owner, there are moorings, launching areas and plenty of sailing clubs around the estuary. And for those who like someone else to be holding the tiller, there are small passenger ferries, boat trips and, in winter, avocet cruises run by the RSPB from Exmouth, Starcross and Topsham.
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