Last year I learned a valuable lesson: don’t build stuff up too much. For example, don’t buy a gift for a friend’s birthday, then spend three weeks telling them how amazing it is, because they really aren’t going to love that Princess Diana memorial plate that you got from the British Heart Foundation as much as you think they are. Secondly, don’t offer to cook a house dinner then market yourself as a gifted culinary artiste, because your housemates aren’t going to be that impressed when you serve them Rustlers and Skips. And, most importantly, do not oversell your university town when you invite a friend down for the weekend.
I experienced this last one first hand when, during my freshers year, I slightly oversold Exeter when I invited a friend down for the weekend.
“You have a nightclub in your halls? That’s insane, I bet it’s such a fun night out! And I can’t believe we’re going to go the original ‘Leaky Cauldron.’ But are you sure it won’t be absolutely rammed in there, and disgustingly hot, and so loud that you can’t hear the person sitting next to you?”
“No, it’s going to be fine.”
“Okay, you know better than me.”
So this year when a different friend decided to come and visit me, I thought that I would go totally the other way and make Exeter sound about as exciting as Bolton. “We’ll take a tour of my top-five launderettes, then head to the British Heart Foundation second-hand furniture shop, and finish up by getting rid of some of the black mold growing wild and free in my bathroom.”
Imagine her delight, then, when instead of doing any of those awful things we visited the beautiful Cathedral Green. The cafes and eateries around the Green have almost all been written off as ‘places you can’t go unless your parents are visiting and paying the bill.’ Just along from Tea on the Green, however, sits one of Exeter’s most interesting little haunts: the Devon and Exeter Institution.
The Institution, which sits tucked away in a handsome, ivy-covered Georgian building, is basically a small library full of very esoteric old books, but upstairs is a dining room overlooking the Green which serves an unbelievably cheap three course roast dinner. The Society also provides an ideal study space on the days when campus is packed to the rafters; the library is quiet and warm, and there are always dozens of spare desks. That morning the Society was also having a second had book sale. There was a huge range of beautiful old hardbacks, all for a pound. Move over Oxfam…
A quick note on the Cathedral: if, unlike me, you have friends who might be interested in taking a tour of the Cathedral, go! The guides are intimidatingly well informed and on select dates you can take a tour of the Cathedral roof and towers, (offering stunning views over the city). Also, all Exeter students are eligible to apply for a residents’ card, which gives you free, unlimited access to the Cathedral and the guided tours (but don’t try and use it as a form of ID at Cavern because the bouncers will laugh at you).
Next, I decided to show my friend the Quay. This was a terrible idea. The reason being that the weather made the whole experience feel like something out of Beowulf,
A biting wind howled above the night sea, desolate and dark
Bitter rain lashed the flesh, and the cold pierced like a spear.
The mead benches outside the feasting hall sat abandoned,
And no birds dared dance in the bleak loft of the grey sky.
Even in the grim winter weather though, the Quay is eerily pretty. The swans never seem to abandon the water and stretching along the left hand side of the docks is a melee of little shops selling local handicrafts and souvenirs – ideal for visiting friends to take home a little bit of Devon.
On the walk home we got lost. Very lost. I’m not exactly sure where we ended up, but we eventually wound up in the Mount Radford on Magdalen Road, which is definitely the nicest of Exeter’s many Greene King pubs. If you want cheap and cheerful Greene King pub grub and can be bothered to venture a little further than the Black Horse, the Mount Radford won’t disappoint!
At this point, we had to go home because my feet were so wet that I was beginning to get Trench Foot, and my friend needed her fix of weekend daytime television. We headed back out into town after several agonizing hours of watching Jeremy Kyle bully young, single mothers, for afternoon tea. Liz and Max came with us, because they said they knew a nice, cheap place on Fore Street that does incredible cakes and hot chocolates. They weren’t lying. The place was the Glorious Art House, and the cakes and hot chocolates were indeed incredible. The café seems to aim at a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party sort of vibe, and the rickety old Tudor house with slanted floors and low ceilings offers a fitting shell for such a project. Despite the gimmicky-whackyness of the whole thing, however, the owners have no sense of humor about their cakes or their art. The middle floor features a serious art gallery with local artists offering a fascinating array of works; and the food and drink is absolutely stunning. For £5 per head we each had a piece of cake and a hot chocolate with a mountain of whipped cream and marshmallows that gradually collapsed under its own weight as we all sat and chatted in the wonderful surroundings. The Glorious Art House definitely gets one of my Top Picks in Exeter. Do not let your friends leave without visiting this place.
“Thanks for a really lovely weekend. You didn’t exactly sell Exeter to me before I came down, but I ended up having a lot of fun. Just promise me one thing?”
“If you’re going to write about this weekend for your lifestyle column thingy, please don’t end it with some fictitious dialogue of me saying what I great weekend I’ve had. You’re a better journalist than that.”
“I promise. See you at Christmas!”