CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Exploring Exeter

PUBLISHED: 12:12 23 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:12 23 February 2016

Grand portico on the Guildhall

Exeter Walk

Grand portico on the Guildhall Exeter Walk


Simone Stanbrook-Byrne explores Exeter on a taster walk of ancient buildings and green oases, where medieval collides with modern

Tudor façades hide modern shops on the High Street

Exeter WalkTudor façades hide modern shops on the High Street Exeter Walk

Start on the edge of Cathedral Green, outside Tea on the Green restaurant. Until the 17th century this area was Exeter’s main burial site. It’s estimated that half a million bodies were buried here.

The Norman cathedral was built during the 12th century and was 2/3 the length of the present building. It was rebuilt in the Middle Ages although Norman features were retained.

Walk towards the Royal Clarence Hotel, glancing ahead up enticing Martin’s Lane. On your right is ancient St Martin’s Church, the oldest part of which pre-dates the Norman Conquest.

Turn right here along Catherine Street, passing the ruined 15th century almshouses. Their tiny rooms were just 6ft x 5ft. By the late 19th century they were considered unsuitable as almshouses. The Church Army took them on as accommodation for destitute people. The buildings suffered war damaged and are preserved as a memorial to the Exeter Blitz of May 1942.

Continue ahead to the T-junction within 50m. Turn right and in another 50m go left into the contemporary Princesshay Shopping Precinct. Glance behind for a lovely view of the cathedral peering over its modern neighbours.

Keep ahead through the shops, passing the Blue Boy statue, who marks the site of an old ‘Blue Coat’ school, founded in the 1630s. There are remains of the Roman city wall on the right. Exeter, as a settlement, predates the Roman town by centuries but it was the Romans who built the protective wall. When they left decay set in but restoration has been undertaken over succeeding centuries.

Keep ahead beyond the wall, passing Nando’s on your right. At the T-junction in about 50m turn left, soon passing the entrance to Exeter’s Underground Passages on the left. These passages were built during the 14th century to house pipes transporting fresh water from springs outside the city. The lead pipes often leaked so to avoid the disruption of frequently digging them up they were housed in vaulted passages. They are open to the public.

A little further, at the crossroads with High Street, cross over bearing slightly left towards a small arcade about 30m away, beneath an ornate clock. Walk down this arcade and at its end continue ahead up Northernhay Place to enter Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in the country. The gardens developed from a ‘public walk’ dating from 1612 and are Grade II listed. Bear left on the main path passing statues of local dignitaries. There is an obelisk on the left commemorating the founding in Devonshire of the Volunteer Force of Great Britain. A bandstand is to the right.

After this seek a path on the left going uphill back on yourself. Follow this as it bends right and climbs to Athelstan’s Tower, Athelstan being a Saxon King prominent in Exeter. If its gates are open, peek through the tower into adjoining Rougemont Gardens.

Retrace your route from Athelstan’s Tower back to the top of the flight of steps. Don’t descend them, instead follow the path left to rejoin the main path. Turn left and continue past the War Memorial to the exit gates. A short road leads down to Queen Street, turn left, passing the excellent Royal Albert Memorial Museum, then take the next left into atmospheric Gandy Street. In about 50m Gandy Street turns right, go with it. Cross over at the junction and continue until it leads you to High Street.

Turn right, admiring the gorgeous Tudor façades of the shops on your right. Pass Martin’s Lane on the left and, a little further on, Laura Ashley, whose premises once hosted Judge Jeffries during the Bloody Assizes. Continue to the grand entrance of Exeter Guildhall. If opening times permit, pop in and savour its ancientness, it’s one of the oldest municipal buildings in the country and is still used for council meetings. Today’s building is largely 15th century with its stately portico dating from 1593.

Continue down High Street, passing tiny Parliament Street on the right, a mere 25 inches in places and possibly the world’s narrowest street. Beyond this on the left is medieval St Petrock’s followed by the crossroads with South Street. Turn left.

In another 15m go left through a broad opening into the cathedral area again, walking towards the superb west front of the building. Cross the green with the cathedral on your right and beyond it turn right, away from the shops and with the ancient buildings of Cathedral Close to your left.

Go through gates and soon you pass through the ancient city walls. The iron bridge spanning the road was built for the former mayor, Burnet Patch, so that he could traverse the walls without having to negotiate steps down to street level and up again.

Beyond here continue into Southernhay, an elegant area with many gracious Georgian buildings and central public gardens that follow line of the city’s old defence ditch. There have been public gardens here since the 17th century. Return through Cathedral Close for Tea on the Green.

Walking Exeter

Distance: under two miles, unless exploring

Start point: Outside Tea on The Green, Cathedral Close, EX1 1EZ

Recommended extra: Join the free ‘Red Coat’ walks to visit the Catacombs and Quay areas


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is particularly stunning at this time of year and so we’ve picked out 18 stunning pictures that encapsulate the county during the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From cosy pubs galore to winter beach walks, there’s plenty to enjoy in Devon at Christmas. We list 19 reasons you should come visit us this December.

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A South Devon walk along a wreck-rich coastline with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the latest of our 24-hour tours of Devon’s best locations, we head to Britain’s Ocean City

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search