Exeter Quayside

Exeter Quayside

The Roman and medieval city of Exeter grew up on a hill overlooking the River Exe, which means that the river runs below the city rather than through it. This also means that it requires an inconvenient 15-minute walk downhill from the city centre (unless you follow the nicer walk alongside the City Wall), or an even more inconvenient bus service to get here. That said, get here you must, because it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the city.

A Celtic tribe called the Dumnonii were the first people to settle here, and although there doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence, it seems likely that they were trading at the Quayside before the Romans arrived. You might have expected the Romans to be trading here themselves, and although they probably did, their main port was at Topsham, some 4 miles downstream.

Even so, by the Middle Ages, trade was flourishing on the Quayside – or at least it was until Countess Isabella de Fortibus built a weir across the river above Topsham to run her mills. To bypass the problem a canal was built from the opposite side of the river down to a point just below Topsham. Exeter’s influence was restored, and by the mid-18th century trade reached its peak when woollen cloth became the chief export. This cloth was stored in warehouses along with imported olive oil, wine and salt cod.

Old Bonded Warehouses along the Quayside

All this historical information is of academic interest for people who come to the Quayside these days, because it’s now primarily an area given over to leisure. The warehouses have now been converted into shops, bars and restaurants and act as a magnet, especially on weekends.

There are other things to do here apart from eating and drinking, and the best place to find out what they are is at the Tourist Information Centre inside the lovely old Custom House, which was built in 1680 to ensure ships entering the port paid taxes on their goods. Even if you don’t need any information it’s worth popping in to take a look around, especially as, unlike the trading ships, you don’t have to pay a penny.

The Custom House
The Custom House

Water sports are naturally a popular activity, and along with other outdoor pursuits, are largely based on the opposite side of the river near the canal basin. To get there is easy enough as all it takes is a short stroll over the modern Cricklepit Bridge or the small ferry.

Cricklepit Bridge
Cricklepit Bridge
Canoes at the Canal Basin
Canoes at the Canal Basin

It’s uncertain when the first ferry began, but a Royal Charter was granted in 1641 and it’s been running ever since. It’s not the same ferryboat mind you, but it is unusual in as much as the ferryman has to manually pull the boat across the river along a cable, and when a bigger boat needs to get past, the cable has to be lowered into the water. Even though it’s no hardship to walk across the bridge, the ferry still seems to be going strong, probably because people enjoy the novelty value of it.

Butt's Ferry
Butt's Ferry

It runs frequently throughout the summer, unlike the hourly bus service, which will mean a hike back uphill to the city centre if you’re later than half past three. They do start running again at 6.45 pm but only on a weekend. See what I mean about being inconvenient?

The Quayside from Cricklepit Bridge

ORIGINAL POST – NOV 2018

LATEST UPDATE – JULY 2020

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4 thoughts on “Exeter Quayside

  1. Sarah Wilkie

    Had it occurred to you, as it did immediately to me, that your opening paragraph would need tweaking only a little to be applied to Newcastle? Although I have to say the buses run more frequently there! I’ve been to Exeter several times for work purposes but that has always kept me in the city centre and I never knew about this aspect of the city – it looks lovely down there by the river 🙂

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Post author

      How true the similarities between the two cities are in respect of their Roman connections, and how the river runs below them. It’s a shame that the bus services aren’t similar as well!
      No doubt you’re not the only one who hasn’t made make it down here, but perhaps next time. As always, thanks for taking a look.

      Reply
  2. Barbara

    Your quiz question (in another place) stumped me so I am glad to have this tour of a place I last visited more than 40 years ago. Thank you for another interesting tour and your lovely photos.

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Post author

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying both the quiz and my articles on here – and thank you for your lovely comments

      Reply

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