Exeter

Football is booming in the cathedral city of Exeter – rugby football, that is. While top-flight Exeter Chiefs attract five-figure crowds to their Sandy Park ground, stuck out towards the airport, 112-year old football club Exeter City, set next to a centrally located, well linked railway station, usually struggle to bring in 4,000.

Welcome to Exeter/Peterjon Cresswell

The disappointing attendances at the 8,500-capacity St James Park are balanced, though, by the visits of West Country rivals Yeovil, Bristol Rovers and, most bitter of all, Plymouth Argyle.

And, as can be ascertained from the decorative references around the splendid Centre Spot bar at St James Park, this venerable ground, as old as the club itself, has hosted a fair number of big names in romantic cup ties.

Most famously, a decade ago, the then non-league Exeter held then cup-holders Manchester United to a 0-0 draw to bring Rooney, Ronaldo and co to St James Park. In a night that practically defines the term ‘cup tie’, the Grecians, in black to celebrate their centenary, not only gave another brave, battling performance in the floodlit replay live on TV, but cleared most of the club’s debts.

Welcome to Exeter/Peterjon Cresswell

In dire financial straights – what the fridge was spoon-bending conjurer Uri Geller doing co-running a football club? – Exeter had not long become a pioneering example of fan ownership. The Exeter Supporters’ Trust continues to be the club’s majority shareholder.

Exeter returned to the Football League and, in 2014, celebrated another centenary. This one didn’t take place by the banks of the river Exe but in Rio. In 1914, Exeter had been the first team to play the Brazilian national football team, at the Estádio das Laranjeiras, where they took on Fluminense’s under-23 side shortly after the 2014 World Cup.

Exeter’s original South American tour had taken place a decade after the club had been created from an amalgamation of Exeter United and St Sidwell’s United in 1904. The newly formed Exeter City have been playing at Exeter United’s ground of St James Park ever since.

As in 2005, the highlight of the club’s pre-war period was a cup run. The exploits of 1931 culminated in a record crowd of 21,000 at St James Park to witness a 4-2 thriller won by Sunderland after a heroic draw at Roker Park.

Eight decades later, the Supporters’ Trust and Exeter Exiles fan group set up the 1931 Fund to finance an extra squad player. He wears shirt No.31, a mark of local supporter commitment despite the economic difficulties of following a football club in the rugby-blighted west of England.

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Exeter

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Exeter City/St James Park: 50.729393, -3.522449
Exeter St Davids station: 50.727546, -3.542318
Exeter Central station: 50.726470, -3.533290
Exeter St James Park station: 50.730181, -3.522792
Exeter bus station: 50.725464, -3.524490
Raffles: 50.729302, -3.527790
Jurys Inn Exeter: 50.725784, -3.521669
Hotel Mercure Exeter Southgate : 50.720332, -3.528424
White Hart : 50.720612, -3.530517
Clock Tower Hotel : 50.727606, -3.534532
Black Horse : 50.726703, -3.527105
The Old Firehouse : 50.726705, -3.527996
Hole in the Wall : 50.725563, -3.528991
George’s Meeting House: 50.720625, -3.529950
Chevalier Inn: 50.722211, -3.532897
The Imperial : 50.730282, -3.539823
Samuel Jones Smoke & Ale House : 50.718594, -3.531914
The Angel: 50.725881, -3.533772
Premier Inn Exeter Central St Davids: 50.729259, -3.541850
The Telstar: 50.727873, -3.540333
Woodbine: 50.727836, -3.535673
Queens Court Hotel: 50.727010, -3.536755
The Bendene: 50.726387, -3.536994
Great Western Hotel: 50.730456, -3.542097
Duke of York: 50.729004, -3.521129
The Ship: 50.723564, -3.530197
Oakcliffe Hotel: 50.727759, -3.540235
John Gandys: 50.724809, -3.531252

Bearings

Exeter International Airport is 6.5km (four miles) east of the city centre. Locally based flybe is its main airline, with links around the UK and western Europe.

From the airport, Stagecoach bus No.56 (every 30-60min) runs to Exeter bus station (20min) then St Davids (30min), one of Exeter’s two main rail stations. A single ticket to either is £2.40, a day pass available on board £3.60.

St Davids serves direct mainline trains from London Paddington (2hr 30min-3hr) and Waterloo (3hr 30min), Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. Exeter Central, closer to town, has links with London Waterloo (3hr 30min). Both are a short, direct regular hop from St James Park beside the stadium.

Both the airport and football club recommend Apple Taxis (01392 666 666), which offers a basic £14 fee from airport to town.

Great Western Hotel/Peterjon Cresswell

Bed

The regional tourist office has a hotel-booking service.

The nearest lodgings to the ground are set in Victorian-era houses either side of the railway line. The best is the cosy, friendly Raffles – a couple of other guesthouses and B&Bs have closed in recent years.

Also within walking distance is mid-range chain Jurys Inn, this one with 170 rooms, a restaurant, bar and café.

The club recommends the four-star Mercure Exeter Southgate, with a heated pool, sauna and gym, all conveniently close to Exeter Central station. On the other side of the railway tracks, the family-run Bendene Townhouse offers comfortable lodgings, with a communal pool and on-site parking. Rooms with shared facilities are eminently affordable. Nearby, the tasteful Queens Court is set in a grand Georgian property while over the roundabout, The Woodbine and the Clock Tower Hotel provide a good-value digs.

Hotel Mercure Exeter Southgate/Peterjon Cresswell

Closer to Exeter St Davids, the local Premier Inn has rooms from under £30 while further up St Davids Hill, alongside each other, The Telstar and The Oakcliffe are B&Bs of differing quality and but similar prices, the former just that bit snazzier. Back at St Davids, the Great Western was a classic railway hotel, now a two-star, but with Sky TV in all 35 guestrooms and the convivial Loco Bar with real ales.

Right by the Cathedral, the former historic Royal Clarence, renamed the ABode Exeter, burned down in 2016, leaving Exeter without its sole landmark hotel. The latest date for rebuild completion is towards the end of 2019. A short walk away, the White Hart is both traditional pub and hotel, with a warren of 55 en-suite rooms of varying qualities, in and alongside a medieval tavern.

The Farmer's Union/Peterjon Cresswell

Beer

With its high student population, Exeter has plenty of traditional pubs and urban bars, with drink and meal deals all over town.

On the stadium side of the historic centre is a small hub of venues, including the Black Horse, with sports action on a variety of screens and burger-and-beer promotions. Nearby, three-floor The Old Firehouse appeals to real-ale aficionado and student alike, with live music at weekends and a terrace in summer.

Nearer the tangled streets of the city centre, the evening-only Hole in the Wall promises ‘three floors of fine drinking, live music and hot food all under one roof’.

Just the other side of the Cathedral is another hub of bars and restaurants lining South Street. Opposite the White Hart, George’s Meeting House is one of a handful of Wetherspoons in town, this set in an 18th-century chapel. The nearby Chevalier Inn stands on the site of a historic inn while, up the hill from St Davids station, the Imperial has been converted from a 1920s hotel, surrounded by a large garden and equipped with an orangery.

John Gandys/Peterjon Cresswell

Back in the city centre, tucked down a narrow lane by the Cathedral, the cosy Ship Inn is a 19th-century rebuild of a Sir Francis Drake haunt, where TV sport and pub grub are also main attractions. More vinyl- and cocktail-oriented, with live music too, late-night John Gandys comes alive for big tournaments. On the stadium side of town, the Duke of York is more downmarket but reliably shows matches.

Close to the hub of hotels around Exeter Central, The Farmer’s Union comprises a comfortable upscale pub, restaurant and beer garden, with a pool table and TV sport. Slap opposite Exeter Central, The Angel is independent in spirit and lively in character.

For more picturesque drinking, head for the quays on the riverfront. There, Samuel Jones Smoke & Ale House specialises in craft beers and quality food in a industrial/contemporary setting.


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