The Mole Diaries: Exeter
Nell Fane is a recent graduate of Exeter University. Here she passes on her top tips for foreign students who want to live in Exeter on their year abroad from university (and current students, really!) about university clubs, things to do and see in the city, the nightlife, the best 'non-chain' cafes, pubs and restaurants, traditions, local expressions and what to pack for student survival in one of the most beautiful cities in the UK.
Exeter is one of the most exciting and fun-packed cities in England. It is filled with endless possibility and development, and there are some incredible local haunts and traditions which you can’t help but get involved in. Not too big, not too small, it is basically the perfect destination for a year abroader who wants to find a city they can call ‘home’.
The best way to find accommodation would be to head to Exeter itself, and to have a quick snoop around. There will be lots of accommodation adverts in and around campus, and general pleas for new housemates, so you can just reply to one of those and see where it takes you. Many fourth year students – who’ve just returned from their own year abroad – want to welcome in year abroaders now that they’re back home, and are looking for one or two to fill their house, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
The majority of students live around the Victoria Street area (near to ‘the Vic’ pub). That’s in the Culverland Road, Springfield Road, Prospect Park, Old Tiverton Road kind of area, if you’re searching on Google maps. These are generally 5-6 people houses! There are also a lot of larger houses on Longbrook Road and Pennsylvania, so check out those areas too. It’s a quick 10 minute walk to lectures from around there: a walk which passes in the blink of an eye.
Exeter is, however, quite a small city, which means that the walk to campus from your home is never going to be longer than a max of 25 minutes, wherever you decide to live!!
2. University Clubs
There are hundreds of clubs to join (you can sign up to as many as you like at the Freshers' Squash - a ‘fair’ held at the beginning of the semester). I recommend signing up to – and getting involved in – as many as possible, because that’s the way you meet interesting, like-minded people.
- Erasmus – the society for all Erasmus students!
- Tennis/Football/Lacrosse/Rugby/Hockey/Netball etc – all the sports you could want...
- Sailing/Kite-Surfing/Wind-Surfing – massive variety of water sports (seeing as Exeter is so close to the sea)!
- Climbing/Trampolining/Volleyball/Skiing/Karate – and all sorts of other, active clubs!
- Creative Writing/Photography – and other hobbies
- Knitting, Gilbert and Sullivan, Harry Potter, Salsa – excitingly ‘different’ clubs
The list genuinely goes on and on and on… And if you think Exeter doesn’t offer a club that they should offer, then you can even start your own!!
3. ‘Different’ Things to Do and Things to See in Exeter
- Visit the legendary Underground Tunnels (the tunnels which all Geography students are made to study in their first week at Exeter!)
- Explore the staggering cathedral, in the town centre – the cathedral which didn’t fall during the Second World War, despite the persistence of the bombings.
- Go shopping for unique, hand-crafted presents down the lovely, cobbled Gandy Street.
- Create your own Harry Potter tour of Exeter. JK Rowling used to go to Exeter, and so legend has it that she took a lot of inspiration from this brilliant city. Head to Gandy Street to find Diagon Alley, The Old Firehouse for the Leaky Cauldron, the psychology building for the Hufflepuff loos (and Moaning Myrtle), and down to some of the old, abandoned halls (Duryard, for example) for a few more spooky adventures…
- Drink a Devon brew in the oldest public house in Exeter: The Ship Inn.
- Stroll down to the Quay, do some shopping in the numerous craft shops, drink hot chocolates in one of the water-side cafes, or take a picnic to munch in the beautiful parks down there.
- Buy a goldfish from the pet shop on the High Street, and give it to your housemates as a present (with a bowl and some food). Always fun.
- Hope to stumble upon the Narrowest Road in the World – Parliament Street. Clue: it’s just off the High Street…
- Tuck into a cream tea whilst looking out over the cathedral green.
- Watch students in a play at the Northcott Theatre – fantastic student rates, and there’s always something on.
- Walk up to the Viewpoint, at the top of the hill above campus, and look down over the rolling fields and canal. There are benches up there, so perfect for a picnic.
- Kayak down the canal with a group of friends, to Double Locks.
- Spend an afternoon flicking through the incredible Punch archives (old, satirical publication) in the Devon and Exeter Institution (7 The Close, Exeter EX1 1EZ) - A FANTASTIC little untapped uni resource… All the university students are members of this ‘gentleman’s club’ (but not really told about it). It is a completely wonderful and unspoilt Victorian building, which is run by the loveliest people, and which is perfect for reading in (it’s filled with big leather armchairs), searching for dusty old books in, or just working in (there are desks scattered around one of the rooms). BUT there is also a lovely little cafe at the back of the building, where you can sit (in between working-stints) and have a freshly cooked lunch (hearty, English meals…set menu changes every day). The food is not only delicious, but also pretty cheap. Plus, you get the added bonus of eating in a very old building, beneath beautiful beams and beside a lovely little fireplace. Ideal.
- Go on a big fat walk. You’ll always end up somewhere beautiful and ‘countrysidey’.
- And as an Exeter student, you’re entitled to go to any university lecture you like…for example, you might be taking modules in History, but you can always go along to any of the Psychology or Geography or English Literature lectures for free. If you have time, make the most of this, and head to all the extra lectures you’re interested in, with a group of friends.
There’s a fantastic student nightlife in Exeter. Although it’s a small city, there are lots of pubs and bars on offer, and there are enough clubs to keep you happy, whatever music you’re after! You’ll hear club names like ‘Arena’, ‘The Lemmy’, ‘Timepiece’, ‘Mosaic’, and ‘The Cavern’ bandied around, but just follow your friends and make your own judgements. Each of the clubs offers ‘student nights’, which guarantees cheaper drinks, so definitely make the most of those!
5. The Best ‘Non-Chain’ Cafes, Pubs and Restaurants
(This is quite an extensive list, just in case you’re interested, or stuck for places to go!)
- Cafe Espresso
12 Castle Street, Exeter, EX4 3PT
A lovely little Italian cafe, hidden up the street parallel to TimePiece. Brilliant breakfasts served until 11ish (try the scrambled eggs!) and delicious pasta dishes. Oh, and the best, authentically Italian cappuccinos around (make sure you get the cocoa on top). This is the best-kept secret of Exeter.
- The Exploding Bakery
Queen Street, Exeter Right beside Exeter Central station (which initially puts you off).
Delicious, inventive cakes, foccacias and quiches, all freshly baked. And great-quality coffees too!
- Boston Tea Party
84 Queen St, Exeter, EX4 3RP
Everyone loves Boston! Fantastic coffees and cakes (and all-day breakfasts!) and student-filled, communal tables. Also delicious for eggs, Panini, pasta and jacket potatoes. The perfect place for catching up with friends, dealing with hangovers, or catching up with uni reading (though not the three combined).
- Tea on the Green
2 Cathedral Close, Exeter EX1 1EZ
Amazing leaf-teas, cakes, and authentic cream-teas galore (warm scones…generous helpings)! Perfect place to come with the family, if you’re wanting to show-off Exeter!
- The Ship Inn
1-3 Martins Lane, Exeter EX1 1EY
One of the oldest pubs in Exeter (dates back to the 16th century, and survived the WW2 bombings, unlike most of Exeter), so it has a great, bubbly atmosphere, and some solid, good-value pub food. Great for a quick meal.
- The Rusty Bike
67 Howell Road, Exeter EX4 4LZ
Quirky mixes, fresh, local food and beautiful presentation – an awesome place for supper. Plus, the vibe inside the restaurant is really ‘cool’ and young. Menus are scribbled up on blackboards, students hang about the bar, and live music is often played outside. The whole experience is unbeatable.
- The Fat Pig
2 John Street, Exeter, EX1 1BL
Sister to The Rusty Bike (but more central and less-known by students) the food is perhaps a little more fancily-phrased, and a little less generous in portion, but still absolutely divine. All fresh, perfectly cooked, and exciting concoctions – another must. PLUS could you think of a better name for a restaurant?!
86 Longbrook Street, Exeter, EX4 6AP
All Exeter students know about ‘Harry’s - it’s a damn good place for lunch or supper, and definitely deserves some serious recognition. Though if you’re setting off on a first date, probably not the best place to head to, as it’s right in the middle of Longbrook…aka you WILL see someone you know.
- Harry’s Grill
No 6 Northernhay Place, Bailey Street Exeter
On the more expensive side, but WELL worth it. The menu is formed predominantly of a selection of fresh, local beef cuts, cooked beautifully (these massively overshadow the various other foods which lie quivering in their wake). There’s also an incredible array of puddings to choose from; you’ll be full, but it’s worth pushing yourself to popping- point. Harry’s Grill is definitely one for a special occasion. The ‘wow factor’ certainly is achieved!
- On the Waterfront
5-9 Southern Warehouse, The Quay, Exeter EX2 4AN
Lovely atmosphere, delicious Italian foods, GIGANTIC pizzas, and a pretty fantastic location…you just casually stroll down the quay, work up an appetite, and then eat a hell of a lot in the company of some overly-smiley waiters. Pretty nice, really!
- The Old Firehouse
50 New North Road, Exeter EX4 4EP
‘Firehouse’ is another of those places that all students know about (supposedly JK modelled The Leaky Cauldron on it, but that’s heavily up for debate)…but still, it’s known for a reason. Ok so the food is quite basic (hence the amazing prices!) but the pizzas are DAMN GOOD (all the toppings in the world), and come in humongous baskets for all to share. Plus, bottles of wine are only a fiver. Great atmosphere, good drinks (they also do the best mulled cider in the winter…keep your eyes peeled for that), and you frequently come across bands performing live. Just remember to bring driving licences – they often ID you on the door, whether you’re drinking or not, and they don’t accept student ID.
- No. 21
Cathedral Yard, Exeter EX1 1EX
Brilliant food, light and local, diverse and exciting, and not beyond the student- budget. Right opposite the cathedral, this restaurant is often hired out as a party venue (for 21st birthdays – ideal name). Lunch or supper, this place is a keeper.
- Michael Caine’s At The Abode
Cathedral Yard, Exeter, EX1 1HD
This one is definitely a special one (probably too special to put on this ‘student’ list!). Michael and his Michelin stars certainly don’t disappoint, but it’s clearly a fancy-pants restaurant, and one which can only really be afforded by students who have recently won the lottery, or who are accompanied by adults who want to celebrate something in style. It looks out onto the cathedral, and offers a show that no one really expects to stumble upon in Exeter.
- The Conservatory
North Street, Exeter, EX4 3QS
Little, family-run restaurant, serving copious dishes created from local produce.
6. Important Recommendations Outside Exeter
- The Nobody Inn
Doddiscombsleigh, Exeter, Devon, EX6 7PS
An award-winning inn with an incredible array of foods: a good one to take parents to, when you’re boasting about how wonderful Exeter is. Definitely try the ‘steak and ale pie’, and the Sunday roasts are the closest to good home-cooking I’ve found. Lovely staff, great loos (can always tell a lot about a restaurant from its loos) and generally an endearingly cosy atmosphere. Good value too. The drive there is beautiful, and if you fancy a walk after your lunch/ before your supper, there are numerous fields and hills to entice you in…
- Jack In The Green
Rockbeare, Nr Exeter, Devon, EX5 2EE
Now this one’s another fancy one – one for very special occasions (when accompanied by paying adults, perhaps?!). But the food is inventive, local, and AMAZING.
- The Barn Owl
Guardian Road, Exeter Business Park, Exeter EX1 3PE
Great-quality and value food (particularly the fishy things!) – a lovely little pub with an even lovelier garden. Run by VERY smiley people!
- The Orangery
Powderham Country Store, Kenton Exeter EX6 8JE
In the grounds of Powderham Castle (if you suddenly feel like making ‘that touristy trip’ which we spent our three years at Exeter PROMISING we would one day make…), you can grab a delicious coffee or cake here at The Orangery, or go for the whole-hog and choose from the proper lunch menu. Either way, good value, a great view, and very fresh, seasonal food.
7. Exeter Traditions
- Ottery St Mary’s
On bonfire night, the lovely village of Ottery St Mary’s celebrates in style, with a humungous bonfire, fireworks display, and tar barrel racing. Health and safety goes out the window with regards the latter, and the young men of Ottery run through the streets carrying burning barrels. The crowds are jam-packed, and it is truly exhilarating (if a little nerve-racking) when a burning barrel of tar comes as close as 5 cm from your face. Everyone has to experience it at least once, because such a show will be seen nowhere else in England!
Exeter is known for its rather raunchy Safer Sex Ball, held once a year, at the beginning of December (to increase awareness and raise funds, on behalf of Aids Week). ‘Skantily clad’ doesn’t quite do the attendants justice, but it genuinely is an incredibly surreal, must-do, experience. Tickets sell faster than you can possibly imagine!
- Topsham Ten
There used to be ten pubs in the local town of Topsham, so students made it a personal challenge to drink one pint in each and every one of them (the ultimate pub-crawl). Sadly, some of these pubs have now shut down, but in your time at Exeter you’ll almost certainly find yourself hopping on the train and setting off to Topsham to complete the make-shift Topsham Seven!!
- Touch Duckes
A huge, two-day summer touch rugby fest, set in Duckes Meadow. Lots of the uni (and non-uni) boys get together teams and enter themselves into the tournament. People come and watch, and munch their way through quite a few picnics. It’s a bit like Sports Day, really. But for the last two years, girls have been involved too, with a Touch Duckes rounders tournament. Definitely worth getting stuck into this; it’s not particularly competitive, and just a fun way to spend a weekend with friends!
- Canoeing to Double Locks
Another ‘must do’ (when it’s warm though). Book in advance, and head down to the quay with a bunch of mates for an absolutely hysterical afternoon! Beer is essential.
Just a quick train ride out of Exeter you’ll find the lovely Exmouth. It’s the typical seaside town, with a beautiful long beach (2 miles!), lots of ice-cream shops, buckets and spades, and numerous cafes serving cream teas. Definitely worth a visit with a bunch of friends, on a sunny day.
8. Language Barriers
- ‘Fresher’ – a first year student
- ‘Bolt’ means ‘down your drink’ (though don’t feel you have to ever do this!!)
- ‘Cider Black’ – the traditional Exeter drink – cider with a splash of blackcurrant
- ‘The Lemmy’ – the student union club (big nights on Saturdays)
- ‘Lash’ – means ‘drink’ (nothing to do with eye-lashes)
- ‘Cream tea’ – scones with clotted cream and jam…very traditional in Devon
- ‘Love’ – if you’re called ‘love’ or anything similarly forward by the locals, it doesn’t mean they ‘fancy’ you…it’s just a friendly/endearing term of address, which reflects the relaxed vibe of the city.
- ‘Campus’ – Exeter is a campus university, which means that all the lectures, seminars, libraries and educational facilities are all found in one ‘base’, just outside the city centre. This ‘base’ is called a ‘campus’.
9. What to Pack
- Passport photos for student cards, and any national insurance numbers you might need in order to join sports clubs.
- Swimming gear and towels, for the beaches.
- Wellington boots and coats, and any other outdoor walking gear.
- A large bag to carry books around with you, to and from campus.
- A camera and diary (of course)!
- A laptop. There’s wifi all over campus!
- An umbrella. It is England, after all.
- A sense of humour. People in Exeter always seem to be happy and laughing – if you’re a smiler, you’ll fit right in here!
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