Exeter

Exeter is a mixture of post-war buildings, Georgian houses and half-timbered buildings, interspersed with churches designed in the local crimson sandstone. The cathedral green is host to Morris dancing throughout the day and the sound of jingling bells resounds through the air as I walk past the crumbling sculptures on the facade and enter the cathedral. I walk down the nave, past the Minstrel’s gallery and Gilbert Scott’s font and look at the astronomical clock and cat-flap. Elaborate painted monuments remain in many of the side chapels alongside their Victorian imperial counterparts. There are also several surviving medieval frescoes and murals, although there’s very little stained glass; much of what remains is Victorian, often by Comper. The quire misericords feature elephants, crocodiles and whales.

I then explore the city, walking past the church of St Olave to Nicholas Priory, a Benedictine Priory converted into a house during the reformation; the cellar and kitchen retain their gothic ceilings but many of the other rooms, such as the parlour have Elizabethan plaster ceilings and painted oak paneling. I have a look in the churches of St Martin (a small building near the cathedral that is nonetheless replete with monuments) and St Stephen (a refurnished church with some surviving monuments) before visiting the Royal Albert Memoral Museum. This has been recently renovated and in place of either deep Victorian colours or the same clinical white that the Ashmolean was redecorated in, bright pink burnishes the interior of the gothic revival building. The first room houses an exhibition of local paintings by the likes of Samuel Palmer and Robert Bevan, before I move on to Natural History with its collection of Nautilus shells, Ammonites, Icthyosaur fossils, stuffed tigers, 19th century zoological drawings, mounted butterflies and stuffed cassowaries; I’m struck by the skull of Captain Scott’s dog. The Sladen collection includes Victorian diatom slides and pickled echinoderm specimens. The history section begins with flint axes and Roman mosaics before moving onwards to an iron age wooden figure that rather resembles a Modigliani painting or an Easter Island Moai. A sunburst overmantel, fragments of stained glass, Saxon crosses, oak carvings of St Peter and Victorian ceramics such as terracotta Sphinxes also feature prominently. The world cultures section is perhaps the most fascinating part of the museum featuring Tahitian mourning dresses, Japanese masks, scar devils from the Nicabar Islands, Inuit clothing made from whale stomach, a Haka spear support, a multi-headed figure of Vishnu, an alabaster sculpture of Ganesh, Samurai armour, Zoroastrian wood carvings from Afghanistan, Japanese rice carvings, a Burmese sculpture of the Buddha and prayer scrolls, Yoruba masks and a modern totem pole. The classical section includes an Egyptian sarcophagus and a Hoplite helmet. Lastly, before leaving I have a look round Northernhay Gardens, with its war memorial. The daffodils are beginning to fade but red crocuses are still in flower throughout the gardens.

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