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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Enjoy Exeter even in the rain

On a walk near Drogo Castle, Devon look out for
dippers - or brown trout.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post shows how Devon is much more than cream teas and summer seaside pleasures, plus ideas on what you can do on a rainy March weekend visitWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

We played pooh sticks with twigs, to improve
the game Sally says use logs (maybe not here)
Venetian chandliers, Norman-themed libary, Lilliput doll's house in the garden  - all ought to be on the must see list when visiting Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England. But on a short weekend visiting friends in Exeter I managed to forget my National Trust card and so was kept outside this promising family home. And what an outside offered in the grounds of Castle Drogo - wild views of Dartmoor, steep sides of the Teign valley, bridges you just have to cross (even though you don't want to be on the other side of the river bank) and wonderful wildlife including a really good sighting of a Dipper. I'm ashamed to tell you I only know this bird thanks to a Country File special. But with its distinctive white breast, plus the ability to fly, dive and swim underwater it's definitely a must-look-out-for-bird. The few other people we saw walking along the river bank were invariably peering through binoculars too.

While Sally and her son Kier zoomed nimbly along the riverside-path Lola and I were distracted discussing an Arthurian style battle clash on the steeply wooded river valley sides.  Later we all enjoyed a virtual battle victory veggie lasagne in a family-friendly pub about 20 minutes walk from Exeter quay, the Double Locks. It's the first pub I've been to that has a volleyball court, real beer and wood-pannelled bars.

Sally with Lola outside Exeter Cathedral. Pay
to enter or visit for free by joining a service.
Exeter has four twin cities: Rennes in France, Bad Homburg in Germany, Terracina in Italy and Yaroslavl in Russia. Clues to these places may be hard to find, besides it's hard not to think of this city without seeing classic English-Shire ladies or adding the word "cathedral" or "university" town...And when you get there, even in the rain, Exeter is lovely. There are plenty of craft and antique stalls down by the historic Quay, even the opportunity to rent canoes or a bike for off-road adventuring (the Exe trail bike path starts right here if you fancy a ride to Exmouth).

Midway between the cathedral and the newest branch of John Lewis, which opened in October 2012, Lola and I stumbled across the ruins of almshouses where all events seem to have happened on Saturdays. How do I know? Because each room space is marked with a paving stone into which info has been carved, eg, "new well bucket ordered". Clearly Exeter is ahead of the trend when it comes to making the past seem more accessible by focusing on very small daily details. Although no doubt "new well bucket" would be a red letter day for some poor old soul.

Bright pink lures in
visitors to Exeter's Museum.

Exeter has also got the country's best museum of 2013, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum - a space in town where everyone meets or wanders around after shopping. I loved the Devon paintings and the way the stuffed animals had been dusted down and given a dawn chorus soundtrack. The starfish collection is amazing, just for its size and in other rooms you can see displays on how people used to insure their buildings from fire; or ways fashion changed. There's a video re-enactment of how Devon's landscape was formed - a chance to enjoy lots of volcanoes exploding (we are talking deep time here) and dinosaurs walking around. Plus national exhibitions on tour - until mid May 2013 have a peek at the BP portrait prize and also the Veoila Environnement competition for wildlife photographer of the year.

Wheelie bees help make  Exeter  museum's
collection more fun for  kids.
Tots can drag along a busy bee suitcase to better explore the museum. There's a dressing up outfit, explorer trail and magnifying glass: very sweet.  Plus a lovely cafe run by Otterton Mill for the classic Devon cream tea, or just a decent non-chain cappucino. Cities - and towns - like Exeter that have created a must-go-to-often free attraction deserve a real thumbs up.

Nell insists we buy liquorice sticks
and apricots  in  St Austell.
What a contrast to St Austell - just two hours down the train line - which has no obvious central meet-and-play point. See the pic left of surely that town's most interesting attraction, a spice shop with a sign that claims hippies aren't welcome...

Useful
Over to you
Where do you recommend visiting in Devon - and what do you like doing?

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