Tales of two cities
If you've escaped to the coast then perhaps the last thing you want to do is head into a city, but you'd be missing something as our big cousins have something to offer the curious. Being equidistant from both means you'll find yourself in either in around a 40 minute drive so they're easily accessible.
2020 was meant to be the big celebration marking the first settlement on the US mainland by the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail from Plymouth in 1620 on the Mayflower. Due to the pandemic many of the planned celebrations have now been rather cleverly rescheduled to take place in 2021 in the hope that life will have resumed a greater sense of normality. Time will tell but here's hoping.
Exeter first made a major impression in Roman times, remains of which can be seen in the city walls, but it really made its mark in the 11th century when the construction of its cathedral started. Probably its best known landmark today it is well worth a visit. Following close behind in the city's history timeline is the construction of Rougemont or Exeter Castle as it is more commonly known. Mentioned by Shakespeare in Richard III, its main claim to fame was that the county court, located within the castle, was the setting for the trial of the last three witches to be executed for witchcraft in England. Other places of note are Parliament Street in the city centre which is claimed to be one of the narrowest streets in the world. While Northernhay Gardens is the oldest public open space in England, being originally laid out in 1612 as a pleasure walk for Exeter residents. The other major feature is Exeter's Historic Quayside area, which like so many other cities, has seen a considerable amount of refurbishment in recent years and now is home to several bars, restaurants and shops, talking of which those looking for retail therapy will find plenty of opportunity in the extensive array of shops in the centre. Throughout the year the city is home to a variety of festivals and events as well as a Christmas market which is located in front of the cathedral which makes for an atmospheric setting. The arts are well represented with three theatres including the Cygnet, the Exeter Corn Exchange and Northcott Theatre. It also has a variety of museums and galleries. As you'd expect of a city, Exeter boasts a university which ranks in the top 10 in the UK. On the sporting front Exeter has its own racecourse and also a well ranked rugby union team the Exeter Chiefs, as well as the Exeter City football team.
In 2020 Plymouth, now known as Britain's ocean city, has very much come of age as the centre of celebrations for the four hundredth anniversary of the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers on their ship Mayflower and their founding of the second settlement in the then yet to be named USA. Many of the events have been delayed due to the pandemic so it's always best to seek out the latest information. Another significant event for the city this year is the opening of The Box, billed as the largest cultural attraction to open in the UK in 2020. The Box houses an eclectic collection of artefacts including everything from a full size mammoth replica to 14 monumental ships’ figureheads to thousands of natural history specimens, paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and ceramics. In essence it's a museum, gallery and arts centre rolled into one. Of course Plymouth's association with the sea is a long held one. The city's adopted hero is Sir Francis Drake who was, so history tells us, playing with his bowls on Plymouth Hoe when the Spanish Armada hoved into view. The naval connection also continues to this very day with the city being home to the largest naval base of Devonport. Other claims to fame include Plymouth Gin who boasts the oldest operating gin distillery in England (around which you can book a guided tour) and The Drake Centre, the city's major shopping centre with a host of independent boutiques, craft shops to be found in the streets of the Barbican and Sutton Harbour. Apart from the regular coming and goings of ships of the Royal Navy, the port is also the departure point for ferry services to Roscoff in France and Santander in Northern Spain. And for those who have won the lottery the fact that it is home to the luxury yacht builders Princess will possibly be of interest.