Locations and Events Local to Exeter to Experience the County like a True Devonian

It is a widely acknowledged fact that university life is the funnest, most alcohol-infused three years of all of our lives, but have you ever been sat in bed on a VK-comedown-from-hell, evaluating your whole life after yet another Wednesday Timepiece, and considered expanding your West Country horizons beyond Exeter? Here are some unique Devon locations and quirky traditions to experience to prove to your family that you are oh so cultured and like, SO much more than Exetah. 



Not many university cities are situated right next to a National Park, so climbing the granite tors and experiencing the vast vistas of Dartmoor’s moorland is an experience completely unique to the nomadic Exeter student. As well as small villages that are scattered across the landscape, you will find trails that snake through valleys with Neolithic tombs, abandoned medieval farmhouses, and Bronze Age stone circles. While rich in its heritage, Dartmoor’s ponies can also be found roaming across the moorland, as well as groups of fellow hikers sipping on drinks in cosy coffee shops.  


Sidmouth is a beautiful coastal town just 20 miles outside of Exeter. Not only does it have its peaceful, stony beach with red sandstone cliffs, but many eateries and the quaint clifftop Connaught gardens to take a stroll through. Just down the road in Newton Poppleford, you can find Southern Cross, an authentic tea room where you can have a cream tea in true Devon fashion (clotted cream, then jam, is the correct order!). For something different, why not take a trip to Sidmouth’s Donkey Sanctuary, with over 500 rescue donkeys to pet and feed. Additionally, every year this small town hosts its own Folk Festival in early August, involving a week of music, singing, and drinking around the town’s pubs. 

Ottery St. Mary- 

Perhaps best known for its annual November 5th Flaming Tar Barrels tradition, every year tens of thousands of visitors cram into this town to celebrate the unique custom originating in the 17th century of flaming tar barrels being carried through the streets. An unforgettable event, you will feel exhilarated and humbled by the atmosphere and sense of camaraderie amongst the ‘barrel rollers’. Generations of the same family proudly carry the barrels through the town from childhood, the event involving children’s barrels in the early evening, continuing to women’s and men’s barrels that weigh up to 120kg. Although its origins are disputed, one theory is that the tradition began to fumigate the houses during the plague to kill off disease. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, with an unequalled sense of history and togetherness.

The name ‘Ottery St. Mary’ may also sound familiar to Harry Potter fans out there, due to it being the inspiration for JK Rowling’s 'Ottery St. Catchpole'. Ottery’s most prominent building is the parish church, a smaller version of Exeter Cathedral, so there are two bits of trivia you can nonchalantly utter to whoever you go with to seem like you really know your stuff, actually. Not to be missed beyond November 5th is a gentle stroll beside the river Otter to reach the Tumbling Weir. Of Ottery’s other unique traditions is Pixie Day, which takes place annually in June. The day remembers the legend of Ottery’s Pixies being banished from the town, where they were causing trouble preventing the church bells ringing. Now, each year children dress up as pixies and gather in the town having captured the St. Mary’s church bell ringers, dragging them from the church to the square, where there is a performance of the pixies’ banishment.    

Greenway – 

For literature lovers out there, this National Trust property is the holiday home of the one and only Agatha Christie. With both the house and garden open to the public, the property is breathtaking, with blooming gardens overlooking the River Dart. Inside the house can be found 1st editions of Christie’s work, and various scrapbooks that you are welcome to look through. Additionally, there is a charming gift shop full of trinkets and Christie books to purchase (new book smell alert), and if you’re musical, you can even play Agatha’s Steinway grand piano! 

South West Coast Path – 

The South West Coast Path itself is 630 miles long, and is the longest National Trail in the country, so maybe slightly optimistic to complete alongside your degree. Still, stretching beyond Devon into Somerset, Cornwall and also Dorset, weekend strolls outside of the city as well as more ambitious hikes are in abundance, and this trail is full of adventure. From seal spotting to cream tea, it is described as ‘630 miles of memory making’. More accessible to the Exeter student, here are some routes more locally which can be found on the South West Coast Path website https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk that you can walk starting from Exmouth Station: Orcombe Point (3.75 miles), Exmouth Seafront (5.25 miles), Lympstone (2.5 miles). 

Marldon Apple Pie Fair –

I had to include this event as an ode to pastries and indeed any baked goods made anywhere, because lord knows the type of demonic individuals we would be without them. This tradition has taken place since 1888 in memory of a local farmer who would use his windfall apples to bake an enormous apple pie for the village. A fun event steeped in local history, this day takes place in late July, and includes includes local art, craft and food stands, falconry displays, a novelty dog show, and of course pie!