Today on my daily walk, I took a left turn instead of my usual right turn towards the local park. Now that we are all staying at home again, these daily escapades outside the sanctuary of my home have become a welcome break from the mind boggle of homeschooling, homeworking and housework.
My feet took me on a local journey across the tranquil river, up hill over cobblestones, towards Exeter city centre. With every step I felt the heaviness of the day drip away and my mind becoming clearer. It wasn’t just the fresh air and exercise that soothed me, but the place I found myself in.
I first visited Exeter more than 20 years ago and fell in love with this place almost before I stepped off the crowded train at Exeter Saint David’s station. The Brunel arches and Victorian architecture of the busy station were so unlike the functional 90s designed stations found in towns across the South East. Queens Street was buzzy with student cool and old Princesshay was still standing, a testament to post-war optimism and regeneration. Most importantly of all, I found Exeter to be warm and friendly – a place of connection, a place for people.
Today, as expected, Exeter was empty. Lockdown has cast its quiet shadow over the city. The few people about were, like me, getting their essentials and not stopping. There were no office workers chatting over a sandwich or nipping out to get a special gift for a friend’s birthday. The fantastic vibrancy of the city has been dimmed, but still… what remains really is something to be appreciated.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Exeter is the sight of the endless rolling Devon hills on the outskirts of the city and the green space. It’s like a soft blanket embracing the city, keeping things in perspective. Just being able to look out into nature, feels nourishing.
Juxtaposed next to mid-twentieth century buildings, street art and roads, the city is full of historical construction, from the Roman wall to regency buildings. All are part of the city’s heritage and culture, catalogue of the ebb and flow of change and transformation, they remind us of the impermanence of things. Which in the current situation is reassurance indeed.
In Cathedral Green a serene Richard Hooker sat atop his plinth in quiet contemplation, accompanied only by soft birdsong. Doubtless a jewel in Exeter’s crown, the green’s timeless beauty makes it a magnetic place so it was rare indeed to stop a while and enjoy it in solitude.
I count myself lucky to live in a place that has so many opportunities for wellbeing, even on a grey and cold winter's day, when the world feels strange and optimism is fragile. The city’s enduring beauty, the privilege of green space and the people who make this city what it is, give us all reason to hope that life on the otherside of this pandemic will be good again.
Turning left isn’t something I’ve done since the first lockdown began in March 2020 and I stopped walking into the office. Today, I’m glad I ventured on a different path, it’s a whole other world on my doorstep. I’ve missed the heart of the city and when all of this is done, to its heart I will return.
What have you missed most about Exeter during lockdown? What are you looking forward to getting back to?