Europe Narratives Study Abroad

Discovering Southwest England

Story and Photo by Liam Monahan, Study Abroad

While it is a well-known vacation destination for Brits, southwest England is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom that few Americans visit but really should. In 2018, I attended a Fulbright Summer Institute at the University of Exeter in the heart of the southwest. I returned to Exeter for a semester abroad in 2020. The region is primarily rural, and the landscape is gorgeous. Because the jet stream brings warm air to the area, the climate is moderate compared to the rest of the UK. Surprisingly, there are even palm trees thriving there, along with many pristine sandy or pebble beaches. Beach towns like Dawlish offer amusements and shops to enjoy, even in bad weather. The south coast is a World Heritage Site called the Jurassic Coast because the geology of the cliffside coastline reveals millions of years of history. The landscape changes with the seasons, and there are numerous outdoor activities you can enjoy, such as kayaking, hiking, and surfing. There are also many national parks, including Dartmoor National Park. The 236-acre moorland has varying landscapes, including peatlands and narrow winding roads that connect villages which frequently have crafts shops. 

If you are more interested in city life, not to worry. Exeter is the “capital of the southwest,” with a population of 117,000. Home to the University of Exeter, it is abuzz with students and geared for student life. You can easily spend a day browsing the shops in the city center and eating at restaurants serving various cuisines, including Italian, Jamaican and Moroccan. Choices abound for pubs and clubs, where you can spend a night out with friends. For a more laid-back evening, visit the restaurant Board and play one of the restaurant’s 350 board games with friends as you enjoy pub fare. History buffs like myself will enjoy exploring the city’s historic buildings. Exeter Cathedral is an iconic fifteenth-century Gothic cathedral at the heart of the city and is a backdrop for community events, like the Christmas Market. The ancient city has remains from the Roman Empire; you can tour the Underground Passages, which were medieval tunnels that supplied fresh water to the city. There are plenty of hearty food options throughout the southwest. For example, Cornish pasties are tasty, warm pocket pastries filled with meat and potatoes. Additionally, Devon ice cream is incredible because the cream is sourced from local cows. The cider, produced from local apples and brewed in Devon, is a great drink, especially if you are not keen on beer or other alcohol—Devon Mist is my top pick. Lastly, you must try cream tea, which to my initial surprise, is not a drink. Cream tea is a scone topped with clotted cream (a thick, sweet cream) and jam usually served with hot tea. It is rich and heavy but definitely worth the calories. 

Photo by Liam Monahan

Southwest England is only a two-hour train ride away from London, but it feels like an escape, especially since the people are very friendly. People walking by exchange pleasantries. I remember one particular pub manager who was especially kind to my friends and I; she even advised us to skip the pub and go to the local market for some good Indian food. Whether you study here or visit for a weekend, I guarantee that you will find something you like, or at the very least get some excellent photos of the British countryside.

Photo by Liam Monahan
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