Istanding on “The Beacon”. Regent hotels sprang up behind me; In the foreground, 19th-century amusement gardens roll toward the golden sands. From the vantage point above the promenade, I could see nearly two miles of beach stretching from the Exe Estuary east toward the red sandstone cliffs that mark the beginning (or end) of the Jurassic Coast.
This is Exmouth, a seaside town whose glorious past has wowed Victorian pleasure-seekers with its supposedly “curative” waters and climate befitting southern France. First suggested by King George III’s personal physician as a vacation destination in the 18th century, this southern seaside town was Devon’s original seaside resort.
By the 20th century, Exmouth had been surpassed in popularity by its neighbors, including Devon destinations such as Sidmouth and Salcombe, and the coastline had faded as visitors went elsewhere. But this town’s fortunes are turning once again – and now, with new restaurants, beach bars, a watersports center and a new walking tour in the town’s name, Exmouth is on the way. again.
No matter how grandiose it was, I wasn’t captivated by the seaside scenery in front of me. Instead, I’m listening to Claire Martin, the founder Exmouth Tourismfascinated me with stories of curious historical figures who fell in love with Exmouth during the heyday of the first tourist boom.
This modest street perched on the cliffs above the seafront promenade was once the most prestigious address in Devon, and the blue seas bear the names of famous people who lived or visited in the 18th and 19th centuries. .
Lady Byron, a poet and wife of Lord Byron, lived on this street; as well as their daughter, Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who worked on the Analyzer, a machine considered the forerunner of the computer.
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Lady Nelson, Lord Nelson’s estranged wife during the famous Battle of Trafalgar, retired to Exmouth and was buried in a nearby church. Artist Francis Danby painted the landscape from the cliff top and Lord Moresby, whose capital Papua New Guinea is named after him, is also called home to The Beacon when he wasn’t fighting slave traders. in the Indian Ocean.
A man of the Georgian and later Victorian aristocracy visited Exmouth for an extended summer break at a time when Europe was frequently closed due to revolutions and frequent wars. The arrival of the railroad in 1861 then accelerated the overland journey to Exmouth, bringing mass tourism to the town’s beaches for the first time in history.
Claire, who kicked off a new hike to Exmouth this summer, continued to tell the stories as we walked down to Maer, a grassy nature reserve with views of the Red Shore’s red cliffs Jurassic sea.
“Initially, when I moved to Exmouth during the pandemic, I wasn’t sure if it had enough history to warrant a tour on its own,” she said. “But once I started digging into history, I found compelling characters and stories everywhere.”
According to Claire, Maer was once a prime smuggling territory for many of Exmouth’s illegal smugglers. In the 18th century, a smuggler climbed a cliff with a barrel of brandy strapped to his back, only to trip over a donkey and wake the coast guard. Before that, Exmouth had a strong relationship with the Elizabethan pirates – aka “private people”, as they wanted to be known. Sir Walter Raleigh was born in East Budleigh, just off the road, and it is thought that he made his first expeditions against Spanish galleons and French merchant ships from the harbor of Exmouth.
But Exmouth’s history goes much, much further than that. “It’s not just Devon’s oldest resort town,” says Claire. “It’s actually the oldest part of Britain’s only natural Unesco World Heritage Site – Dorset is famous for being on the Jurassic Coast, but our cliffs at Exmouth are about 100 million years older than that. !”
She’s not the only one who wants to scream about the town’s credentials. George Nightingale, who owns Exmouth, said: “Exmouth has had a bumpy ride over the last decade, never knowing if it was in recession or growth. speak, a Mediterranean style restaurant with one of the largest gin selections in the UK, for the past 12 years. “However, demand for coastal resorts has increased, leading to new expectations and demands from businesses. The increase in visitor numbers during the pandemic has opened the eyes of those living in the vicinity as well as visitors from further afield.”
George, who calls Exmouth’s beach an “underrated asset” believes Exmouth is growing into the town it has always deserved, but it has been touched and gone. In the 20th century, Exmouth’s fortunes waned as other Devonshire seaside resorts began to gain popularity and attract more visitors. In the 21st century, Exmouth is better known as a retirement town than a vacation destination, with local councilors even warning in June 2023 that a large number of pensioners brought the local economy to “saturation point“.
However, the glory days of Devon’s oldest beach resort are far behind, and despite the skewed demographic, Exmouth is reviving its image in an attempt to appeal to the world. young system.
“I’ve been visiting Exmouth all my life and the town I live in today is very different from the town I used to go to as a child,” says Claire. So does Exmouth. “New businesses have opened up in droves.” These include Hangtime Cafe, Edge Watersports and restaurants like vino 32, a bar serving Asian fusion dishes. With modern decor, contemporary features and varied menus, these restaurants “embody what people today are looking for on holiday,” says Claire.
The once-faded shoreline has received a major upgrade with the opening of the Sideshore Aquatic Center in 2021, located next to a brand new site. Beach pub owned by renowned local chef Michael Caines. In The Strand, Exmouth’s town square, restaurants and bars spill outside as people enjoy alfresco-style drinks and small plates that wouldn’t be out of place on the French Riviera (without the dark beer drinker from Exmouth’s microbrewery, Rumor, that is). A co-working space, propelleralso took over an empty building in town, a sign that Exmouth, with its kilometer-long beaches, hopes to boost its economy by attracting remote workers and digital nomads.
Claire ended her walk at the Clock Tower on the coast and left me with one last piece of information about Devon’s oldest beach town. Even Wetherspoons, here, she told me, have more history than most. In 2007, a Wall Street agent working remotely on holiday made £55 million in slash deals on a pub’s wifi network – a moment immortalized by Hollywood in the movie The Big Short. Around every corner in Exmouth, there’s always something unexpected to be found in Devon’s oldest beach resort.
Exmouth is connected to Exeter by direct train and bus. From Exeter, London is 2.5 hours away by train.
Located on Beacon, Manor Hotel is a family-run hotel dating back to 1790. Standard double rooms start from £83 per night, room only.
Read our review of best Devon hotel