We started our second morning in Exeter making plans for our next stop -- Gloucester. We were planning to meet friends who were coming from Wales, and so we wanted to make sure we had a firm plan for meeting them. A couple of visits to the Exter Tourist Office confirmed our reservation in Gloucester, and a call from a nearby payphone found Marjorie at home, ready to consult on times and places. Bridge to Barnstaple
With the rest of the day free, we decided to take a train trip. Barnstaple, about a half-hour away, seemed like a good idea. It's located at the edge of Exmoor; so we wondered whether we could see some moor scenery.
The train is a very local train, with at least half the stops On Request Only (you tell the conductor where you want to be let off). Some stops were Yeoford, Crediton, Eggesford, and Morchase Road. We rode through more picture-book scenery with lots of farms and animals, gradually climbing uphill.
In Barnstaple we crossed a lovely low stone bridge to enter the center of town. Almost at once, it seemed, we found a place for lunch -- 62 The Bank. It was originally a bank building. We were seated in a back room where we could imagine tellers counting banknotes all day. The ceiling was an original Tudor ceiling dating from 1630, with lots of plaster curlicues.
Our lunch was delicious: mussels in a creamy garlic sauce for E, a seafood platter with prawns, salmon, trout for B. We enjoyed every mouthful. Barnstaple skyline When it was time to take our dessert order, we became aware that our waiter was not visible. It was a small back room with only three tables. We caught the attention of another waiter, who began to confer with his colleagues and we realized that something unusual had occurred. Finally, one of the waiters explained rather sheepishly that our waiter had enjoyed the previous evening much too well and had to make a sudden unplanned trip home to recover. We skipped dessert.
Barnstaple has an endearing local museum, featuring work of school children, local pottery and glass, and natural history exhibits. In celebration of England Heritage Open Days, an antiques expert was stationed in the museum lobby, where he examined mystery objects brought in by townspeople.
We caught the 3 p.m. train back to Exeter. On the trip up we had steadily climbed a hill, but on the way home we just let loose, lurching along the track till we reached a station or a road crossing, when we'd stop quite suddenly. At one little stop the engineer got out and lowered the traffic St. Michael and All Angels barriers, waited for the signal light (or perhaps set it) before starting up. We read the instructions "lower barriers/wait for white light" on the signpost next to the track.
The man in the seat in front of us was apparently returning from a visit to his 90-year-old Mum. He told us about her and also his brother and his mother's Very Large Cat, but it didn't make a lot of sense. Bob thinks he was drunk. At any rate he enjoyed talking to a couple of Americans.
On our last morning in Exeter, we walked across the New Bridge to the church of St. Michael and All Angels, whose spire is taller than the Exeter Cathedral. It was open to visitors for this last of the Heritage Days, so we had a chance to admire the stained class windows and the exhibits, which candidly told about the architectural errors, including terrible acoustics, which were only made worse by the efforts of a "rogue" architect around 1840.
Then off to the railway station. A young train spotter was upset because his camera malfunctioned just as he was trying to take a photo of a steam St. Michael window train as it passed (we didn't see it at all because it went through while our view was blocked by another train). He walked off and only then we saw he had left his camera behind. Bob hurried off after a railroad employee. While he was gone another employee sweetly and patiently delivered a couple, both blind, and their guide dog. they had missed their schedule train because "of the sardine problem" -- we think the train was overcrowded. They asked the railroad man to call ahead and give their new time of arrival.
Shortly before the train was due, another employee arrived and introduced himself to the blind couple. He was to escort them onto their train. Suddenly he got a message on his pager and hurried off, sayind he would be right back. Then the man to whom Bob gave the camera spotted him and reported that the camera had been returned to its owner.
Then there was an announcement of a last minute gate change. This required all of us to go up to the footbridge, across to the middle, and down a set of stais to the middle platform (from #5 to #4). We piled into an ascending lift with other passengers, all in various degrees of anxiety, and then found the middle lift for our descent. We never did see whether the blind couple made it onto the train.