Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and the Underground Passages
As we approach the February half term it’s always a good idea to have some wet-weather options for keeping the children entertained just in case. We tried out the city’s fantastic RAMM museum and the Underground Passages.
RAMM is housed in a building that must be contemporary in age with the Natural History Museum in London. Inside it was much bigger than we were expecting – one of the first things you encounter is a huge floor-to-ceiling curiosity cabinet containing a mere fraction (0.01% to be precise) of the museum’s collection, which sparks your interest as to what to expect in the rest of the building.
The ground floor displays show how Devon’s geology and landscape formed, what prehistoric animals used to roam around, and plenty of evidence of early man including flint spear heads and the like. Felix’s favourite bit was the video projection of geological change over time showing hippos wallowing in rivers in Honiton. Huge fossilised hippo bones are displayed that were found during the building of the A30 bypass in 1965. (Now I know where the annual Honiton Hippo run in April gets it’s name – apparently you have to run through two rivers on the route!).
In the next room you carry on chronologically through history, learning about Roman Exeter (everyone enjoyed creating their own mosaic patterns), Georgian Exeter (Mia loved the dresses), industries in the city, right up to the era of the World Wars (where the children were amazed by a gas mask made for a baby). These rooms contained so much to look at and were so fascinating to adults and children alike that we didn’t even make it upstairs. We will have to visit again to see the galleries containing world culture and natural history. There is also an art exhibition of Dartmoor landscapes on until 31st March which looks worth seeing.
There are plenty of places to eat near RAMM but we plumped for Gourmet Burger Kitchen and weren’t disappointed – they have a type of burger to meet every taste. Mia had a scrumptious bean burger, Felix went traditional cheese burger and I had a delicious Italian-style chicken, bacon and pesto concoction. Particularly lovely for those fancying refreshing soft drinks – they have re-fillable “fresh and fizzy” drinks. I had the rhubarb and vanilla which was lovely (if a little sweet for me). Other flavours include ginger & lemongrass and strawberry & elderflower. Mia and Felix enjoyed milkshakes.
On our way to RAMM we had booked spaces on a tour of Exeter’s Underground Passages (it is worth stopping in to book as they run limited tours each day and they were already quite booked up – the visitor centre is between Next and Top Shop on Paris Street). Downstairs there is an interpretation centre where you can gather before your tour. At your allotted time you are shown into a room where a short video plays giving a bit of history to the medieval tunnels that stretch beneath the high street towards the Cathedral and the other way towards John Lewis. The narrow, vaulted stone-walled passageways were built to house water pipes (originally lead and later iron) to carry water from springs outside the city walls to the Cathedral Close and to a large public water fountain called The Great Conduit, that was demolished in the 18th Century. The water pipes though were used right up until the 1850s.
Hard hats are provided and are essential for the guided exploration of the narrow passages. The ceiling height varies a lot and you may need to crouch or crawl through the lowest bits if you choose to go back that way. The guide tells you various stories of Exeter residents sheltering from wartime bombing in the tunnels, hostelries storing their beer in the tunnels and so on. Also how filthy the streets of Medieval Exeter would have been with open sewers and pigs running wild, necessitating the passage of clean water in serviceable tunnels beneath. Some of the city’s wealthiest inhabitants had water piped straight into their houses. The interpretation centre has a couple of hands-on models showing how the water would have been pumped to the Great Conduit.
A hidden gem:
Almost opposite the entrance to the Underground Passages is a gorgeous little shop called Hutch selling terrariums and quirky plants such as cacti and airplants. They also have a sofa and serve coffee if you need a little pick me up in a restful and unusual place.
What it cost:
RAMM is free to visit.
Exeter’s Underground Passages cost £18 for two adults and two children.
For more information visit: