For me, Exeter is a true garden city, with the reassuring calm of rolling green hills visible from even the most opulent and commercial city centre vantage points. The agrarian, the wild and the open are never far away, with the urban sprawl faithfully held back by the County Council, Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon Gardens Trust and various community groups who remain committed to keeping Exeter as green as it can be.
Exeter makes a great location for a UK city break, with not only a scenic rail journey or drive into the West Country, but also excellent (and cost-effective) sightseeing on foot. If you are visiting Exeter with a family for more than a few days, you will soon find that within a 15-minute walk you’ll shake off the well-worn tourist hotspots of the Guildhall Shopping Centre, Exeter Cathedral and its genteel green, the Old Exe Bridge, and the fabulous House that Moved! Why not decant younger charges for a beautiful riverwalk complete with some quayside refreshments?
Just beyond the historic Quay area is a real gem. If you are heading southwards beyond Quay Hill, The Port Royal pub, that redbrick paper mill building and the magnificent Trews Weir, you will find yourselves stumbling upon Belle Isle Park, which also can be accessed by the ever swaying River Exe Suspension Bridge.
Exeter’s newest park
Belle Isle Park was opened to the public in 1996 and has become one of Exeter’s principal parks. At just over 3 hectares in size, Belle Isle Park provides wonderful public access to the northern bankside of river Exe and the beautiful plants, trees and wildlife of this placid and secluded portion of the river. Beyond, you may hear the occasional mower and see the Trews Weir Allotments on the opposite side of the river. I love that the main path and benches running straight through the length of the park pass alongside the bank, allowing you to get a good sight of the river. There are also a couple of scattered picnic tables you can enjoy too.
5 things I love and recommend about Belle Isle Park, Exeter.
Number one: Mind your Ps and Qs – Peace and tranQuillity, that is!
The first thing you will notice, especially if you are coming off the Quay area in summer, is just how calm, peaceful, and quiet this park is. It’s almost as if people don’t know it’s there. Compared to other open spaces in Exeter, footfall is low so Belle Isle Park provides a relaxed environment with plenty of birdsong. Very, very easy to nod off.
Number two: Belle Isle Park has all seasons natural beauty.
This is a beautifully located and maintained park which shows off the changing seasons well. Autumn brings a riot of colour as the leaves turn synchronously. If you need to get out of the house, you can’t go wrong with this park, even on a rainy day (provided you have got wellies on hand).
Number three: Belle Isle park is 100% dog free!
If you are a parent that is worried about everything your little one is picking up on walks, you need to bring them here. Having a dog-free space is a relief not only for us but also for the wildlife like swans that nest along the river bank. You can confidently walk on the grass and explore with your littles freely here, with no discarded poo packages anywhere.
Number four: Belle Isle Park is also bike lite!
Exeter has a strong cycling community and I don’t want to tread on any toes, but I have to be honest in saying I find it a relief to enjoy an open area where there aren’t many bikes. You do not have to constantly get out of the way here which is great for a relaxed afternoon.
Number five: Here come the birds!
Belle Isle Park is an amazing habitat to be enjoyed by bird watchers; you have the seating and the view! Excitingly I have seen a rather deadpan Grey Heron down there more than once. You will see as well as hear all sorts of birds including swallows, bullfinches and cormorants.
If you are searching for the Belle Isle Park geocache, unfortunately, it’s gone.
Belle Isle Park is a great, safe location for such a hunt but for some reason its geocache has been retired. I may just replace it myself – watch this space.
Address: Belle Isle Drive, Exeter EX1 1RQ
Opening hours: 24/7/365