With so much current focus on the WW1 anniversary commemorations, it is perhaps worth recalling that Exeter was the first English provincial city to welcome Belgian refugees.
Exeter is the capital of Devon and, throughout the war, the county housed some 8,000 Belgians escaping the conflict. A group housed in Tor, Torquay inspired author Agatha Christie to create the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
The legacy of the Belgians in Devon lives on today in the character Hercule Poirot with highly popular Agatha Christie themed tours to “Greenway”, the author’s holiday home near Dartmouth.
The Belgian link continues with the medals given to Clara Andrew (in Topsham Museum) and the grave of Marie van der Hayden in Chudleigh.
With lots of cheap, direct flights from Zaventem to Exeter, getting to this delightful part of the UK is no problem. In fact, Exeter, with its wonderful cathedral and historic centre, is a good starting point to explore the whole South West.
Just further inland and a terrific base for any visit is the 44-room Moorland Garden Hotel on the edges of Dartmoor which, in the past, has accommodated the likes of acting luminaries David Niven and Rex Harrison.
Nearby is the world-famous Dartmoor Prison, notorious for once housing Britain’s most dangerous prisoners, and its excellent visitor museum. Here you can learn about Dartmoor’s torture devices such as the ‘Flogging Machine’.
While in the area, a trip to nearby Plymouth is recommended to see the historic areas such as Plymouth Hoe, the Barbican and Royal William Yard. Plymouth, scene of Sir Francis Drake’s legendary game of bowls, is also home to the National Marine Aqaurium, the UK’s biggest aquarium which is also well worth a visit.
For all the delights of Exeter, Dartmoor and Plymouth, the majority of visitors to Devon still head for its lovely seaside towns, such as Torquay, self-styled gateway to the ‘English Riviera’. The area is packed with water sports and gentle walks, and Torquay is steeped in maritime history.
The motorway network to the South West is generally excellent and for those driving to Devon from Belgium, P&O Ferries offers a short Calais-Dover sea service with the most number of crossings per day (23 crossings each way, each lasting 90 minutes).For the uninitiated, you’ll find that there is more to this spectacular and diverse county than you might have thought. In fact, the most difficult decision you’ll have to make it where you want to visit first.