Sunday 4th November 2012
The Great Western Hotel can trace its origins to the arrival of the railway into Exeter in 1844. It is not known whether it was there from day one but it was advertising itself from 1848. See below for the wording of this advertisement. Business must have good as it was extended to its present size in 1860. The original building is the part on the corner and this is where the main entrance and bar are. It was known as the Railway Hotel twice in its long history.
Nowadays it has a certain faded charm and it reminds me of country hotels in the 1960s. I don't like it when people criticise a hotel because it doesn't compare with the modern chain hotels. The Great Western opened around 1848, forty years before the car was invented, and its facilities have to be regarded in that context. In fact it is perfectly adequate place to stay as I have found; all 35 rooms are en-suite. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is, an AA two-star rated hotel with extremely reasonable rates.
The main bar is extremely comfortable with mixture of stools, chairs and armchairs. There is another bar down a few steps that was once the public bar. It has its own entrance but I think this is no longer open.
In a pub that has a considerable amount of railway memorabilia the "pièce de resistance" is in the lower bar; a replica nameplate from a Great Western Railway "Castle" class locomotive and its associated cab-side number plate. Not just any of the many locomotives of this type, but nothing less than "Great Western" itself, number 7007. This was one of the series that was built under British Railways auspices and commemorates the Great Western Railway whose demise had just occurred.
In the same bar is a print of a painting by Terrance Cuneo depicting "Evening Star" the last steam locomotive built for British Railways. Linda and I had an amusing five minutes looking for the little mouse that appears somewhere in all of his works. I won't tell you where it is!
Now to the beer; as always there was a great selection from local brewers. We had a choice of Bay's (Paignton, Devon) Topsail (4.0%); O'Hanlon's (Whimple, Devon) Flagship IPA (4.2%); Bank Top (Bolton, Greater Manchester) Dark Mild (4.0%); RCH (West Hewish, Somerset) PG Steam (3.9%) and Pitchfork (4.3%); Dartmoor (Princeton, Devon) Jail Ale (4.8%); Branscombe Vale (Seaton, Devon) Branoc (3.8%) and Exeter (Exminster) Avocet Organic Ale (3.7%). Some of these are regulars, others are guests.
Meals are served in the bar or, more formally, one can dine in Brunel's Restaurant. The pub has been CAMRA Exeter & District's Pub of the Year twice in the 2000s. As mentioned earlier, this is good place to base oneself when travelling around this part of Devon or, should you be changing trains, make time for a quick pint. It's a great pub with a timeless feel not found very often these days.
The Great Western Hotel, St David's Station Approach, Exeter, Devon EX4 4NU
Open: Monday to Saturday 11.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
St David's station is just two minutes away.
Local buses stop outside to take you up the hill to the city centre.