Summer is here and so are the grockles (Devon for tourists). The Quay is teeming, and you have no desire to sit on the Cathedral green (which we all know was the site of a mass grave for plague victims). And so with a hot-blooded sense of adventure you make your way over the hill and, fighting through the eager crowds, catch a glimpse of the infamous Heavitree Arch.
Yet Heavitree is no stranger to fame. To mark her diamond jubilee, the Queen was offered a cutting from the oldest tree in Exeter (a 5oo year old yew tree still standing in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels Church, Heavitree). Whether she accepted it or not is another matter. And to top it all, the Heavitree Yew was then named as one of the 50 most important trees in the country.
So what about the Heavitree Arch?
Well, it was designed by Michael Fairfax, the man responsible for the mirrory construction in the town centre (as well as sixty bollards in Exmouth). Along with Ralph Hoyte, a self-declared live-art, spatial and GPS poet who is credited with idea-initiating and then co-creating the world’s first audio-play for located media in an intelligent environment. Love poets and their way with words.
The verse on the Arch is that of Richard Hooker (16th century Anglican priest) and speaks of humanity and nature living harmoniously together.
However, the Heavitree Arch was riddled with controversy from its inception. This 2008 installation, which was originally said to have cost £70,000, in fact cost £172,000. Although to be fair it does light up nice and shiny at night time.
Soon after the plan for the Arch was revealed, a mural of a white elephant (indicating something useless) along with the words ‘coming soon’ appeared on the shop wall designated to be the backdrop. This was shortly joined by the painting of a red-faced bureaucrat with his fingers in his ears (said to be mirrored on Exeter Council members).
A particularly grieved local resident took to Youtube and amateur elephant animation to voice his disapproval (flushing the Arch down the sound effect of a toilet). Nevertheless the Arch went up and the mural remained until eventually being painted over later the same year.
If you are feeling hard done by after hiking all the way out to Heavitree to see the Arch you have heard so much about, don’t worry for the party continues across the road. Here we pick up the tale on the pavement with words from locals about growing up in Heavitree:
‘Everything was what we had you see’, so it starts and then winds its way up a central oak tree before finishing with: ‘Goal! Cliff Bastin scores six for Ladysmith then up the Horse & Jockey for a glass from the Heavitree Brewery’.
If you are struggling to take this all in, why not pop into the adjacent public toilets to get some head space. Reminisce about the good old days when Cliff Bastin would bring home the trophies.
Who ever said Exeter isn’t packed full of fun things to see.