A small town, but fascinating none the less, Ottery St Mary is a delightful place to visit for an array of different reasons. Aside from the generally nice aesthetic of this ancient town, with narrow streets and elegant Georgian buildings, there is the magnificent 14th Century church, the unique Tar Barrels in November, and the nearby Cadhay Manor, one of the finest manor houses in the country.
When Bishop Grandisson commissioned The Church of St Mary in 1337, he specified that it should be modelled on his own cathedral in Exeter, hence this beautiful church, set on a hill above the town, is sometimes referred to as a ‘miniature Exeter Cathedral’. Well worth visiting, there is plenty of information inside the church to help tell its story. Just outside the church walls is a blue plaque to the celebrated poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose father was vicar here during the mid-18th century.
As one wanders around the town, the likes of Gold Street and Silver Street hint at the previous wealth here, but on no other night do these streets and others become more lively than in November when the town’s Guy Fawkes celebrations include the alarming tradition of the tar barrels. Townsfolk, including children, hurtle through the tightly packed crowds carrying the burning barrels on their shoulders, and it really is exhilarating, despite the apparent danger. For a calmer experience, Cadhay Manor, a Tudor mansion, is open to the public on certain days during the year.