114: Exeter

OS Explorer map 114, Exeter & the Exe Valley: Crediton, Tiverton & Dulverton – I do not own this map, and had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 25th February 2020. This is the first of three posts about my trip to Devon and Cornwall for my then-employer techspert.io‘s team retreat.

Google Maps location link: Exeter Tesco Extra.


In late 2018, soon after I started my first job out of university, working as an office administrator at techspert.io, one of the first projects I worked on was to organise the company’s first team retreat. Techspert was a (then) small start-up tech company which had just managed to receive a big lump of investment funding, and I’d been part of a resultant wave of new starters that took the team size up from around six to twelve. Management came up with the idea of the team retreat as a result of this: hopefully it would help integrate the newly bigger team, and let us work out together how best to use all that new funding!

techspert’s late 2018 retreat in the Pyrenees!

In the end, I took us to to a big old farmhouse in the Val d’Aran, in the Catalonian Pyrenees. We had a great couple of days there, managing to fit in some walks in the sunny mountains in between our various work sessions. I love running big group trips: I always like arranging transport and food logistics – and there was plenty of that, what with flights, car hire, collecting supermarket orders and so on – plus the whole while I’m helping people around me have a good time, which is nice!

In February 2021, a year and a bit later, it was time for another retreat. The company was a whole lot bigger by then at around 25 people, and I’d been working on the retreat for a few months: we’d be going to a lovely villa in Tuscany. I was to fly out one night before everyone else, stay in a hotel, then pick up a hire car in the morning in order to collect a giant groceries order, check in to the villa, and have a few hours to set things up before everyone else arrived. However, in the last few days before we were due to leave, calamity struck: several towns in northern Italy had an outbreak of this new coronavirus disease that everyone was starting to hear about.

We kept an eye on this new situation, initially thinking it would probably be fine: after all, the outbreak was much further north than the area we’d be going to. However, on the morning of the 24th, the day before I was planning to leave, we made the decision to cancel our Italian plans: Italy had announced quarantines and travel restrictions on some areas, making it seem like we might end up finding it hard to get back; and a couple of members of the team with vulnerable relatives said that they wouldn’t want to come if the retreat went ahead.

A couple of months previously, we’d hired PC, a second person for my team, and I’m very glad of it: immediately following this decision, he launched into Operation Last-Minute Retreat, and through a heroic effort managed to find us a new retreat venue in Devon on just two days notice! And that’s how I ended up in Exeter: like I’d planned to do in Italy, I travelled down to the South West the night before everyone else, to stay the night, then spend the morning getting groceries.

Arriving at Exeter’s branch of Tesco Extra, with which I’d become deeply familiar over the rest of the morning…

I left our Cambridge office in the late morning for the 4-ish hour drive to Exeter, and arrived in the late afternoon, having taken an hour-and-a-half long stop in a Starbucks near Basingstoke for lunch and to do some work. I was staying in an Airbnb room of the room-in-someone’s-house variety, where I was delighted to meet a couple of friendly little dogs! I sourced myself some dinner, and in anticipation of the very busy few days I had coming up, had a quite evening in.

One of my four trolleyfuls of shopping!

The next morning, I departed promptly for Exeter’s branch of Tesco Extra, with which I became deeply familiar over the course of that morning. You see, if I’d been in Tuscany that morning, I would have simply been picking up a “click-and-collect” grocery order. However, due to the short notice, this wasn’t possible with our last-minute switch to Devon: instead, I came prepared with a very long list that I’d be buying the old-fashioned way, pushing my trolley around the shop. It turns out it takes quiet a long time to buy four days of food for 25 people: I had to do four heaving trolley-loads, and was in Tesco for a solid four hours! Fortunately, I was able to use one of the scan-as-you-shop devices, which I think saved a fair bit of time. I ended up building quite a rapport with the assistant manning the checkouts during my latter three rounds; she was quite interested in what I was doing. One upside of this shopping trip was that I got a huge amount of Clubcard points!

The car after the first trolleyload. Hilda is a very spacious car: more of a van in some ways, but even with the back seats folded away, she was full to the brim when all the shopping was in. Indeed, a lot of it fell out when I opened the boot at the other end!

While I was on my shopping mission, most of the other retreat attendees started driving over from Cambridge in a few cars, playing some fun car challenges that you can read about on the retreat writeup on the company blog; and I believe in one case managing to confuse Stonehenge with Stevenage. One person, though, was coming on the train from London, so my next stop was Exeter St Davids station to collect him. We then made the one-hour drive over to the retreat venue, which I’ll describe in my next post!

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