Tell me why I should be excited to move to Plymouth, England
March 4, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Talk me in to being excited about moving to Plymouth (UK, not US)

Later this year I'll be moving from Boston, MA to join my fiance in the UK. We are both in our late 20s. He is currently in Plymouth but we had planned to move to Bath when I got over there. However, today we found out that his work requires him to stay in Plymouth for the next two years. Since he travels extensively for work, I will be spending a fair amount of time on my own as a newly minted ex-pat.

I've lived in Boston for the last six years, with four years of college just outside the city before that. I love Boston. I work in the tech industry and I love the culture of nerdy overeducated workaholic professionals that seems to permeate the whole city, and especially in Cambridge, where I most frequently socialize. I'm a proud yuppie and a foodie (both of which may make me intolerable, I know). I'm a history nerd. I like the old neighborhoods and brick sidewalks and cute little boutiques and cafes in Boston. I like laying on the Common with a book in the summer. I live in Beacon Hill and love it. I grew up in the Midwest but I easily and happily became an east-coast liberal elite who walks too fast and drives like a Masshole.

The Bath prospect was easy for me to get excited about because it's a really neat city with beautiful architecture and really interesting history that's still accessible. It has neat cafes and tea houses and neighborhoods, and the touristy center of town felt a lot like the touristy centers of Boston. Even though it's a much smaller city, it's dense, and while we were visiting there were tons of people out and about; it feels like a good pedestrian city. I managed to stumble onto a fair amount of greenspace even when I wasn't looking for it. Even though both Plymouth and Bath have major universities, Bath had more of a "college town" feel, which I liked. The surrounding countryside is beautiful. Nearby Bristol seems to have a great tech industry. I also like the relative proximity to London, since both my fiance and I have family and friends there.

I've visited him a couple of times where he is now in Plymouth, and while it's been nice to visit and enjoy a pint at one of the pubs in the Barbican, I'm having trouble feeling as excited as I was about the Bath option. Plymouth isn't nearly as dense (or at least, it doesn't feel that way) and while it doesn't seem to require a car to get everywhere, it doesn't feel as walkable. On average the population seems a bit older than Bath or Boston so I worry about the sorts of social stuff and young professionals networking that I'd hoped I could keep up. Though there are a few neat areas, the near-total rebuild of the city after the WWII destruction to me has left a lot of areas feeling a bit bleak and industrial. I seldom see people out walking around outside of the Drake Circus area. There are lots of newish restaurants around the Barbican where my fiance lives, but the majority of the time I walk past them, they're totally empty.

I guess what it comes down to is that given my limited experience with each, I felt like I could see myself fitting in in Bath whereas I can't as much in Plymouth. But since I'll be working from home and my fiance will be gone a lot, it's rather imperative that I have a lot of motivation to get out of the house and meet people and do things and generally avoid becoming a homesick hermit.

So I need help. What don't I know about Plymouth? What are the groups of MeFi-type people and where in the city can I find them? What things to do and people to meet are near Plymouth but maybe just outside the city in other towns? What should a US east coast city slicker do to be happy there for a couple of years?
posted by olinerd to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You'll be close to cornwall- that's a good thing.
posted by misspony at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I lived in Plymouth for several years as a student.

The Barbican in spring/summer is very nice. But I agree the centre of town is fairly soulless.

On the plus side:
Every August the UK fireworks championships is on, which includes two nights of amaxing fireworks on a warm summers night.
Barbecues on the seafront or on the beaches near Jennycliffe are very nice in the summer and there is a large country house/park thing over the Tamar just in Cornwall.
Summer on the seafront is going to be your main source for niceness, I expect.

The entire town is surrounded by moors, which are amazing to walk around in.

The new Medical School and Art School means that Plymouth is one of the biggest Universities in Britain and as such there are a lot of Art and Engineering type talks and shows on at the university. I often didn't attend them, because I was a student and too busy drinking.

Day Trips around Cornwall are probably your best bet for interest. The Eden Project is about an hour and a bit away by car, and is particularly stunning.
Ohh, ferries. There are cheap ferry trips to both France and Spain. I once spent 24 hours in France on a weird £15 return ticket, coffee, croissants and a wander round the nearby town of Morlaix. Easy to make a weekend of it.
So I admit a lot of my advice here is go away from Plymouth.... I'll try and think of more attractions that aren't rock based night clubs or cheap drinking.
I'm sure there must be some.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:57 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess one way to look at it is, given that the UK is so small compared to the US, a lot of great towns and cities are infinitely closer to your new home than they would be to your old one.
posted by Kirn at 2:20 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. It's all about your perspective. If you want a crazy urban life, top theatres, clubs and culture, and awesome coffee on every corner, well, Plymouth isn't the place for it. So if you go there hoping for that you're setting yourself up for disappointment. My advice is look for the good and take periodic trips to bigger cities if you're craving culture. Bristol isn't far and London is within easy reach for weekends.

You say you're city slicker and you've also never experienced anything else, so maybe it's time to expand your horizons and interests and get into a bit of outdoor life. In Plymouth you'll be in close to some of the most beautiful parts of the UK (and therefore, of course, the world ;-). Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks are amongst the best - Dartmoor is a true wild place with a real atmosphere to it. And you're also near some amazing places to go sailing and some of the loveliest beaches in the country. The English countryside on a warm summer day is a close to paradise as I've ever found.

So - think of all the things you *can't* get in a big city, (time to chill, air to breather, friendly people, easy commute, cheap beer etc) and make the most of them while you can. You might find a whole new part of your personality that you didn't know was there. And if you really find it hard, just remember that 2 years ain't long and it'll be gone before you know it.


PS: Also: the people in that part of the world are some of the warmest and craziest you'll meet. You'll love them.
posted by JohnnyForeign at 2:22 PM on March 4, 2012

Well, I've got lots to say about how splendid Bath is. But so many of the people I know here love going down to Cornwall for breaks on the coast, and there's lots of foody places like Padstow and Brixham and all the delicious seafood. Exeter's very pretty, and only half an hour or so on the train, London's a reasonable day trip, as is Bristol.
posted by ambrosen at 2:39 PM on March 4, 2012

I couldn't help but be gutted on your behalf. Plymouth is not going to be Bath. As everyone says, looking at your list, then the one thing that shouldn't disappoint is the local countryside. Dartmoor is fantastic, full of stunning places to see and walk and pursue other activity, then there is the coast, opportunity for sailing, surfing, cliff walking (the SW coast path is 630 miles) and more.

The University may well have a subscribable list of events that run and are open to the community, see if you can get yourself added to it.

Consider joining the national trust, you can go to historic places yup, but they also own tons of coastline and most of the best car parks.

You can currently ferry to St Malo, which is gorgeous (the map on the ferry website doesn't show this, you have to open up the booking list) as well as Roscoff, Bilbao and Santander.
posted by biffa at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: There's enough going on if you seek it out. There's an art college; students means stuff. @PlymouthGeeks is a good source; see also Plymouth Jelly. You're also only an hour from Exeter which will have... more stuff.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2012

Exeter's very pretty, and only half an hour 75 minutes or so on the train, however, there are lots of nice places between Plymouth and Exeter that are also worthwhile, and Totnes may be somewhere a liberal MeFite might be interested in. They have an active transition town movement, their own currency, and MeFi's favourite newspaper suggested it might be the 'Town of the Future'. Potentially commutable?
posted by biffa at 2:53 PM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: You're a foodie? You're in luck. The West Country is foodie heaven; Devon and Cornwall particulaly so. You're right in the middle of where all the farms are, so your in-season produce and dairy products (ZOMG clotted cream!!) are going to be fresh and lovely; ethically reared meats are going to be easy to find, and fresh seafood will be right on your doorstep (as it wouldn't be in Bath). If you drink British cider and/or perry, well, the West Country is also Britain's apple basket. With all the delicious drunkenness that that implies.

So enjoy the local delicacies, and then walk it off on the green rolling hills. Or, in summer, canoe it off down the amazingly beautiful waterways. Explore the nearby villages and find your favourite; find pubs and tea rooms to shelter in on grey days.

Plymouth may well be less culturally interesting than Bath. But everyone I've spoken to who's actually lived in Bath, especially those who grew up there, says that it can be terribly stultifying and conformist. And Bath town centre on weekends is rammed with tourists-- I know, I've been one.

If you do find yourself bored, this might be the time to learn a new skill. Learn to sail, or to fish, or to crew tall ships. Downtime is a good time to say "dammit, if I get NOTHING ELSE out of this [finite period of time] I'm going to perfect [x] skill." This will also help with the getting-out-of-the-house-and-meeting-people thing.

As others have said, this is going to be a change of cultures. There will be unexpected good things to be found amongst the expected challenges. I wish you the best.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, Totnes is somewhere we considered moving when deciding to leave London. Its a fun, left-wing town and its only a 25 minute train ride from Plymouth. There's also lots of surrounding towns with great food as well.

Let's see...25 minutes. Thats less time than it takes to get from Cambridge to Beacon St. on the T right?

I guess what I'm saying is what other people are saying too. You have to start thinking less about "I'm moving to Plymouth." and more I'm moving to Devon/Cornwall in the UK. The public transit here in the UK is amazing even coming from a transit friendly place like Boston (except for that horrible Green Line!) The UK is tiny and everything else is close and public transit is great.

Food-wise some of the best food is in the countryside here, not in the cities. I say this as a foodie, ex-San Franciscan who moved out of Bloomsbury in London to Gloucestershire. We are eating better now than we ate in London. A greater value too. Most of it is day trips out to country pubs serving great, local food. It really is where the action is. The UK has some of the most amazing dairy, meats, and produce I have ever tasted.

Day trips are easy. We live in Stroud and have taken day trips recently to: Bath, Salisbury, Chepstow, Cardiff, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Oxford, Avebury, Cirencester, London. Sometimes just going out for lunch, walking around a bit and then coming back. Its just so easy to do.

I also have to admit its a bit unfair to compare Plymouth to Bath. I mean the latter is a UNESCO world heritage city. I'm not saying that to bum you out but to point out that perhaps, in comparison, Plymouth may also be getting much less than a fair shake.
posted by vacapinta at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2012

You should be excited about moving to Plymouth, England because you are MOVING TO ENGLAND! What an adventure! What an experience! What a national health care system! You will be in a fantastic country with millions of things to do that are entirely new to you, you will be able to travel all over Europe, if you want to, with billions more things to see and do. The life of an expat can be an isolated lonely one, or it can be a fascinating, thrilling one, and the difference has little to do with the particular city you find yourself in and mo to do with your attitude and outlook. Think of the positives and don't dwell on the negatives, or you at setting yourself up for failure.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You should be excited about moving to Plymouth, England because you are MOVING TO ENGLAND! ... Think of the positives and don't dwell on the negatives, or you at setting yourself up for failure."

I moved from wonderful condo in Santa Monica to a VERY working class city in Essex when I was 28... then to Lincolnshire, people who don't live in England don't realize how isolated these places are...

OP- is it possible for you two to rent a cottage in a village outside of Plymouth... super cozy and gorgeous...and full of books?
posted by misspony at 4:07 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes it's going to be very different to your current life, and to Bath. Seconding the food and the living outside the town itself. But mostly it's the people. I'm not much one for generalising about people and regions, but honestly I've found West Country folk (I am one but moved away a long time ago), and especially small village West Country folk, to be some of the nicest, most generous, most honest and most fun people in the UK. For God's sake don't pretend to be anything you aren't (but everyone east of Taunton is a foreigner anyway!) and you'll have a great time.
posted by cromagnon at 4:25 PM on March 4, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, I think I can reply now without appearing to be threadsitting...

I don't think it's really an option to move outside the city. His job paid for him to relocate to his current place and it'd be a hard sell to justify another move, even if it's within the area. I actually really like his place, I just wish it were transported to a different area.

DarlingBri - thank you for those recs! I also found the Plymouth Girl Geeks through that and I'm starting to feel a little better.

vacapinta -- you have a valid point about Green Line travel times. Totnes sounds pretty cool (and there's a company there that makes some equipment my company uses... I'll have an excuse to visit!)

Pallas Athena -- I'm a huge cider fan. I've been loving that on my recent trips. That is definitely a big plus.

Just so I'm clear, I'm super excited about moving to the UK and, obviously, about being in the same country as my fiance. But it is intimidating, and I'm leaving behind a lot here that makes me kind of sad. That was easier to handle when I thought it was Bath because I saw a lot of exciting things there, but Plymouth... I'm not at that level of excitement yet. But you guys are helping! So thank you.
posted by olinerd at 4:46 PM on March 4, 2012

I lived in Plymouth for a year, and can certainly identify with your assessment of it vs Bath, Boston, and similar places. I can tell you I met some super-awesome people while I was there, some of whom I'm still friends with 17 years later. It wasn't too hard, I just forced myself to go to at least one thing every week and strike up a conversation with at least one stranger while I was there. You will probably find it easier to meet people and make friends since Plymouth isn't (or at least wasn't) a popular spot with American ex-pats and tourists (unlike London, Bath, and so on). You will meet people who feel like you do, that they're kind of stuck in a place they don't belong, and you'll bond with them on that common ground and have travel-buddies for daytrips and cultural outings.

If you feel like running with a younger crowd (even better if you plan to drive), you can contact the international-students office at Plymouth University. There's likely to be 6-12 American exchange students who'd love another field trip to wherever.

Also, if you like modern art, there's the Tate at St. Ives.
posted by K.P. at 4:54 PM on March 4, 2012

I currently live in Bath and I can tell you it's not all it's cracked up to be, to be honest. As well as the weirdly middle-class attitudes and stiff upper lips, it's not hugely exciting, and you do soon tire of seeing those yellow sandstone buildings everywhere. It's tiny, too, and once you've done the tourist routes you'll realise there's not much to it. And Bath is a lot like a lot of small cities/towns in the UK: Cheltenham, Leamington Spa, Exeter, Cambridge, Oxford - they're all pretty similar in my view. They tend to have lavish centres surrounded by endless council estates that the local authorities would rather sweep under the carpet.

Plymouth, on the other hand, has a certain charm to it. There is a hell of a lot of history there, what with Sir Francis Drake and the Hoe and all that. I think the post-war shopping centre does a bit of an injustice to the once-great city.

I'd recommend getting up to the north coast of Devon, too. I grew up there and it's still my favourite place on the planet. Exmoor is just wonderful, and there's a rugged coastline littered with villages and towns which have a laid-back surfy vibe to them - especially out of season. In fact, when I visited California I found myself thinking it was like north Devon albeit on a far bigger scale.
posted by hnnrs at 5:11 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Devon and Cornwall have always been, to me, among the most beautiful places ever. I moved from Boston to Cornwall a long time ago - just for one year - and loved the people, the pubs, the lushness of the countryside - I don't think you will be unhappy! The people are warm and friendly; lots of them were damn funny. The grub (great seafood) and beers were excellent; the beaches and cliffs are amazing all year round; trains go everywhere and fast. Get a dog and go walkabout!
posted by henry scobie at 5:40 PM on March 4, 2012

If you're a history nerd you're going to love England. My family is based in Massachusetts where historical buildings and events date back to the early 1700s. In 1986 we moved to a tiny village in England that was little more than a small general store/post office, a pub and a few houses and the village church had been built in 1200 or so. There are just so many more years of historical markers and sites to visit than there are in the US.

Also, ice cream, from an ice cream truck or from the corner store is absolutely delicious.
posted by bendy at 6:20 PM on March 4, 2012

I also found the Plymouth Girl Geeks through that and I'm starting to feel a little better.

I'm going to be shocked if there's no Open Coffee for Plymouth, I couldn't find one but I didn't look very hard.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:51 PM on March 4, 2012

Although this question has already been answered, a friend of mine goes to Oxford every now and then and it sounds just like what you like about Boston!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:59 PM on March 4, 2012

This is tangential to your question but I am going to recommend a film and trip that seems appropriate. 'A Matter of Life and Death' is a wartime love story whose theme lies in the commonalities of British and American people. It tells the story of a Boston woman and a British pilot and the rather unusual difficulties they face. It is beautifully shot and regarded as a great British film, though not that well known elsewhere. Anyway there is a stunning beach scene early on (the character thinks he is dead and in heaven) and after you watch the film you can see it for real at Croyde In north Devon.
posted by biffa at 12:02 AM on March 5, 2012

if you're interested in roller derby, Plymouth has a fledgling league.
posted by corvine at 10:33 AM on March 5, 2012

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