Advantages Beautiful city, plenty to see and do, loads of history
Chester races, what a fantastic day out. Our most recent visit was to an evening meeting last summer with a party of friends to celebrate one of them having a new job. The racecourse is one of the oldest in the country and occupies a beautiful position on the ‘Roodee’, backing on to the high city walls one side, the river Dee opposite and the Welsh Mountains in the distance.We took a picnic and a bottle of wine and had a wonderful time, though my confidence was dented as the so-called racing expert when I managed to pick only one winner out of the six races. One of the ladies present who professed to know nothing about horses just backed horse number 5 in every race and came away £40 better off with five winners – I think I’ll try that next time!
But Chester isn’t just about horse racing, its one of Britain’s most beautiful cities with plenty to do and see and an absolute must if like me you enjoy history.It is a very old city, founded nearly 2000 years ago by the Romans and therefore boasts some of the country’s richest archeological and architectural treasures. It is the only English city to have preserved its Roman and medieval walls in their entirety and they provide one of my favourite urban walks, a two mile circuit with excellent views of the city and its surrounding countryside.
Walking round the walls is a great way to start a visit to Chester - they absolutely drip with history. You can visualize the Roman centurions keeping guard as the walls stretch out before you, in weather beaten and rounded stone with steps worn smooth by the countless number of people who have completed this walk over the centuries.From the walls you can see many of Chester’s famous historical sites – the castle, the cathedral, the long lawned gardens of the city’s manor houses, the Roman ampitheatre and the racecourse (excellent view and its free). The Watchtower and the King Charles tower both house museums, whilst one of the best stretches is from the cathedral to Eastgate street, in the centre of the city, where the famous wrought iron clock was erected in 1897. I love walking around the walls early in the morning or on a warm summer’s evening, watching the sun rise or set here is incredibly romantic, a truly enjoyable experience.
Chester or Deva as it was known in Roman times has such a long history under the Romans, Saxons and Normans and even flourished as a port until the silting of the Dee in the 15th century and it became very prosperous as a commercial centre in the 18th century. Fortunately much has survived from all these periods to provide some real historical treasures.One of the main sources of Chester’s distinctive character is undoubtedly the galleried tiers of shops known as The Rows – timber buildings, built on two tiers with a continuous upper gallery which dominate the city’s shopping centre. A wide variety of specialist and high street shops open on to balustraded walkways reached only by steps from the road. The Rows were clearly the forerunners of today’s shopping malls, they were first built in the 13th and 14th centuries and the original structures have survived in many places though the beautifully decorated timber work and oriel windows are 19th century.
Bishop Lloyd’s House in Watergate Street is a lovely richly carved building, but The Rows are probably shown at their most varied and attractive where Eastgate Street meets Bridge Street. Here, views of the cathedral and the town give the impression of a perfectly preserved medieval city, an illusion which is helped by the Town Crier who calls the hour and announces the news in the summer months from his post by the Cross, a reconstruction of a stone crucifix destroyed in the Civil War. Add to this the many and varied buskers which inhabit the streets and the 'rows' and range from folk singers to jugglers to stand-up comedians and very professional chamber quartets, and you have a wonderful atmosphere for shopping or just sightseeing. It always reminds me of a twenty first century version of those medieval street scenes you used to see in films about Robin Hood and his ilk. I love it.Places to include in your itinerary if you visit Chester, are undoubtedly:
The sandstone Cathedral, which has been beautifully restored and incorporates extensive Benedictine monastic remains and is especially noted for its richly carved woodwork. Its refectory is a beautiful place to go for a cup of tea or coffee, its very spacious and peaceful and the food is excellent and good value for money.The Castle mainly dates from the 19th century now, though the 13th century Agricola tower is largely original. The castle contains the Cheshire Military Museum encompassing the The Cheshire Regiment, Cheshire Yeomanry, 5th Royal Inniskillin Dragoon Guards and the 3rd Carabiniers. Its very impressive, colourful and well put together.
The Heritage and Visitor Centres provide excellent illustrations of Chester’s history using audio-visual techniques and has a reconstruction of a scene in The Rows in Victorian times. They also run excellent guided tours and a ‘ghost walk’, which I’m planning as a birthday treat for my daughter and some of her friends. The Grosvenor Museum has an outstanding collection of Roman artifacts.The river Dee provides a southern border to the town, it is wide and picturesque and ideal for boating. The park is beautiful and the ‘prom’ which borders the river is a wonderful place to watch the boats and the world go by. I remember sitting by the bandstand last summer watching the tour boats come and go. There was one with a band on board, and one with a wedding party – everyone wearing kilts and a bit the worst for wear. Still, they were all enjoying themselves and it certainly provided us with an amusing ten minutes. Look out for the artists who sell their paintings by the city walls adjacent to the river – there is some really good stuff here at reasonable prices.
Chester is cram packed with black and white buildings and many of them are occupied by excellent places to eat and some really homely and traditional inns. My own favourite restaurants are Franks in Cupping street, a very popular Brasserie where French rock beats out over tasty Plats du Jour. Sundays are family days when children eat free, but its very popular and you have to book ahead; and Mamma Mias by the Cathedal a great Italian restaurant that has plenty of atmosphere and lovely authentic pasta dishes.Well, I’ve written a more than I expected too, I got a bit carried away, but there again it has so much going for it and so much to do, its difficult to know when to stop. If I were you I’d try it yourself, go for a day trip or a weekend away, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. Who knows, if you choose a race day and back the right number it could even pay for itself.
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