A town like Chester, where tourism is the main industry, is not a place to look for quaint customs and ancient traditions that have survived the onslaught of Western media. Much of the center city is filled with international tourists and those who cater to them.
Along the Dee, however, you will find a different kind of tourist area that caters to middle class English from the greater Manchester area. Here you can soak up the lovely Midlands accent and watch families pushing prams, feeding squirrels and enjoying a Saturday or Sunday out of the house. As a traveller it is important to stop occasionally and observe the mundane along with the exotic.
For a quiet moment in a beautiful spot you should stop at the ruins of old St. John's, between the Roman Garden and Grosvenor Park. This site has been sacred since at least the seventh century and the soothingly warm arches and walls, open to the sky, continue to provide an inviting space for contemplation.
Well Chester is not just about black and white buildings. Did you know that Chester has one of the steepest cobbled streets in Britain. Well you can find it by St Mary's Hill which is not far from Castle Street (behind the Grosvenor Museum and the Military Museum. It really is steep, the picture doesn't really do it justice - can't see the bottom of it from the top due to the steepness.
The ruins of St John are the original east end and include part of the Norman chancel, the 14th century ;lady chapel and two meieval sidde chapels. For me the most intersting object though was an old coffin. This old coffin believed to be from the 13th century, bearing an inscription "Dust to Dust" was found by the sexton in the 19th century and set into the wall of the ruins of St John.
After you've seen the sights and endured the crowds you should drop down to the canal to watch life in the slow lane. With any luck at all you'll see a barge making its way through the locks. Everything is hand operated making the passage a return to simpler and slower times. It looks like a very pleasant way to see the country for those with infinite time.
When you get to the old Dee bridge go ahead and cross over to the Handbridge side. There you'll share a quiet moment in Edgar's field with the Minerva shrine and some excellent outcroppings of the local red sandstone. Just above these is St. Mary's, a lovely spot for a rest.
Most people will visit Chester's impressive cathedral but the ruins ofChester's first cathedral - St John's - are not so well known. Indeed it was only after several visits myself that I came across them - adjacent to one end of Grosvenor Park.
The church here was first begun in 1075, taking 200 years to build, reaching its most complete form in the late 13th century.
This section of wall takes you from the Northgate area down towards St Martin's gate and further towards the race track. The view here is towards North Wales.
On this day in March the lighting was fantastic, unfortunately my camera did not get it quite right.
The city walls take you through the centre of the city itself , along by the canel (where this picture was taken) and the race track towards the River Dee. Eventually you'll end up back at the Eastgate Clock (if that's where you started). Allow a couple hours or more to walk right around, however if you're like me you'll just see bits at a time!
So you reckon the bridge of Sighs is in Venice eh, well Cherster has one too - on Northgate (keep on going past the Town Hall as if going out of town). This stone footbridge was built in 1793 across the canal to link the city gaol with a chapel in the Bluecoat Hospital adajcent to it. Condemned prisioners crossed to the chapel to receive their last rights before their execution. Must admit the one in Venice is prettier.
This shrine is unique in Western Europe, being the only one still 'in situ'. All the others have been taken to safety in museums. One could say that it was a pity this was not done in Chester. Having survived remarkably well for nearly two thousand years, it was badly vandalised several years ago. A copy and reconstruction are on view in Grosvenor Museum.
Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, and this shrine, carved into the rock in a Roman quarry nearly 2000 years ago, is the only one of its kind in Britain preserved at its original site. Although the carving has weathered badly you can, with imagination, make out that the figure appears to be carrying a spear in her right hand and that an owl looks over her left shoulder. These objects are symbols of the goddess Minerva, hence the attribution of the shrine. The soldiers would pray to her and make offerings, in the hope that she would protect them from danger.
Location: Edgar's Field (lies by the Handbridge end of the Old Dee Bridge)
With Chester being on the borders with England and Wales, and if you have time to spare pop over the border and see some of the lovely places in North Wales.
Conwy is not unlike Chester in that it is encircled by its ancient walls. Built by Edward I to defend his territory in 1283. Here as in Chester you can walk around the walls, see beautiful views of the coast and the mountains of Snowdonia.
Upon entering Conwy the first thing you see is the Castle which you can still walk around to this day. A beautiful house called Aberconwy House which is now owned by the National Trust can also be visited.
Here also on the quayside is the smallest house in the world and is in the Guiness Book of Records stating such. If you are driving in from Chester just before you reach the castle on your left you can see the little house over on the quayside, it is a red building.
There is mostly a one way system in operation in the town. Parking is available in a largish carpark on the far side of the castle/station.
Between Northgate and the Racetrack just past St Martin's bridge (one of the new bridges) are a series of Canal Locks.
It's fascinating to watch canels working there way through the series of locks during the summer.
This part of the wall is opposite the Canal Locks on the way down towards the race track. The wall was originally Roman but has been built and rebuilt by many through the ages with alot of the structure from Medieval times.
Th Bluecoat Hospital was built as a charity school in 1717 but modifed in the 1850's.
The adjacent city gaol had its dungeons cut deep into the sandstone, below the city wall. There were no windows in some so the only air prisoners got was by pipe.