A saunter around a city

A two night mooring at Tower Wharf in Chester gave time for a little bit of local exploration.

Not far away is a plaque that will be of interest to canal historians. The efforts of Chester-born LTC Rolt are widely recognised in saving the inland waterways from post-war dereliction.

The area around Tower Wharf has been redeveloped: smart apartment blocks and student accommodation overlooks the water.  Telford’s Warehouse is a thriving pub – and on hot summer evenings voices and laughter rippled across the water.

Up into the city on Monday morning, via a climb up onto the City Wall towards the Water Tower, on the north western side of the city.  Soon Chester Racecourse was in view.  Why, of why, was there a restaurant called the 1539?  The answer was discovered later, in the Grosvenor Museum. “The first recorded race on the Roodee was held in 1539. As the oldest course still in use, Chester can also claim to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the world.”  (Museum information board)

There was a short diversion off the Wall to the Grosvenor Museum.  Here Roman enthusiasts can have their fill:   Roman fortifications, military barracks, the saving of the amphitheatre from planning blight…  But what seems most striking is the vast array of Roman gravestones, retrieved from the city walls by the Victorians in the late 1800s. A video explaining a centurion’s gravestone is well worth watching…

If your interest is silver or weird curiosities from the archives or period domestic settings this museum could keep your attention for more than an hour or so.

Onward – back to the City Walls: there was a view of Chester Castle (not often open to the public, it seems) and of the River Dee. Don’t you just love these words by Daniel Defoe?  (on an information board).

Below the walls was spied Hickory’s , an eatery often frequented by the Cheshire Three…

Onward – along the south to north wall now. Inside the walls black and white properties, red bricked buildings and twentieth century creations nestle, cheek by jowl. Outside the wall are the Roman Gardens, where recovered columns, mosaics and a reconstructed hypocaust can be seen. In the heat a Roman soldier was putting raw recruits through drill. Then there was the Amphitheatre, circled now by modern traffic.

Onward, at Eastgate now, and under the famous Eastgate clock. Down below the city streets buzzed with Monday shoppers, tourists and buskers…

A brass plaque in the wall paving indicates the Chester Cathedral bell tower, a modern structure where the cathedral bells were rehung in 1975.

There’s a thought-provoking exhibition (‘Waves’) in the Cathedral cloisters: sculptor Jacha Potgieter had collected litter on Criccieth beach over three days – and created numerous pieces representing species troubled by debris in the sea and over-fishing.

Inside the cathedral there was another one under construction, similar to the Boston Stump Lego project discovered last year  . Here, with less than nimble fingers, the Captain added his four Lego bricks to a window that is on the north side of the chancel.    This was where Cal Guy Jnr would have done a much slicker job!

It’s a beautiful cathedral – would that there had been a choir practice in progress, though there wasn’t. By chance several days later two young lock helpers (Years 4 and 7) declared themselves cathedral choristers, their older brother having just stepped down as Head Chorister…

A striking feature was the use of mosaic tiling: a chapel in memory of Thomas Brassey (click to read about his railway achievements) is decorated in colourful mosaic behind the altar and the north aisle has huge and impressive pictures of Old Testament characters.

From back on the wall there were views of domestic and ecclesiastical roof lines       – and a falconry display.  Far below the city walls creeps the canal,  its terminus 8½ miles further north, at Ellesmere Port. From the northern stretch of the walls the view west is beyond the Dee, into Wales.

Back at street level there are some unmissable sights: the famous Rows (first floor shops),  Janya, the bronze Indian elephant, symbol of Chester Zoo’s role in wildlife conservation,  street sculpture,  inscribed brickwork  – and just below the north wall a reminder that Chester has another history, that of the Civil War.

After a long touristy-style day (including a quick lunch here) there was a return to the boats, to be met by the tale of how the Tentatrice Captain had “been in the wars” and was at A&E… All is well now, but for details see here: Monday 22nd July.

And after Chester? Well, the plan to travel south down the Shropshire Union to meet the Staffs and Worcs Canal has bitten the dust, due to a week-long lock closure at Wheaton Aston. So via Middlewich, a third transit through this year,  Cleddau will be heading south down the Trent and Mersey next week…

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