09 Dec Chester – capital of Britannia
Chester is a relatively small town in North West England very close to the border with Wales.
Like many other towns in the UK the history of Chester starts with Romans building a fortress here in AD 70. This fortress was actually larger than the one in York, which could mean that Chester was intended to be the capital of Britannia province. Today the city centre represents an excellent collection of half-timbered houses some of them dating back to the 15th century.
We have visited Chester at the end of November. Parking was easy and conveniently close to the centre. We have parked at the Garden Lane Car Park and walked about 5min to reach the city walls. Entering the city from the north we would immediately bump into the Christmas market in front of the Chester town hall, which was buzzing with people buying all sorts of useless stuff. Obviously, these markets serve more like a decoration to the city centre than places for shopping essentials.
However, some of the stalls offered street food which is always nice, especially on winter days. The sounds and smells of frying beef burgers, boiling vegetable soup and baking coconut meringue macaroons kept us wandering around the market for a while. After we got our dose of hot chocolate, coffee, sausages and chocolate fudge we continued our Chester exploration on Eastgate street.
There is a large, over one hundred years old clock above the Eastgate where the Eastgate street meets the city wall. Eastgate is the point where Roman soldiers entered the fortress of Deva Victrix two thousand years ago. The clock is allegedly the second most photographed clock in the UK after Big Ben.
It is definitely much smaller than Big Ben, but this also means you can get closer to it and get a better picture, at least. The present gate is from 1768 and the clock was added more than a hundred years later in 1897 to celebrate 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation.
Chester has some nicely preserved city walls. The top of the city wall is now used as a pedestrian zone by tourists. It will lead you from Eastgate south to the river until you reach the Old Dee bridge. Along the way you can admire how local architects mixed medieval houses with 1980 style shopping centre multi-storey parking house. Not very gentle mix by my opinion.
I had the same feeling while travelling in Italy. Especially in Rome. When there are so many historical buildings and other structures around, it becomes less precious. A great example of this was the outdoor clothing shop located in a gothic basement of one of the historical buildings.
Should this be in another town, the basement would be treated as museum or at least very stylish and expensive restaurant.
In front of St. Peter’s church there was a group of women singing Christmas carols mixed with Beatles songs raising money for a local charity. The sound of street singers and shouting of street merchants in the carless city centre makes Chester nice place to visit before Christmas.
At lunchtime all the traditional pubs in historic half-timbered houses were full. So we strolled up the Northgate street to Storyhouse. Storyhouse is primarily movie theatre, but there is also a large cafe combined with a library on the ground floor. So it turned out to be an excellent place for lunch.
You can order your sandwiches or falafels, borrow a book and wait till your lunch is ready. It is good for families too as you can pin your kids down for a while with one of the books. Unless you use a tablet or phone for this purpose.
Chester is similar to York on the other side of the island and it is definitely worth the visit.