On a shop-til-you-drop day out in Chester with a friend we combined an exploration of the streets, lanes and byways with an in-depth trawl through its department stores, boutiques and quirky independent shops.
This Roman soldier seemed oblivious to the light rain dripping down his steel helmet as he chatted to two people holding aloft signs encouraging passers-by to try the ‘All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet’ at the nearby restaurant on one of the main shopping streets in the walled city of Chester. It summed up the universal appeal of one of England’s most attractive towns – ancient history, intriguing architecture, excellent shops and a multitude of great venues to eat and drink.
According to the handy ‘Walkabout Easy Map and Guide to Chester’ we picked up in the Tourist Information Centre next to the splendid Victorian Town Hall, “Nearly 2000 years ago, the Romans marched onto a sandstone ridge, built Deva (or Dewa), largest fortress in Britain prepared to do battle with the wild, fierce Britons of Wales and the North. Two millenniums later, the drama and passions of Chester’s history have left their mark in some of the most spectacular buildings in Britain.”
We didn’t have time to visit the Roman ruins outside the city but the Dewa Roman Experience, on Pierpoint Lane took us back to that feisty era with the sights, sounds and smells of Roman Chester with a look round a Roman galley and the excavated remains of a fortress in the heart of the city.
One of the most appealing aspects of this town is The Rows, covered walkways above street level, dating back to the 13th century. The names of these Rows often reflect the original trades of the rich merchants who built their townhouses here ie Ironmongers, Shoemakers or more prosaically Northgate Row. Nowadays they are a treasure trove of shops, cafes and bars and great for escaping the occasional rain shower.
Our leaflet informed us a Town Crier dressed in 18th century finery proclaims the news daily at 12 noon in the summer months. We didn’t see him but we were entertained by the numerous street performers playing funky music, standing still as statues til a coin was dropped in front of them, doing magic tricks and singing songs, some even in tune. We spent ages wandering in and out of the shops, especially relishing the scented charms of the perfume counters in Browns Of Chester Department Store. Nearby is ‘The Olde Boot’ a 17th century pub with original seating and good food.
After a rather exhausting trawl through the myriad shops in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre it was time for lunch. We decided to go next door and treat ourselves to a light bite in 5-star luxury in La Brasserie at the illustrious Grosvenor Hotel. I can highly recommend their smoked salmon sandwiches!
The rain cleared in the afternoon so to walk off our meal we had an airy stroll around the City Walls. “The best ornament of the city is, that the streets are very broad, the walls in good repair, and it is a very pleasant walk around the city upon the walls, and within the battlements, from whence you may see the county around.” Daniel Defoe wrote this in 1724 and the walls are still much the same today. After walking part of the way round we dove back into the city streets for another quick shop then it was time for one last sight to see: Chester Cathedral. Built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church, it became the city’s cathedral in 1541. There’s a guided tour every afternoon but if you’re in a rush, do take time just to enjoy its splendid majesty for a little while.
On our way back to the car park, swinging our fancy shopping bags like Carrie and Samantha along a Manhatten sidewalk, we passed under the ornate Eastgate Clock, installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee. Its delicate red, blue, gold and black filigree decoration seems to sum up Chester – a colourful journey through time and history.
More about Cheshire: Knutsford and Elizabeth Gaskell.
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