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Located in the North West of England, alongside the River Dee, close to the Welsh Border, and within easy reach of the major cities of Liverpool and Manchester, Chester is a delightful old Roman city with plenty of modern personality. It is within the wonderful countryside county of Cheshire.
Initially called Deva, Chester was established as a Roman Fort in the year 79. The Romans built a fortified and walled city. The four main roads in the city centre today follow the original routes set out by the Romans. The city was renamed as Chester in the 5th century by Saxons. The city later came under Norman rule, but was amongst the last places in England to be conquered by the Norman invaders. It was during this period that Chester’s Castle, now used as a courthouse, was built. Over the years, Chester gained architectural legacies from various periods. There are many medieval buildings in the city, as well as Victorian, Jacobean and Tudor buildings. Chester was a key player in the Industrial Revolution. A great deal of the land in Chester today is owned by the Duke of Westminster, Sir Gerald Grosvenor. Large conservation efforts to protect and preserve historical buildings, as well as a great deal of shops, restaurants, bars and night time entertainment options means that Chester is a well-loved home as well as an incredibly popular tourist destination.
The old Roman city walls and towers are, for the most part, still in complete condition. One can walk almost entirely around the city’s perimeter on the walls. They are the most complete city walls in Britain. Perched on top of the walls on Eastgate is the Eastgate Clock. Other remnants from the city’s Roman past include the remains of an amphitheatre and some small Roman bath ruins next to the Newgate, as well as other remains in the basements of some of the existing buildings. There are stone remains on display in the Roman Gardens. During the summer months, actors dress up as Roman Soldiers and lead troops of excited children around the city, giving educational tours.
The lovely Cathedral dates back originally to the Norman era. Before entering inside, look up at the many ugly gargoyles peering down from the lower roof area. It is the final resting place of the city’s saint, Saint Werburgh, as well as a shrine dedicated to him. In addition to the usual elements one typically sees in grand and ornate cathedrals, the choir stalls have one of the most intricately and elaborately carved canopies in the country.
The Town Hall was built in the gothic revival style. There is a tower with a low spire. It provides for nice photographs and is a convenient landmark in the city centre. In front of the Town Hall is an interesting statue.
The ruins of the city’s oldest church, St John’s Church, lie outside of the city walls and next to the Grosvenor Park. As well as being great ruins to look around, there is the curious sight of the remains of a coffin embedded into the walls high above. The lid, (and, thankfully, corpse!), is no longer there, but there is the carved indentation where the body would have fitted, and also the inscription of dust to dust can clearly be read. It makes for a rather unusual sight, high up in one of the arches. The park next to the church makes for a pleasant stroll, and youngsters usually delight in feeding the tame and friendly grey squirrels. There are several other fine churches in the city, some of which have been converted for other uses. For example, the Holy Trinity Church is the current Guildhall, and St Michael’s Church is a heritage centre.
The Rows are completely unique in Britain. There are shops or homes on the lowest two levels, which for many one must descend steps on entering as they are lower than street level. Sometimes, this leads one into a crypt-like vault. The many black and white buildings are simply beautiful.
Chester’s castle is an imposing building to look at from the outside, and it is near to the racecourse. The public are free to walk around the racecourse when it is not being used for events. This area is called Roodee.
By the River Dee are numerous cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as many public benches. All provide pretty views. There is a weir from the 11th century, and canoeing and renting small peddle boats are popular activities on the water. Dinner cruises and entertainment are offered on evening cruises. Several bridges cross the river, including a suspension bridge that gently sways in the wind.
Chester has several museums. The most well-known is the Grosvenor Museum, where once can see an impressive collection of Roman tombstones. There is also an art gallery, and at 20 Castle Street one can see rooms that have equipped in different historical styles. The Dewa Roman experience has a reconstructed Roman road. There is also a toy museum and a military museum in Chester.
There is an abundance of traditional old pubs in Chester, as well as modern, trendy wine bars and a couple of night clubs.
The pubs make for a great experience, as many retain original features; enjoy a glass of British beer, sitting in a cosy nook under low wooden beams. Most pubs serve delicious and inexpensive meals. There are also many great restaurants in Chester, and food from many different countries is available.
Outside of the city centre, Chester zoo is the UK’s largest zoo. There are a wide selection of animals and lovely landscaped gardens. Also outside of the city centre one can find Greyhound Park. Shops, a multi-screen cinema and a bowling alley are amongst the site’s amenities.
There is an open top tour bus that seasonally operates around Chester and the surrounding areas. Although the city centre, with its charming cobbled streets and many nooks and crannies, is very easy to explore by foot. Some streets are for pedestrians only.