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Chester is an odd city. In scale and in the compass of its walls, it reminds me of York. The street layout is predominantly guided by its Roman origins. The density of its double-layered shops, "The Rows", reminds me of a Yorkville (in Toronto) with deeper historical grounding. That double layer of shop may be a product of medieval infill, but its cohesive half-timber unity is a product of nineteenth-century restoration. The racecourse is a large, smooth expanse of verdant turf, yet two thousand years ago it was the river harbor, dense with boats, for which reason the city was built. Two-thirds of the inner city is a beautifully-maintained historic façade. The rest, largely tucked into backstreets, but protruding in useful locations, is ungainly hulks of '60s concrete. The River Dee curls around two sides of the city, limiting it with breadth in a way that the Shropshire Union Canal, a relatively recent addition, does not.

The city is touristed, but alive. There are expensive hotels, but only two new bookstores in town. Secondhand bookstores seem to do healthy trade, and the city is thronged with trinket and clothing shops. Roughness laps at the edges. A water bomb narrowly missed us, the splash lapping my conveniently-worn raincoat. The city feels small enough that I can easily see it being dull for impatient teens. The tourists must dominate most of the time, for all it feels as if it must have a few other industries keeping it healthy. The races must bring in the wealthy; the course is too lovely not to, although it seems a facile conclusion to draw. The label of "Tattersall's", after so many recent Heyer books, has its cache.

After London, it is a relief to be in a place populated by small, individual shops. The Hat Shop shows off its Easter bonnets. The Cheese Shop is full of local delights and further-afield treasures. Blue Fade Cheshire is rare blued Cheshire, its taste delicate and earthy. Crabtree is an unexpectedly fruity and reasonably soft cheese, made from the milk of cows which had grazed among fallen crabapples. Here is more than just the usual high street shops.

In the Roman Gardens, our walking tour of Chester paused in front of a displaced hypocaust. The gardens are full of excavated parts and pieces translocated from elsewhere in Chester. The medieval walls loomed above, the relic of a Roman tower across the road. A man walked purposefully by, dressed as a Roman legionnaire, accompanied - if superficial appearances tell true - by his wife and children. While he declaimed and waved his sword in the garden below, I ran into a couple staying in our hotel. "Go see!" One said. "There are Roman soldiers jousting down there." The sun was warm and comforting, the skies blue, the company pleasant. Recreation, history, and the ongoing life of a town all meet and coincide.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)
I spent a day in Chester in 1990, on my very first trip to the UK. I loved it. I have a stuffed rabbit named in the city's honor (I got the rabbit at the gift shop at Powys Castle in Wales, on the following day of the trip, but mixed up where he'd come from when I decided to name him.)
Apr. 9th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
Do you think that the Loreena McKennitt concert is worth going on my own? Trying to decide between that and just buying the CD. Planning a nice deleriously expensive trip to the UK and trying to set my priorities.

What do you say?
Apr. 10th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
I'm happy to go to concerts (and movies and out to dinner etc.) on my own, so I wouldn't let that stop me. I don't know where your comfort zones are, though, nor how far you'd be traveling to get there. I thought it an excellent concert here myself.

(I vote in favor of a UK trip!)
Apr. 9th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
I was in Chester in 1993 as part of a People to People student exchange. God it was beautiful. I miss it so. Even more now I cna drink.
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
Ah, you were people to people as well! I went to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in middle school as people to people, but we didn't go to chester. God, what was the year....93 I think
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:16 am (UTC)
and the con?
Apr. 10th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
A very fine con! Relaxing, friendly, very good venue, with two bars centrally located and wide open to passing people.
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
Ah Chester, I remember my first visit. It's small, intimate, and romantic as well with the ancient walls and such. If it wasn't so touristy, I would think it a perfect place to live.
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Apr. 10th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
Actually, that was my second visit with you. Both times were fun, I kinda miss english shrimp toast.
Apr. 9th, 2007 09:37 am (UTC)
Chester is an enjoyable place to visit, I like making the circuit of the walls on a sunny day when the views are clear and you can see Wales. I haven't been to the Roman Gardens or cathedral yet, so I'll have to see them next time.
Apr. 10th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
There really isn't much to the Roman Gardens. They're down near the river, at the SE corner of the walls. The cathedral, on the other hand, I remember being well worth it. I couldn't confirm my memory because the only time I tried going in, it was in the middle of a three-hour-long Good Friday service.
Apr. 9th, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
A number of years ago I flew from the US to Manchester, then took a train to Chester. I was to meet my daughter and her boyfriend in Chester and spend a couple of days together, so we set a time to find each other at the cathedral. I arrived and noticed them (they didn't see me) sitting together in the cathedral garden, her head on his shoulder. It was very sweet.
Apr. 10th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
Awww. What a charming comment to make about Chester!
Apr. 9th, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
This is a beautiful description of that walk - thank-you.

Great to meet you. Hope you enjoyed the con as much as we did.
Apr. 10th, 2007 07:24 pm (UTC)
It was lovely to meet you too! It was a very pleasant con - relaxing, good venue, excellent location, good people. I didn't feel as if I did nearly as much socializing as I would have liked, but I wasn't physically at the con as much as I would normally have been either. (I had grading to finish and was stayiing offsite with my non-con-going partner.)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )