Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here after me and my human dad completed a hike with a difference. It was different for us anyway. We decided to take advantage of the relatively empty Chester city centre streets. As some of the restrictions, due to Covid-19, had been lifted we could drive the short distance to Chester from our home for our daily exercise. The non-essential shops and eateries were still closed so, the streets should be almost deserted. The weather was glorious but, the forecasters said that the mercury would be rising to the high 20’s Celsius in the afternoon. We thought that we should drive to the city early in the morning so that we would avoid the heat of the afternoon. Pavements would be too hot later and my dad worries about my paws blistering so, we don’t usually walk in the hot afternoons.
Chester is a walled city near the Welsh border and on the River Dee in Cheshire. It was founded in 79AD as a Roman army camp and known as Deva. The city has had a colourful history with many battles fought there however, much of the walls surrounding the old city are still intact despite attempts to breach them. The Grosvenor family now own a large part of the city hence the naming of the Grosvenor Bridge, Grosvenor Park and Grosvenor Hotel. The ‘Rows’, a series of covered shopping walkways, date back to medieval times and attract millions of visitors every year. Chester has many fascinating attractions and a rich and vibrant history and I would be doing it an injustice by trying to summarise it here. Many books and TV documentaries have been written and filmed in the city over the years so, I will leave it to the experts to delve into the details. After all, I am only a three year old Cocker Spaniel. I just know the best places to pee!
We parked in a side street in Hoole which is a suburb of the city, leaving us a short walk into the city itself. Hoole has increasingly become popular in recent time and had its own village feel with coffee shops, independent retail shops, B&B’s and hotels. My dad put my lead on me and off we went toward the city. After crossing the railway bridge, we walked along Brook Street with its small independent shops, mostly still closed due to the current pandemic. We passed the Olde Cottage pub which won Cheshire’s CAMRA Pub of the Year a few years ago and has won Chester’s Pub of the Year 3 out of the last 4 years. Sadly, closed as the rest of the UK pubs. We crossed over the Shropshire Union canal and my human took yet another photograph of a closed pub, the Lock Keeper. Under normal conditions the beer garden would have been buzzing with people. The weather was ideal but, all the seats and tables were empty.
Frodsham Street, with its closed shops, was eerily quiet with the only people around queuing to shop at Tesco’s. We plodded on in the cool shade of the buildings lining this narrow road until we met Eastgate Street, one of the most popular shopping areas in the city. A handful of people were milling around, probably doing their daily exercises. Otherwise, it was deserted and possibly for the first time, at that time of day, for a many years. The clock, on the famous Eastgate Bridge, said that it was 1055 AM and the sun was getting higher in the sky. It was time to move on.
We kept cool by walking in the shadow of the buildings as we headed toward the River Dee. We sauntered south along St. John Street and before we crossed Pepper Street we paused while the big feller took a photograph of Newgate, which is part of the city walls. The Roman Amphitheatre was our next port of call just over the road. This is a free to enter excavation and is the largest amphitheatre in Britain. It was initially used for military training but, later it saw cock fighting, bull baiting and full contact sports. Only a fraction of the structure has been unearthed and was rediscovered in 1929 with excavation commencing in 2000.
From the amphitheatre we headed down Souters Lane to the Roman Gardens. We had the gardens to ourselves, a real rarity. The gardens were constructed in 1949 to display Roman artifacts and building parts brought from inside the walls of the city. There is a reconstructed Hypocaust which displays the ingenious underfloor heating system of the Roman Baths. It was nice to stroll through this area without having to battle past the throngs of tourists that are usually there. My dad was loving it while I was being patient and waiting for him. I think that this was his day rather than mine. I can’t complain because he does take me to places where I can have a good run off-lead.
After he had seen enough Roman stuff we walked down the steps to The Groves, the riverside promenade along the Dee. Ah, so this was where the people were hiding! There were a lot of people milling around, eating ice creams and drinking takeaway coffees. The benches overlooking the river seemed to all be full of people enjoying the May sunshine. Social distancing was a bit of an issue for my dad but, we managed to stay far enough from people to keep him happy. There was a lot of activity around the pleasure boats as they were being readied for the restrictions to be relaxed. The bandstand looked lonely as it was empty and closed also awaiting the lockdown restrictions to change.
We walked past the Queen’s Park footbridge, that spans the Dee, as we chose to walk through Grosvenor Park. This is where I usually get to chase grey squirrels but, on this day, I think that they had heard that I was coming. Not a one to be seen. It was so disappointing. As we passed through the ornate gardens, we saw three medieval arches that have been brought from other parts of the city and reconstructed. I went to quench my thirst at Jacob’s Well but it is sadly dry now so, I had to get one from my dad. My dad took photographs of the arches, the well and the marble statue of the 2nd Marquis of Westminster before we ran up the steps to the Belvedere Viewing Platform. This octagonal stone platform affords beautiful views over the river. In the centre of the formal gardens there was a wicker display commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
On leaving the park we retraced our steps for a short while along the Groves taking in the view of the river. The promenade took us to the weir, before the Old Dee Bridge, that leads to the suburb of Handbridge. We crossed Lower Bridge Street, in the shadow of Bridgegate, before we continued our walk by the side of the Dee, along Castle Drive. On turning right before the Little Roodee car park my dad commented on how it is almost impossible to find a parking spot in there during normal times. At this time however, it was almost empty. Why he was telling me this, I really don’t know.
The castle stood proudly on top of the hill on our right, as it looked down at the river. Built in 1070 the castle has housed many famous prisoners including King Richard II. It has been used as a prison, a courthouse and a tax office along with being a warehouse and ammunition store for 200 years. The main entrance from Grosvenor Road is called Harrison’s Propylaeum which leads to the Crown Court, previously called the Shire Hall. The castle houses a military museum nowadays.
Grosvenor Road is usually very busy and difficult to cross but, due to the partial lockdown, there were only a few cars to negotiate. We crossed to see the racecourse at the Roodee. The entire horseracing course can be seen from this point and the condition of the track looked perfect as it has not been used for some time and obviously well maintained during the lockdown.
We headed down the narrow Castle Street until we turned left into Lower Bridge Street and walked toward Chester Cross at the top of Bridge Street. Bridge street is part of The Rows of the city. The Rows are the covered walkways along the first floor containing shops along four of Chester’s main streets. Built in medieval times some of the buildings have undercrofts below the current ground level. At the head of Bridge street, at the junction with Watergate and Eastgate streets stands Chester Cross, outside of St. Peter’s Church. The church has seen many modifications in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries plus the spire has been removed in the 18th century after lightening strikes. We glimpsed down Eastgate Street as we passed to see only a handful of visitors to the city centre.
On our left we came to the town hall, a Gothic Revival building opened in 1869 by King Edward VII. Across the square is the magnificent Chester Cathedral. This building has also been modified several times and parts date back as far as 1093. Because I am a canine, I am not allowed inside the building so, I could only see it from the outside. It is big, very big. My dad was pleased that there were hardly any other people around so we could have a good look at it uninterrupted. At the south eastern corner of the cathedral there is a walkway to the Bell Tower, called, not surprisingly, Bell Tower Walk. We headed along it to reach, what some may call ugly, bell tower.
After making a slight detour back to the Eastgate Clock we turned around to walk along the deserted city walls heading parallel with Frodsham Street. This took us to the canal through a small grassy area with benches, to relax in. It was a peaceful spot so, I had a pee while we stopped for a drink of water.
After climbing a few steps, we crossed the bridge over the Shropshire Union canal and proceeded to head back to Hoole, where we had parked a few hours ago. That was our deserted hike around the streets of Chester city. I had been on my lead all the time so, I was itching to stretch my legs. I expected that my dad will take me to a park later. He did. He’s a good boy! Till next time!