From the peace and quiet of an autumn stroll to the action of the Raft race, the river is a huge asset to the city. From the bandstand , to the ice cream vendors, and popular riverside eating establishments like Hickory’s or the award winning Edgar House, the Dee is part of the city’s ever flowing life-force. Walk up the haunted passageway to St John’s ruins or cross the majestic suspension bridge with your bolt cutters to remove the love locks.
Chester’s most populous suburb, built up since the 1950s, and despite its share of bad press, most of my good friends are from here. You’ve got the Parade, the camp, the cycle path, the very recognisable flats and the Blacon festival. Blacon High School recently won an “Investor in people “award and is being rebuilt in an £11.5 million redevelopment in time for the autumn term. All Blacon needs is a Tesco…
Last year campaigners from the Hoole community united with local businesses to champion Hoole’s bid in the Great British High street awards. Celebrity resident Ian Puleston-Davies said that he was “smitten with the village. I love the fact you can walk down the high street and wave and smile. I think that’s what we all adhere to, that’s what we all dream of . Its a community feel at the end of the day.” Hoole is home to a range of independent shops and restaurants including the award winning Sticky Walnut.
4. Soul Kitchen
A “community kitchen” which takes place every week at the Brook St subway, Soul Kitchen was launched last year by a group of friends in response to the debate over the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). A grassroots collective of local activists working to support and feed the homeless and others in need, SK is a fine example of Chester people working together to help others.
Cross over the Old Dee bridge and enter a lovely part of town, with a high street of quality independents, butcher, grocer and paint shop, and more. The grand Victorian cemetery at Overleigh is well worth a romantic wander through the graves. Visit the tranquil Edgars Field overlooking the river and see the Roman shrine to Minerva, the only surviving monument of its type in its original location in the whole of Europe. Offerings to the Goddess are accepted.
6. The Cathedral
Since reintroducing free entry December 2012 , the Cathedral has boomed and expanded its offering. The wonderful “Cathedral at height” tour gives you a birds eye view of how the city fits together. Last year the Falconry centre opened , the perfect spot for a date if you like owls.
The Cathedral is a perfect sanctuary away from the pressures of the intensity of modern life, even for the non religious. The long term project to build the Cathedral out of lego adds another layer of interest, as well as the many exhibitions and displays, including the annual Christmas tree festival. The refectory has free Wi-Fi. The cheapest ticket for York Minster is £10!
7. The Meadows
A few minutes walk from the Groves are the meadows, Chester’s massive “wide open space”. Lose yourself here amidst the beautiful natural surroundings , phone reception permitting. Catch the ferry over to Sandy Lane in the summer , but remember cycling is prohibited. One of the greatest jewels in Chester’s crown.
The Romans arrived in Chester around AD71 and established a fortress here. Their legacy including the amphitheatre endures to this day and is massively popular with both tourists and local schoolchildren. I often ponder an alternative universe in which Chester became the Roman’s British capital instead of London, people would talk of going to “that Chester” and star studded film premieres would take place on town hall square. And all the students would live in glittering skyscrapers.
9. Forum studio theatre
For a city that “doesn’t have a theatre” this theatre, run by Tip Top productions since 2007 has been flying the flag for so called “amateur” productions. From musicals, to TV adaptations to drama, Tip Top never disappoint with their range of productions and the Christmas panto is always great fun. http://www.tiptopproductions.co.uk/
10. Town hall
On Northgate street stands the beautiful Gothic revival Town Hall. Completed in 1869 it is now used for a mixture of civic events and corporate events. Events range from a monthly Friday comedy night, to weddings and the popular literature festival in the autumn. On a darker note the court room inside was used by the Moors Murderers prior to their trial at Chester crown court.
11. Independent spirit
Despite what people say, Chester has plenty of thriving independent businesses. From the decades old sweet shop in the market, to newer arrivals like Ginger and Marmlade on the so called “28th worst street”. Meanwhile Watergate st is home to the Watergate st gallery, Roly’s Fudge and Corks out, Rainforest, VAIN and many more.
“Time is the fire in which we burn”. Nothing says Chester more than this, and crowds of iPad wielding tourists. Chester’s number one attraction, very welcome back after its recent refurbishment. Look out for artist John Donnelly who has been working on the walls for over 20 years.
13. Theatre in the Quarter
Matt Baker and crew have been delivering community theatre projects in Chester for several years now, proving that you don’t need a cultural centre to have culture. Recent highlights include 2014’s “Over by Christmas” a moving First World War elegy, to the collaborative City Passion which wowed thousands over Easter.
Often taken for granted by residents, the zoo is the UK’s biggest visitor attraction outside of London. 1,694,115 visits in 2015 – the highest ever in its 85 year history. Ever expanding with last year’s launch of the Islands including an atmospheric boat trip. The zoo is enshrined in popular culture with its story of it’s creation by George Mottershead, and his battle with militant Upton residents , immortalised in the BBC drama “Our Zoo”.
15. The Shot Tower
The best and saddest of Chester in one go, the historic shot tower has been standing since 1799. An iconic landmark of the Chester skyline, historically a part of the canal side lead works industry. Use to make shot during the Napoleonic wars it now lies semi derelict, still standing despite a recent fire. The oldest surviving shot tower in the country and an important legacy of our industrial past, the tower is a reminder of the lethargy and unease which sometimes surrounds modernising developments. Conveniently located close to Chester’s most expensive supermarket, or at the other end of the scale Boughton Convenience store.
16.The Grosvenor museum
Celebrating its 13oth anniversary in the summer, the museum , founded in 1886 is known for its collection of Roman tombstones, atmospheric period house and its strong schedule of exhibitions and lectures. Recent highlights include a display of Samurai armour, and apocalyptic artworks. An exhibition of Roman medical history is coming this summer. Free entry
Chester is a city of parades, animating the streets with colour and activity. From the cultural offerings such as Chinese New Year of Diwali, to the wonders of the traditional midsummer parade, these events are a nuclear blast to the idea that “nothing ever happens” in Chester. The community midsummer parade, led by Russell Kirk, feature pirates, Roman’s, people dressed as birds and giants. Not many other cities can boast a calendar of events like this, and they’re all free. Pick a good spot on the rows and enjoy. Christmas brings the winter watch and Saturnalia events, along with the now customary religious protesters at the Cross.
The innovative Share Shop on Northgate st was opened in January this year and is the first of its kind in the UK. A combination charity shop/ cafe, customers can buy a “suspended coffee” or clothes voucher which can be redeemed by a local person in need. The profits from the shop are split 50/50 between supporting homeless people in the city and refuges anywhere in the world. Co founder Adam Dandy commented “There’s so much love, generosity and kindness in Chester” .
19. Civil war history
Chester has been visited by many important people over the years. E17 performed and turned on the Christmas lights back in 1998, William Roache , Ken Barlow, opened the branch of Bon Marche at the height of his Corrie fame. Of greater historical significance was the visit of King Charles I during the final days of the English Civil War. The King stood on the walls at the tower then known as the Phoenix tower and watched the
destruction of his army in the last stages of the battle of Rowton Moor. Chester was hugely important during the war as a strategic route to Wales, and the resulting siege of the city was one of our darkest hours. Chester Civil War tours help to bring this often unknown period of our history to life.
20. Flipside radio
Chester’s only community radio station. Based in the Lache, anyone can get involved and have a go at becoming the next Chris Evans. The station features a diverse output broadcasting online every Tues and Thurs, and works with many local presenters, musicians and community groups. http://flipsideradio.org/
Everyone enjoys looking at old photos of Chester. Bygone days of trams and having 5 cinemas, or one Woolworths. The nostalgia industry is booming here, via the growth of facebook groups and other online articles, as we lament the demolition of the old market hall and weep invisible rose tinted tears for ye olden days. More recently you can beat yourself up about the much missed Odeon, the Millets cafe, or before McDonalds gave up on the notion of good customer service by moving to an Argos style pay and collect system. “Bring back quality retailers like C&A!”
Originally constructed by the Romans and adapted and rebuilt over the centuries, a walk around the walls is a perfect way of taking in the city’s rich history and imagining you are a character in Hollyoaks.
23. Social media
From the growth of Chester based twitter traffic over the last 3 years to the mass debates on the Chronicle facebook page, agree with what’s said or not, no one can argue with the passion of the Chester public. Everyone’s on twitter now, from the Lord Mayor to the city police . Epic debates about the name of the cultural centre, and the controversial coke truck prove that the fires of democratic engagement are burning bright. Great for connecting with, and falling out with, like minded individuals. If it all gets too much , use the block button. As I have over 50 times.
24. Local characters
From the lovely lady who says “love” at the end of every sentence in The Forum newsagents, to the sand dog man, X factor stars, “The Lovelies” ..to Themba the preacher you can always spot a familiar face in town. The Town crier is a top Chester icon and a great ambassador for the city. If attending a shop opening or civic event score a point for any of the following: the Lord Mayor, Sheriff, the Dee 106.3 team including Chester the cat, council leader, or MP. At the very least for a shop opening I expect a costumed character.
At the heart of the “historic core” , everyone comes to the Cross. Popular with buskers, protesters, drunk racegoers and sign holders, its a great spot for people watching. Or standing on the unique (found nowhere else in the world) Rows, and pretending you’re King or Queen. The medieval cross was restored to its rightful location in the 1970s after suffering damage in the Civil War.
From over three years of observations of the city, sometimes the most random things are the best. A deflated sex doll atop a bus shelter, a traffic cone on a statue’s head, some subtle sign improvement/ illegal graffiti… A giant tentacle turning on the Garden quarter Christmas lights. John Prescott arguing with a street cleaner at the Cross, Boris Johnson doing a meet and great on Brook St.
“For some people, small beautiful things are what life is all about”
27.Local music scene
Another area wrongly criticised by the few, Chester has a vibrant local music scene with many up and coming acts. There is an open mic night nearly every night of the week. Larger venues like Telfords, Alexanders and the Live Rooms have a strong offering and the new pop up “Sofar sounds” is a welcome addition bringing new bands and performers to the city. The streets themselves are frequently alive with the sound of music, from drumming puppet Mr Peewee, to the shades wearing Oasis wannabe on a Saturday night
The new name for the company behind the fast approaching cultural centre. Originally Chester Performs, they run the hugely popular Theatre in the Park, as well as the literature, and Wayword festivals. After a long wait the 37 million pounds cultural centre is delivering the professional theatre the city has been crying out for since 2007. And a 100 seat cinema.
29. Riverside museum
Largely a secret to Cestrians, part of the university of Chester, this museum in the basement of the Riverside campus, is a collection of items relating to health and social care. Historic gems on display here include a handwritten letter from Florence Nightingale and many items saved from the closure of the Deva mental hospital Open only on the first Wednesday of every month.
30. All the people…
In the “cultural desert” years, groups have come together and emerged, and decided “If we haven’t got it, lets just do it ourselves”. Boosted by social media, we have the likes of Chester Fringe and Chester culture, and local bloggers like Schott’s List or We are Chester. Civic engagement and education is the way forward , get involved in the life of the city and make things a little bit better, or more interesting.