With the sun shining and the flowers blooming I took a trip into the city to experience the Enchanted Forest festival, just part of another busy day in Chester. The festival is part of the Covid recovery funded Spring Blooms programme, which also includes an art installation trail, a food trail, free kayaking sessions and activities involving numerous city centre businesses.
“Which over priced market is that today then?!” sneers a cynical dog walker as he walks past the ever popular Taste Cheshire market, bustling in the Town Hall square. He probably goes home to moan on the facebook about how the council need to lower the rates. Meanwhile the religious loudspeaker lot, another part of the Chester jigsaw promenade by the elephant statue wearing catchy high vis jackets declaring “The wages of sin are death”. They are soon drowned out by the arrival of the The King Brasstards a New Orleans themed 5 piece brass band who perform in front of the market. They are followed by the Chester Male voice choir, who perform in front of the pop up art shop/studio in the square, its upper window decorated with art by Mark Wigan. Raising funds for victims of the invasion of Ukraine, the choir who celebrated their 80th anniversary last year, perform with the now iconic yellow and blue in front of them. During a pause one of the choir, hands me a flyer encouraging me to join. When I reply that I can’t sing he smiles that “only about one percent of the population can’t sing!” Perhaps I could infiltrate the choir and write a blog. A voice behind me says :
“What if some ladies want to join… you can’t discriminate these days..!”
Events take a surreal and fun turn with the arrival of the crystal ball wielding Magical Flower Fairies, and the stilt walking Enchanted Trees. The elaborately costumed street performers have everyone reaching for their phones, the tree folk high fiving children as they weave around the square. “Think this should be mandatory outfit for full council” tweets fancy dress fan leader of the Council Louise Gittins to me. Everyone loves a costumed character, from our own Roman soldiers, to the BID’s Christmas elves, and the giant squirrels we were blessed with one Easter, to giant pound coin that opened the now closed Pound world back in 2014.
Leaving the square, I sit briefly in the Cathedral garden listening to a lonely busker performing some melancholy tunes including “In my Life” and “Streets of London”. The sad lyrics of the latter contrasting with the colourful Spring stage installation and the general vibrancy of the day. Moving on I pass one of the new mini murals painted on BT boxes across the city centre, organised by Chester BID. The new trail of work by local artists brings new life to previously nondescript everyday street features. In front of the Cathedral by Bell Tower walk is Julie Colclough‘s painting of the archway in the park with 2 squirrels is my favourite. Such a simple idea and one that I’ve seen in numerous locations in Europe, providing work for the art community and enhancing the city centre. People will love this stuff, and they’ll take pictures of it and put it on their insta’s alongside the evergreen Clock and walls snapshots. More new public art, unconnected with the Spring events can be found in the vastly improved Supertrees roundabout with bright aquatic scenes replacing the grim decay previously found there.
I head for Bridge street via the Cross noting the new jewellers opening soon, already filling the gap left in this key location by the departure of Waltons. On the way a medieval character (from the new Chester Medieval Tours) passes by, looking like a ghost. “Maximus decidius meridius! ” says a passer by to him, thinking himself clever, but getting it spectacularly wrong.
I also note the new jewellers inside the former Dough and Co unit, as well as the ongoing works for the new luxury hotel with its rooftop spa. I miss my old parade viewing spot from the corner of Bridge street/Watergate, closed for the building works but find a spot on the rows to watch the arrival of the fairies, trees and band. The trees pull off some dance moves as the band plays on. The smiles returning to everyone faces. The Plague Doctor from hit attraction , Sick to Death turns up and stands watching from outside Pound Bakery before joining in for a group photo.
As ever the rows provide the perfect viewing platform. Its good to be back. Everything looks HD for the first time in a long while, the bridge street buildings that everyone takes for granted. The rows, found nowhere else in the world, perhaps at last seeing something of a revival, with ongoing restoration work and new businesses moving in. The new vintage clothes shop opening on Bridge street row, Bloom and Albion and the forthcoming Chester Pride cafe at ground level. Etc. I follow the performers back down Eastgate street as the tree folk hobbles down the steps into the former Liverpool shop for a break.
Later, the performers bring their party to Watergate street, the band taking up in front of the Watergate street gallery, hosting alfresco art activities for children. Its a carnival atmosphere as once again crowds gather on the rows – a refreshing change that the days events are spread out across the city and not confined to one area, with later spots covered including the long neglected Rufus Court , and Foregate street. How great to have something NEW which , although obviously hasn’t come for free, embraces all parts of the city and collaborates with businesses. Heading home I load up the Designed by Nature app to view the new Town Hall clock option- voiced by Chester legend Matt Baker. Sadly I can’t get it to work possible due to the sun’s bright glare. Will try again later.
Saturday also saw a packed event in Handbridge celebrating the Minerva Shrine and the area’s Roman heritage, as well as an engagement day at the Countess of Chester country park informing the public about plans to develop a new wetlands habitat in the park. Everything happening in Chester. With the signs of a city centre revival, numerous news shops, restaurants , businesses and hotels opening. plus the autumn promise of the 30 years awaited Northgate development, as well as more public art than we’ve ever seen in Chester, can we allow ourselves some optimism ? I keep this thought firmly in my mind before going back to an afternoon of doom scrolling.
For todays line up see : https://www.visitcheshire.com/whats-on/chester-designed-by-nature-enchanted-forest-festival-weekend-p291991 . There will be further activities on the 25th/26th March with The Birdcage Stage Spring celebration weekend, this time promising street performers operating from a giant golden birdcage structure, including acrobatic cats and dogs, and a stilt walking butterfly-and-flower duo.