Chester: To Let

I haven’t been to Chester for years, and I wasn’t going to go there today either. But when we got to the Dee Estuary for our planned walk Sarah was too tired, from being so busy with her funeral celebrant work this week. So we decided to drive up to the head of the Estuary and see how Chester is doing.Chester01And the answer is, not all that well.

The town centre looks splendid as ever.

The town centre looks splendid as ever.

Busy with locals and tourists.

Busy with locals and tourists.

But up on the lovely Rows...

But up on the lovely Rows

More shops than I can ever recall...

More shops than I can ever recall…

Are empty and look like they have been for ages.

Are empty and look like they have been for ages.

Much of the centre of Chester is 'To Let.'

Much of the centre of Chester is ‘To Let.’

Years of ‘austerity’ government? Well we’re hardly talking poverty here.

After all not too many high streets have their own 'Aga' shops.

After all not too many high streets have their own ‘Aga’ shops.

But Chester is clearly struggling. We’d parked in the ‘Market’ – a grim multi-storey in what looks like a 1970s shopping precinct. And in there many of the shops were empty too. And the whole place had much more of a run down feel than you’d expect of somewhere just across the street from Chester Cathedral.

We went for a walk about.

Down to the river, the River Dee.

Down to the river, the River Dee.

Busy with pleasure boats and a brass band playing on that bandstand in the distance.

Sarah, enlivened by a cheese toastie, suggested we walk round the Roman Wall, the most complete Roman Wall in Britain, she’d never done it.Chester10 Chester11 Chester12It’s seen a lot of restoration and fortification works since the Romans. And gives a genuinely fascinating insight into the place.

These lovely terraces.

These lovely terraces.

Albion Street.

Albion Place.

A dose of Puritanism!

A dose of Puritanism!

And things you just don’t get to see in most places.

Roman Baths.

Roman Baths.

And the Roman Amphitheater.

And the Roman Amphitheatre.

Not that they care who built it and how long ago.

Not that they care who built it and how long ago.

Crossing the shopping streets.

Crossing the shopping streets.

Chester20

Packed with beautiful Georgian buildings.

Packed with beautiful Georgian and older buildings.

Walking further and deeper into the past.

Walking further and deeper into the past.

A bad day for King Charles.

A bad day for King Charles.

“King Charles stood on this tower, Sept 24, 1645, and saw his army defeated on Rowton Moor.”

Things would only get worse in the following four years.

We walk on.Chester24

Along the Wall and into the distance, across Cheshire and into the Welsh Borderlands.

Along the Wall and into the distance, looking across Cheshire and into the Welsh Borderlands.

But also up close, surprise viewings of how people are living right next to the Wall.Chester26

Like this tiny but carefully done garden.

Like this tiny but carefully done garden.

Then suddenly we come upon the part of the Wall where the harbour used to be.

No water now.

No water now.

But once there was.

But once there was.

Though by the 19th Century Chester's days as a port were over as the Dee silted up.

Though by the 19th Century Chester’s days as a port were over as the Dee silted up.

Then ahead of us, to the side of the Wall, we hear roaring, cheering and the sound of hooves.

And come upon the Chester Races.

And come upon the Chester Races.

On the flat ‘recovered’ land where the harbour used to be, the Roodee, the Chester Racecourse.Chester34 Chester33 Chester32The rain that’s been threatening now starts pouring down, but we stay up there, on the Roman Wall, and watch the next race.Chester35Chester36

After which, even the race-goers in their finery are off to look for a good, dry pub. Of which there are plenty, in Chester.

After which, even the race-goers in their finery are off to look for a good, dry pub. Of which there are plenty, in Chester.

So, how are they doing, these lovely, variegated, historic, hinterland towns?

In recent times we’ve noticed the empty shop spaces in Chester, Southport, Ormskirk and Birkenhead, while the increasingly corporatised centre of Liverpool, and perhaps the city nearest to you seems to thrive.

Is that how it is now? We don’t do towns. We have to do cities? Big, badged-up, footfall-certain, corporate brand names, quirk-free certainties, cosy car parks with shops on the top. Who says so?

Not me, for a kick-off.

Treasure your local towns, I say. It’s glorious to have days out like this, in interesting places. Plus, a decent economy needs variety and localness. We thrive together, or all of our lives become poorer.

5 thoughts on “Chester: To Let

  1. stan cotter

    Lovely Ronnie, a real insight to the wall. I have walked right round and visited the wall and Chester of course many times.

    When you walk right past the town hall and cathedral and right to the bottom you come to the wall, and on it down there is a plaque stating, ‘The roman leaders stopped the soldiers from playing a sport on this spot as it was considered too dangerous and too many of them were being injured.’ The sport believe it or not was FOOTBALL. Nothing changed there then.

    Also the bridge over the by pass has a plaque stating when it was built over the bypass they discovered hundreds of bodies of roman soldiers buried there ( I think and hope I have the number right) as I point out to my partner every time we cross under it, much to her dismay).

    Reply
  2. lindsay53

    Hi Ronnie. Very behind again in catching up on reading your blogs! So prolific! Where do you find the time? Having come to Chester to study in my late teens & having lived & worked there for many, many years, I too have seen many changes & the great invasion of the corporate bodies. Couldn’t agree with your last two sentence more. There has to be a drive to enable everyone to thrive in their own ways. That way, life is so much richer, more creative, more interesting and …happier.. for everyone!X

    Reply
  3. Jan Hasak

    Another lesson for me! You are a wonderful teacher and commentator, Ronnie. We have a Chester in California, not too far from where I live, but it is much smaller than yours. It is indeed a quaint town, mostly vacant in the winter but swarming with tourists bound for the nearby lake and mountains in the summer. Other towns around here seem to be coming back as the economy picks up, and in the process I’ve noticed that many empty storefronts are becoming thrift or consignment shops. Buying new things is passe; buying preowned is environmentally friendly as well as easier on the pocketbook. Interesting how towns evolve across the planet.

    Reply

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