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.And the answer is, not all that well.
Years of ‘austerity’ government? Well we’re hardly talking poverty here.
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.
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. It’s seen a lot of restoration and fortification works since the Romans. And gives a genuinely fascinating insight into the place.
And things you just don’t get to see in most places.
“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.
Then suddenly we come upon the part of the Wall where the harbour used to be.
Then ahead of us, to the side of the Wall, we hear roaring, cheering and the sound of hooves.
On the flat ‘recovered’ land where the harbour used to be, the Roodee, the Chester Racecourse. The rain that’s been threatening now starts pouring down, but we stay up there, on the Roman Wall, and watch the next race.
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.