Saturday, 3 October 2009


Along the walls

There is something very special about walking around a full set of city walls. We have done this a few times: Lucca, Aigues Mortes, St Malo, Xi'an, Dubrovnik. And also the partial walls of Rhodes and Gerona. Locally, there are the vestiges of the walls at Roman Calleva, modern-day Silchester, the only wall walk I have blogged. And then there is Carcassone, although there you walk around the outside of the walls rather than on the top, so it doesn't really count. I see this as a long-term project and I have a list of other walled towns to investigate.

However, today it was the turn of Chester. The original walls of Roman Deva were built of earth around AD70, and rebuilt in stone a few years later. They were extended in Norman times, when the castle was built and repaired, and reinforced during the Civil War when Chester was besieged by the Parliamentarians. The current promenade dates from the 18th century. Chester City Council provide a helpful leaflet describing the Walls Heritage Trail.

The walk starts at the Eastgate, crowned by its splendid late Victorian clock, celebrating Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897.

We followed the trail anti-clockwise to pass behind the Cathedral and were struck by the bulk of the modern bell tower (seen below from the Cathedral gardens, looking towards the wall). The Chester Tourist website reveals that it was designed by George Pace and completed in 1974. It was the first free-standing bell tower to be built for 500 years. It is no match for an Italian campanile!

At the northeast corner you come to the King Charles tower, from which the king surveyed the civil war siege.

The north section provides a typical view of the wall as you walk along, with north Wales on the horizon.

You then turn the north west corner and walk along the long west side, overlooking Chester race course, until you reach the remains of the Norman castle.

Just beyond the castle, at the south west corner, you meet the wide River Dee and after the 1930s County Hall, once the site of the gaol, which interrupts the continuity of the path, you come to the Old Dee Bridge.

Soon after this, you reach the south east corner, pass the roman garden and amphitheatre and reach the end of the trail. The final section of the wall is closed for rebuilding and the diversion takes you through the Grosvenor Mall shopping precinct - a truly horrendous culture shock after the calm and historical contemplation of the walk around the walls.

After a nice lunch we completed our visit to Chester by wandering round the Rows, the unique two-storey shopping area, with shops linked by a first floor walkway.

Then we went around the magnificent cathedral. We were surprised by the £5 entry fee, but the audio guide which came with it was excellent. There is a great deal to admire, but for me the highlight was the tall, airy nave.

I thought the statue in the cloister was rather wonderful with its Beardsley-like figures. It dates from 1994 and is called The Water of Life. It depicts the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria. It is the work of Stephen Broadbent, a specialist in public art works.

Distance: 2 miles around the walls.

Rating: four stars.

No comments: