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English City of Church Spires Offers Old World Charm

August 09, 1987|GEOFFREY DEAN-SMITH | Dean-Smith is a Beverly Hills free-lance writer

CHESTER, England — This city is a haven of English history.

There is a spirit here that provides a priceless insight into England's past. You can find it in the faces of the people. One can see England as it once was--a place to have fun and relax in a tranquil setting.

Chester stands as a beacon of civilized delights, with its church spires and medieval buildings and the lovely River Dee amid those green hills rolling into the Welsh countryside.

The Romans originally established Chester under the direction of the Emperor Vespasian in the 1st Century. It was built as a legionary fortress for the Roman army in its northward march through Britain.

Standing atop the old Roman wall that runs through the city, one has an expansive view of the surrounding area and how it must have looked to the Roman soldiers in their struggle to keep out the fierce and marauding Welsh.

Steeped in royal patronage and antiquity, Chester maintains a climate of Old World charm. Most days around noon, a town crier in period costume can be seen announcing the news and events of the day, reading from parchment outside St. Peter's Church. Wandering minstrels, musicians and solitary pipers play for throngs of shoppers and sightseers.

Far From Madness

Chester feels safe--far from the madness and overcrowding of large cities, yet full of enough hustle and bustle to make one still feel at the center of things. It's like being part of a charming ritual that has been going on for centuries and that will continue to do so for many more centuries.

Shopping in Chester is a delight, what with the streets closed off to traffic so that one can stroll at leisure through the "rows." Rain or shine, you'll find yourself in a pleasant mix of modern and medieval surroundings. Most of the merchants love to barter. They also are eager, inquisitive people who like to get to know their visitors.

Chester is one of those cities where you have fun just walking. Guided tours leave the Chester Visitor Center daily at 10:30 a.m. The guides have all attended an extensive course of lectures, and passed a written and oral examination. The walks last from one to three hours. The Chester Visitor Center is on Vicars Lane.

One of the available walks explores the landmark Chester Wall. This one is popular with youngsters; diplomas of military service are presented by the Roman Soldier Wall Patrol at the end of the tour.

There is the Tudor Trail, with a modern-day Eleanor Aldersey--who lived in Chester in 1573--clad in Tudor costume. The Ale Trail provides the drinking man's history of England. It's a look into the historic inns and taverns where Roman troops, Cavaliers, Roundheads, highway men and smugglers all once cavorted.

A popular walk with many American visitors is the Ghost Hunter Trail, which ventures into some of the strange and eerie tales of Chester's past. The cost of the walks range from $5 U.S. to $10.

Popular Attraction

Chester Zoo is a popular tourist attraction with nearly 1 million people a year visiting the 130 acres of animal enclosures and fabulous gardens. The animals live in open spaces amid natural surroundings, and are only separated from the public by water-filled moats and islands. Twenty-five full-time gardeners look after the grounds, which are kept immaculately clean.

Admission to Chester Zoo is $5 for adults and about $2 for children ages 4 to 15 years (3 years and under get in free). Parking is also free. The zoo is just north of the city, with as easy access via the M53 and M56 motor ways.

Several notable attractions can be found within close driving distance of Chester. About four miles from the city center, driving across the lovely Holt/Farndon Bridge (which dates to the 14th Century), is the town of Farndon, known for its strawberries and as the home of St. Chad's Church.

The church was used by Cromwell's forces during their siege of Chester. Tatton Park, with a magnificent house that was home to the Egerton family for 300 years, is also worth a visit.

East of Chester is Delamere Forest, with fine golf courses at both Delamere and nearby Sandiway. A little further afield for golf enthusiasts is the Wilmslow Golf Club in Mobberley, near Knutsford and about a 25-minute drive from Chester.

The best hotel in Chester is the Chester Grosvenor Hotel, owned by the Duke of Westminster, whose estate is nearby. Guests at the Grosvenor are given the royal treatment. A double room, not including breakfast, runs about $130 per night.

Write to the Chester Grosvenor Hotel Co. Ltd., Eastgate Street, Chester, Cheshire, England CH1 1LT.

The Blossoms Hotel, in the center of town on St. John Street, is slightly less expensive than the Grosvenor. The Cavaliers are said to have lived it up here during the Civil War, and only surrendered to the Roundheads once the wine cellar had run dry. Blossoms Hotel, St. John Street, Chester, Cheshire, England CH1 1HL.

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