Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Chester Historic Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.2 km (3.2 miles), terrain: mostly flat, 42-meter gain

Chester is one of those places that, when you visit it, you're astounded by the amount of historical sites available in a town that you've never heard anything about. Chester is a jewel of classic British architecture. Its full of historic buildings, an almost complete circle of town walls, a nice riverfront, beautiful churches, elegant parks, a castle, old stone bridges, a horse-race track and ruins dating from Roman days and the middle ages. You'll wonder why it isn't on everybody's short-list of great places to visit.
Chester street scene
Chester began 2,000 years ago as a Roman fort, Deva Victrix, the biggest fortress in Britain. The legionnaires built stone walls and created a rectangular layout of streets within, which still dominate the old town today. Outside the walls, a town developed, and an amphitheater was built.

Later, the Saxons rebuilt the walls and extended them around more of the town to defend against Danish vikings. And after the Saxons were beaten by the Normans, the Normans built a stone castle near the River Dee to command the town and nearby Wales.

Many medieval buildings are still to be seen, and they were augmented in the late 1800s when the town's biggest landlord -- the Grosvenor family -- built many new buildings in the old Tudor style, filling the empty lots downtown to create more rentable space. The buildings on the main streets have a unique architectural style, which you won't find anywhere else.

So if you find yourself in the area south of Manchester and Liverpool near the Welsh border, make sure you spend some time in Chester, and take a route like this to visit the main sights. I'm lucky that I just made my third visit to Chester, and got to re-run the historic routes again.

So, if you'd like to visit a lot of the most memorable sights in town, get yourself to the center of the old town, at the old town cross, standing at the main intersection, where Northgate, Eastgate, Watergate and Bridge Street come together. This was also the main crossing in the original Roman fort, with Northgate and Eastgate still marking two of the entrances to Deva Victrix. The medieval stone cross was once decorated with statues, but they were removed and destroyed during the protestant reformation.
Starting point at the town cross
If you look around, you'll see that all the shop buildings on both sides of the streets have an upper colonnade, with additional shops along the upper level. This is something pretty unique to Chester. The upper level, above the noise, stink and danger of the street below, was made for the more genteel clientele, whereas the the street level shops were frequented by the servants. This run will let you try out both levels. So, let's get running!
View from the upper level
Stand next to the stone cross and turn your back to St. Peter's Church to face south along Bridge Street. The street heads downhill to the River Dee, which for much of its course forms the border between England and Wales. Now start running down the street or up on the upper level to the left or right sides. There are plenty of stairs to go up or down at any time.

The houses often had differing heights, and the upper levels were connected with ramps. Many of the black-and-white buildings were built by the Grosvenors 150 years ago, with detailed oaken woodwork, and they really kept the medieval feel of the town.

You'll pass the Three Old Arches house on the right side, supposedly the oldest shop front in England. There are also a variety of historic pubs lining Bridge Street along both sides.
Old Dee Bridge
When you get to the south end of town, you'll run out Southgate, right at the Old Dee Bridge. This medieval bridge is located on the site of the original Roman bridge.

At the river, turn left to run eastwards along the riverside park, with the old town walls up above you to the left, on a cliff. After a few blocks, when you get to Hickory's restaurant, you'll see that the town walls head back uphill again as the cliff ends. This area once also had lots of rock, but the Romans quarried it, outside of the fort walls. There is now a Roman Gardens park there, where a lot of Roman ruins were relocated when discovered in various parts of town.
Teenagers at the riverfront
I love the waterfront here: with River Dee tour boats, pedal boats, hangouts for relaxing, and plenty of shade trees.

When you come to the Victorian pedestrian suspension bridge, turn left to enter Grosvenor Park, right past the first house on the right side.
The suspension bridge
Now run eastwards as far as you can in the park. At the one-kilometer-mark, you'll pass some old medieval archways which were relocated here, and then get a nice view out over the river.
In Grosvenor Park
At the east end of the park, round the playground to the left and its pond and then turn westwards, running along the north end of the park. You'll pass a cafè and come to a ruined church at the west end of Grosvenor Park, St. John the Baptist. This ruins used to be the Chester cathedral. But when the bishop moved to another town, the local congregation couldn't afford to keep up the big cathedral by themselves. So they let the east half fall into ruins while they kept using the western half. It's fun to wander between the ruined Gothic arches.
Ruins of St. John the Baptist
Run westwards past the church and you will come into a busy city open space. Looking closely, the space surrounds an unearthed Roman amphitheater, the biggest in Britain. It was discovered when a road was to be built directly through it. Luckily, determined preservationists prevailed over the city plans for the new road. Just run westwards along the sidewalk skirting the amphitheater.
Roman amphitheater, with Newgate in the background
You are running directly towards the arch of Newgate, leading you back into the old town. Just before you get to the gateway, you'll see the Roman Garden park with its Roman ruins to the left side.

When you run through the archway, turn left to then take the stairs up to the top of the town walls here. This is the 2-km-mark.

At the top, turn north to keep running along the top of the walls, with rooftops to either side.
Eastgate with clock, as seen from below
When you get to the old Roman gate of Eastgate, you'll pass under the amazing Victorian clock with its wrought-iron frame.

Keep running north and you'll get to a nice part of the walls, with the gardens of the present cathedral to your left, with lots of trees to either side.
Along the walls behind the cathedral
Keep running north, past the cathedral falconry and a sports field, then you reach the north end of the walls, where the path turns left. There is a deep defensive ditch here, dug by the Romans when they built this wall. Now the Shropshire Canal occupies the space, after deepening the ditch.
The north wall, built by legionnaires
You'll pass over Northgate, another newer gate on the site of an original Roman fort gate. Keep running westwards, if you can. When I ran it, the path on top of the walls was blocked by renovation work. If it is still blocked, just take the stairs down to street level and keep running westwards along Water Tower Street. Take a stairs back up to the top whenever you pass the renovation work.

A busy street, St. Martin's Way, passes under the walls at the 3-km mark, then later a train line.
The Water Tower as seen from the wall trail
When you get to the northwestern corner of the walls, you'll see the wall continuing out to the Water Tower, which once sat in the middle of a small harbor, guarding the ships. The harbor has been filled-in and is now a park.

You have to turn south here and the wall trail now forms a sidewalk for City Walls Road. The wall isn't very evident here, it's more of a stone-faced embankment facing the Water Tower Park.

Now just keep running along the wall past the Watergate and the entrance to the Chester Racecourse (horse racing). You'll see the whole racetrack stretching out below you to the right, on old marshland next to the river, as you run next to Nuns Road.
The racecourse
You'll pass the round, glass Abode Hotel on the left, at the 4-km-mark.

Now you'll come to another highlight on your left, Chester Castle. It is an old Norman "motte and bailey" construction. A motte and bailey castle used an artificial hill in the middle as the base for the biggest tower (the "keep", and surrounded it with another curtain of walls which contained buildings for the garrison (the bailey).
Chester's Norman castle
Now keep running along the wall, downhill towards the river. When you get to the river, the wall turns to the left and you follow it past some Chester University buildings.

When you see the Riverside Innovation Center on the left, a block before you come back to the Old Dee Bridge, turn left to take the St. Mary's Hill pedestrian street uphill past St. Mary's church and then the main buildings from the castle. A Military Museum is in one building, and a courthouse occupies the main building. These Greek-revival-style buildings were built 200 years ago, replacing the original medieval buildings.

Now, at the big Grosvenor Roundabout, take Grosvenor Street towards the northeast as it heads back to Bridge Street.

At Bridge Street, turn left to head the last few blocks uphill to the town cross, where you started. You can try more upper-level/lower-level changes as you wish. Nice run!

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