Sunday, June 05, 2011

Our Day Out to Chester

Working in a university library is hardly stressful but it is always nice to have a day off work and go somewhere different. I feel nothing but contempt for most of my colleagues but there are some who I will willingly spend time with outside of work. So last week, my Louise-Brooks-bobbed colleague Clare and I went for a day trip to Chester.
The original plan was to do a 6 miles walk in West Lancashire calling in at a few pubs. On reflection however I recalled that a couple of the pubs are closed which could leave us with a fair distance to walk without beer or the sort of facilities one needs after beer. In a flash of brilliance I decided to go to Chester, just 40 minutes away on the train and with some of my favourite canal in England.

So on a Wednesday, one that the Met Office said would be the only cloudy day of the week, we arrived in Chester. It's a short walk from Chester station down City Road to the canal. On the bridge I pointed out a few of the local points of interest to my companion: the lead shot tower, the water tower, the canal itself and the mills and warehouses. And of course the first pub: Old Harkers Arms. I have been here once before with towpathtreks' Irish pub reviewer, on race day as I recall and the place was packed with be-suited Scousers getting ready for a day of drinking and obnoxiousness. On this latest occasion though we almost had the place to ourselves. It was half twelve and I wasnt sure what I fancied to drink. We were going to have food so we thought it best to have a bottle of dry white wine, South African I think it was. I am the sort of person who judges wine on its alcohol content and price. Preferably the former is high and the later is low. But the Old Hawkers Arms is a nice place for nice people so I had to act civilized. We were drawn to the end of the pub with the bookshelves. Surprisingly enough although I work in a library I dont see that much of the bookshelves, but we felt at home here. The Hawkers Arms really is nice. Its a big room without feeling like a barn. Its nice and light, you can see boats going past on the canal. There is plenty of decoration but nothing too distracting. And the staff were very nice too. We had lunch, fish finger sandwich and prawn sandwiches, with chips. All very nice. Even the toilets are nice. I could have stayed there drinking all day but I would have probably let myself and my colleague down and done or said something that would preclude me coming back, and I would like to go back.
Outside the weather was improving. The white cloud had patches of blue and it was warm. We walked towards the city centre along the towpath. I past by the Canalside Bar which last time I had walked straight out of. Maybe next time. We past the Frog and Nightingale too. I dont think I will go back there again. Not unless I want to get shitfaced on Fosters with like-minded people.
Under the city walls, in the deep rock cutting, below the Northgate and Bridge of Sighs is a very good place to be. It has the history, the canal, that feeling of peace and seclusion you get on canals even when they are a stones throw from busy roads and towns. We wandered along looking at the sandstone and the ducklings. The ducks were swimming against the current, there were boats locking down the Northgate staircase. Past the locks we walked around the basin stopping to look at the big iron hook for horse drawn boats and the graving lock and dry dock. There are some gorgeous new flats being built. You can tell they are gorgeous because of the big signs saying so on the side.
We arrived at our destination, Telford's Warehouse. This, as the name suggests, is a former warehouse which was built by Thomas Telford in the 1790s. For whatever reason I have never been inside this pub. I know it as a music venue and assumed that during the day it would be empty or shut. But there were people sat outside on the picnic tables and the sun was shining brightly on them. Inside the decor was not what I had imagined, although I dont know what I had imagined it would be like. I liked it, it is sort of modern trendy old fashioned. There is a pretty impressive range of beers on tap, but as it was so sunny I went for a nice cold lager. Ice Cold in Alex. It almost seemed a shame to leave the nice pub but we went and sat outside and enjoyed the sun. A couple of boats went past and some locals were fishing and enjoying some Stella. Much better than being in work.
After our drinks we walked up to the city walls and around to the River Dee. On the way we were engulfed in a tour group from Italy or Germany or some such continental place. Chester is very popular with tourists. Interestingly my colleague was more excited by an old 1980s TSB logo than the mock Tudor or Roman remains. There are also some hideous concrete buildings from the 1970s in Chester. The council must have been desperate for any investment then to allow them to built that stuff.
At the river we got ice creams and went on a boat trip up the Dee. Sadly we were on the Mark Twain not the Lady Diana but it was very nice and I got to see bits of Chester I hadn't seen before. The taped commentary was good, and the boat houses by the river are very swanky.
After the boat ride we went for food and drink (O'Kells) in the Bear and Billet, a favourite of mine. It seems to be popular with the tourists too, some Japanese or Chinese tourists were stood across the road taking photos of the pub. After eating we had one last drink (Spitting Feathers) in the Brewery Tap. The pub is in an old hall parts of which date back to the early 1500s. The main room has some impressive features as did the rather nice barmaid. If you like your real ale and appreciate an old building then this is the place for you.
We walked back to the canal, passing the Frog and Nightingale which was now very loud and busy outside. Soon we were back in Liverpool tired from the fresh air and sunshine. And the booze.
It was a really nice day, the weather was unexpectedly lovely and my colleague was the perfect person to skive off work with in Chester.

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