Why Chester is wonderful – especially at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 16:41 24 November 2020 | UPDATED: 20:36 24 November 2020
The best things about Chester – by some of its greatest fans
Four Chester champions with very different connections to the city send messages to the place they love all year round, but especially at Christmas, and especially this Christmas when we all need it, and each other, so much
Merry Christmas Chester
Like so many others who call this city home, I am not originally from Chester but now proudly call myself a Cestrian. After raising my children here, and forging a career, I wondered if there was somewhere new calling my name and contemplated relocating. This city is not perfect, no city is, but when I took stock of what Chester had to offer and what was on its way – the creation of Storyhouse had just been announced – I realised my heart was here.
Chester is charming at Christmas. The city is having a tough time of it, but still has so much to offer – like the production of A Christmas Carol, which is due to be on stage at Storyhouse, and where we can we tuck into our ice cream and forget our current troubles. Its message, that we should all be kinder to each other, has even more resonance this year.
Christmas in Chester is wonderfully atmospheric, especially at dusk. It takes on a Dickensian feel – the historic buildings, the swirly mists coming off the river, the glistening cobbles. You can feel a frisson of excitement – especially in some of the little lanes around The Rows. So grab a warming gluhwein on one of the new al fresco terraces and cosy up Ato the patio heater.
Getting lost among the unique shops and restaurants, Chester makes a great day’s Christmas shopping: sweet little toy shop The Weasel and the Bug, the Chester Model Shop for people who need something absorbing over the holidays, upscale SpaceNK and Flannels, and some gorgeous jewellery shops for people who deserve something very special. When you need a bit of a pick-me-up there are great food choices from Chester’s independent restaurants – among my favourites are Stile Napolitano for a really authentic southern Italian pizza or Joseph Benjamin for a Christmas lunch with a delicious twist. And for really special afternoon teas – the Grosvenor, of course. Sweet Elements is a new very exciting entrant, for when you really have shopped until you drop. And don’t forget to swing by Chester’s buzzing market for great indie and global food – much of which can be taken home. (You can also check out progress on the nearby new Northgate development, which is coming on leaps and bounds.)
Chester is beautiful, walkable and welcoming. Great for a day out anytime but magical at Christmas. This year, supporting the high street is appreciated more than ever and there will be lots of days with free parking to entice you, plus the city is launching its own gift card so you can give someone the gift of a trip to Chester to spend it. And hopefully, they will take you along too.
Merry Christmas Chester – love you.
Chairperson, Chester BID
Board of trustees, Storyhouse
Merry Christmas Chester
I grew up in Ellesmere Port, that industrial neon beacon on the banks of the Mersey.
My mates’ dads were mostly from Liverpool, coming to the Port to work at Bowaters or Vauxhalls.
My dad was from Aldersey on the outskirts of Chester; his dad was a farming labourer. We spent school holidays here, messing about in the hay barns and fishing for eels in the stream that ran outside my Auntie Brenda’s little white cottage.
When people on holiday ask me where I come from I say “between Chester and Liverpool”… it makes me feel a little disloyal, but it saves having to give a rubbish geography lesson and avoids having to name drop a certain outlet village.
Liverpool gave us kids our footballing allegiances and a proud musical heritage that still pervades most of my studio playlists. Chester gave us something different.
Our school trips were to Chester Zoo, Tatton Park or the Grosvenor Museum and, once a year, our mum would take us into Chester on a Crosville (top deck, front seats) to the pictures.
Last Christmas we took my grandson to see Peter Pan at the wonderful Storyhouse (the former Odeon Cinema). Immediately I was flooded with magical memories of Flash Gordon, Star Wars, Grease. And Bambi – “shurrup I’m not crying, tell him mum!”
It’s funny how buildings can do that. In Chester it happens to me a lot.
I smile whenever I pass the Fountains roundabout because my dad told me he once got arrested for dancing in them when he was 16…it may have had something to do with the World Cup Final.
My first ever pint was in the Dublin Packet (famously owned by Everton legend Dixie Dean). I can’t go for a night out in Chester now without having at least one in here; it’s a ritual. I’m not religious, but I light a candle in the cathedral every time I’m in town. I’ve done it for years, I’m not quite sure why. I could say I was just ahead of the game in terms of mindfulness, but the reality is I just love the building and the sense of serenity I feel inside.
I hit 50 earlier this year, and (as far as I’m aware) I’ve not endured any major midlife crisis; I drive a sensible car, have a sensible (ish) haircut and have a lovely little rescue dog called Lola. I have however started trying to complete circles. My circles over the past few years are a little different though and are mostly Chester-centric. In 2019, I had my first solo show at the Grosvenor Museum. It was called Made in Chester and it was my love letter to the city. The choice of venue itself represented a circular journey for me.
Chester, I think, is a city for all seasons. I have beautiful childhood memories of kicking leaves along The Groves and Queens Park Bridge in the autumn, walking in the snow along the walls behind the cathedral at Christmas, watching the horse races from the walls in summer and going to the zoo for an Easter treat in spring.
These images on these pages (and others) were featured in the Made in Chester exhibition and completed lots of little circles.
That exhibition has now found a permanent home in the entrance to the Cheshire School of Visual and Performing Arts in Handbridge, where my mum went to art school in the 1960s, making a really lovely 50-year circle (in my head at least).
In 2017, I designed the Chester Christmas Campaign, and had a lovely little chalet at the Chester Christmas Market… again more circles completed, especially the weekly pint in the Dublin Packet – magical stuff.
So there it is. Liverpool, you gave me football and music and Chester… well Chester, you let me complete lots of my circles, and for that I’m truly grateful.
Lemondrop Creative digital communication agency,
Merry Christmas Chester
It’s been biblical. In the four and a half years since I opened the doors to my traditional little toy shop, Weasel and the Bug, the shop has survived a flood, a pandemic and more political leaders than Game of Thrones. But I’ve gained an army of friends, customers, supporters and colleagues along with a love for this city that is unwavering. Even if you sent a plague of locusts down Watergate Street you couldn’t get rid of me. You’re a city of the ages for all ages; a metropolis that kisses the countryside, with days you never forget, and nights you can’t remember (thanks to the bartenders and mixologists, who pepper every corner within your walls).
Our love affair began in 2014 when I set up shop in Chester’s indoor market, a dramatic career change from nursing, with a three-year-old daughter and a babe in arms. You welcomed me and now I know why the Romans settled here all those years ago. Visitors find it easy to fall in lust with the unique architecture and scenery of our riverside city, but it’s the people of Chester who cement their love. The shopkeepers, restaurateurs and merchants form a vibrant community in this village with a cathedral in it. A place I’m immeasurably proud to be part of, so thank you, with so much love from one diva to another.
Weasel & The Bug (powered by children, not batteries)
19 Watergate Street, Chester, CH1 2LB
Ciao a tutti
A few years ago my husband Fabrizio received a job offer he could not turn down (he is an engineer) and we were given the chance to house hunt before our life-changing permanent move to the UK. The first place we visited, thanks to his manager’s advice: Chester.
We did not know at the time that this was a major turning point in both our lives. In just a few hours we fell in love with Chester.
We connected with everything the city was showing us: the Rows, the Roman city plan, the vibrant atmosphere on the streets and in the pubs. On that sunny day, Chester was perfect and it warmed up our hearts.
Despite all that, for practical reasons, we ended up moving closer to where Fabrizio would work. Five years after our day in Chester, and a river of other things happening in between, the vision around our restaurant Da Noi started to materialise. It was like a magic flow and the vision brought Chester back to us when we moved to Handbridge and opened our restaurant in 2018.
I love supporting other independent businesses like mine; it feels like a big neighbourhood – a big family – and Christmas is especially magical. Da Noi supports the people in temporary accommodation with warm meals every week and will continue to do so. It is part of the process that makes me feel my home is here, in Chester.
Da Noi Chester, 63 Bridge Street,
Chester, CH1 1NG