Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chester, England

I've gotten more information from my friend Dave about Blackthorn, so I'll be dipping into The White Goddess by Robert Graves. It's great when people have information to pass on and are "reading for content!"

Swans on the River Dee

Jodi, from the Wales workshop, came to the most recent protest against bombing Syria (note: I don't trust Obama, Putin, Assad, or the rebels, so we need to watch what happens next very closely). Thank you, Jodi. We'd had about 60 at each of the previous three protests, but this time there were only five of us. But the other three attendees were delighted to meet Jodi, especially when they heard she'd been on the trip to Wales. And she and I got a chance to say how much we had enjoyed it.

A window in Chester

Getting to Dublin from Bala was going to take so long on public transportation and get me there late, so I decided to just spend an extra day in Great Britain and go to Chester (with its more direct line to the ferry to Dublin), since it is essentially the family seat of my ancestors, the Eatons. My friend, Dave (same Dave as above), whom I met through Occupied Press/Prensa Ocupada, is a Chester Eaton, too, but not the line that went to Philadelphia.

The Pied Bull, Chester

I was dropped off by others on their way to Manchester Airport. We'd stopped in Chester for lunch on the way to Wales, but hadn't had time to look around. When I was picking a place to stay, I wanted one within the old walls and the decision was easy when I saw the name The Pied Bull. After all, I love Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty, so it seemed a fit.

Bullet glass window

There has been a pub on the spot since 1155, so it has just a bit of history. My room was classic motel and looked on an air shaft, so I think this is the only place I stayed on the whole trip that doesn't have a photo from the window - hence the window in the pub.

Stairway from 1533

So the building doesn't go back to the 12th century, but some of its components go back to the 16th century with considerable remodeling around them. And since my strain of Eaton ancestors is tentatively traced back to 16th century Cheshire (the county), this really felt right. They also claim that it's haunted. People wake up to find ghosts sitting in the chairs or some such. Needless to say, I didn't see a ghost. Maybe you have to believe.

Cauliflower across the street

I took lots of photos of windows and stores in Chester. This cauliflower display was just down the street from The Pied Bull and cauliflower did seem to be attracting a lot of attention. Right next door were those awful hats English women wear - called Fascinators - yes, I'm fascinated to know why you wear them. The hats were getting a lot of attention, as well. And I did see women going to a wedding wearing them. They are little and flat with things sticking out all over them and they perch on the head as though they were magnets and your head were metal.

A "Fascinator" (lower left)

And just down from the hat store was a cheese shop that does wedding cakes.

For the gluten intolerant, I guess,
but not dairy intolerant

And I seem to be pretty good at knowing when to look up and see animals in the window.

He looks perplexed

Two blocks down was Chester Cathedral and I took my requisite mass of photos of interesting details inside and out. It was certainly not where my branch of Eatons worshipped, since they were non-conformist Baptists and prey for imprisonment and sometimes death.

Chester Cathedral

It was quite a surprise to enter a small room in a corner of the cathedral and find the Consistory Court where "all cases dealing with Church life in the Diocese" were tried. Prominent leaders of the Baptist faith were tried here and some were executed, causing the Baptists to flee to Wales and, eventually, the Colonies.

This chair in the court dates to 1635

They were setting up for a wedding - the one where the Fascinators would later appear. And I had a great time wandering through. I don't have much commentary on the cathedral itself, so I'll just show a few of the photos.

Window onto the cloister

Angels on high

Ornamental detail

Exterior details

Side door - I just love the colors

Chester is a bit of a theme park town. It has a lot of very old, half-timbered buildings, but most of the half-timbered fronts were built at the end of the 19th century. I haven't read up on it, but I would guess it was for the tourist trade.

Chester half-timber

They are a lot of fun to see, but since they aren't "original," the town does have an amusement park atmosphere. There are even people walking the streets dressed in period attire pretending to be town criers and such.

One of the main drags

As you can see, it's quite a hodge-podge and, in summer, a bit of a circus. The town is really all about shopping - these are arcades and there are stores on multiple levels and every chain store is here. I usually walk around looking up so as to avoid the world's generic stores, but looking up here gets you another level of the same stuff, punctuated by reconstruction half-timbers.

Half-timbered Starbucks

I did try to do some genealogical research - there is an office right in the middle of town with volunteers to help. But everything they had, I had already found online, but I did buy a pamphlet on how to do research - which I haven't even opened yet.

City wall and the River Dee

Chester has the most complete medieval wall of any city in Great Britain. Except for one very short break, you can loop the whole place. Some of it is smack in the middle of everything and some is very quiet and relaxing.

Quiet stretch of wall

And sometimes it gives you a great vantage point into people's windows and easier picture taking.

I think these people wanted me
to take a picture

This one felt voyeuristic

The whole thing only took a few hours with all my stopping. It passed through shopping, by the cathedral, along the river, along the canal, through residential areas, past Roman ruins and was a great way to spend an afternoon - much better than down among all those shops. And I could imagine a nice stroll with cousin Gillian - we walked the walls of York a few times, as kids.

Like being in the country

Lock on the canal

I couldn't tell if the canal is used for anything besides houseboats and recreation. Some of the stretches along it were commercial and others lovely and residential.

House along the canal

You can't see it in this picture, but this house sits above the canal. It has a greenhouse, an art studio, a beautiful garden, solar panels - all a remodel of an old building. An elderly (that just means older than I am) man was outside working on a project and it certainly looked as though he had an idyllic life.


Not only do you get to look at human residences, but there are bird residences, as well.

The fear of the lord is a fountain of life.

That's just plain crazy. Who thinks like that? But the wall puts it all at eye level.

More half-timber

I had never seen these designs pressed into the plaster (or whatever it is) and I have no idea whether they are purely a 19th century fantasy or have an older precedent. A lot of buildings had this.

A gift to the city from the Chester zoo

A choir, that was part of a festival at the cathedral, was staying at the inn. I don't know where they were from, but they were having a grand time, but if anyone wants to sing in England "we're going to be short first sopranos come September." I was in Chester just over 24 hours and then took a train back along the northern Welsh coast to get to the ferry in Holyhead (on Anglesey), where I caught the ferry to Dublin.

Pastel houses in Holyhead

For a good stretch of the ride, all the detritus of Wales was laid out along the tracks. Eventually we got to miles and miles of mobile homes - the modern cheap substitute for beach cottages - and small amusement parks fronting very narrow pebbly beaches looking out on wind farms in the water.

Celtic imagery in the paving

The reward of the train ride was going through Anglesey which is elevated just enough to look back at the mainland and see most of the mountains that stretch down it near the coast. It was a clear day and it was just beautiful. It was the clearest view of the mountains that I'd had on the whole trip and I could see quite far south (no photos - I wasn't taking pictures on the train).

Industrial Holyhead meets historic Holyhead

I didn't get to wander very far afield in Holyhead and the part that I saw was very depressed, with lots of empty store fronts. There was an small, ancient church (not open) and cemetery looking out on the docks. I wasn't in a position to make it to the part where you can see puffins. Too bad. And lunch was a packet of crackers in the ferry terminal. And on to Dublin.

Roof peaks in Holyhead

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