NICK HAMMOND heads north for a spot of Roman roamin’ in a former fort town once enigmatically called Deva Victrix…
GREAT place, Chester.
The old Roman city is humming with life on the sultry, summery days I recently spent up there with the family.
There’s definitely something in the air here that makes you want to return; maybe it’s a soft breeze from the Dee or the sense of anticipation in the run up to the races. It could be the history you see everywhere from the fortified walls to the amphitheatre. Or is it the eclectic mix of restaurants, funky bars, independent shops and markets?
Whatever the reason, there’s a vibe here that just seems to tick all the right boxes. As does Katie Crottie. Not only has she got a delightfully Miss Marple-esque name, Katie runs one of the newest and perhaps loveliest of Chester’s B&B’s.
She’s a ray of sunshine, too, and has needed all the fevered enthusiasm she could muster to see her through a gruelling 18-month refurbishment programme for the grand old townhouse at No.80 Watergate Street.
And we can report it was worth every moment. Beautifully and immaculately finished and presented, each spare inch of this calming, cooling, relaxing place of repose has been carefully considered and cultured.
You’ll have a Dyson air-con unit in your room, fresh toiletries and unctions, individually styled bedrooms and bathrooms – and homemade cake every afternoon.
As a housekeeper extraordinaire, Katie is, of course, a whizz in the kitchen and rustles up some wonderfully tempting morsels each and every day. Not to mention the variety of breads she bakes. Oh – and did I mention the secret larder?
It’s stocked with goodies and sweets for the kids and snacks for when you’re caught inbetween meals with a hunger pang. All part of the service.
As is a joyously relaxed breakfast, whether you opt for the five-star full monty English or, like myself, reach out for kippers – no more handsome a way to start one’s day. And the added bonus for me was that as we were in Katie Crottie’s dining room, the family couldn’t very well moan about the smell.
Fantastic kippers they were, too, served with a beautifully poached egg and a hearty doorstep of the aforementioned home-baked bread. A 9.5 on the KipFax Rating.
And while we all broke fast to our satisfaction, we chatted animatedly to the other couple staying with Katie. It’s a nice touch that all residents sit around the same table to dine, creating an informal and friendly atmosphere.
We were excited to be heading out into town for a good old mooch; the girls particularly because they had spied several well appointed sweetshops as well as toy emporiums (emporia?).
You will reel in shock when I tell you that I didn’t even make it through the doors of the Casa del Habanos and its accompanying whisky specialist. I know, I know. The sacrifices I make. So I contented myself with standing aimlessly outside a variety of stores, shops, knick-knack purveyors and ladies outfitters.
The sun was shining, couples strolled, kids carried unfeasibly large ice creams and buskers busked. It wasn’t at all bad.
I noticed a handful of really interesting restaurants which, on another occasion, looked worthy of attention. But my mind wandered back to last night’s degustation at the wonderfully wacky Oddfellows. Regular readers may recall we visited it last year for afternoon tea and marveled at the décor and especially the simply fantastic garden or terrace area. Beautifully designed, it has a series of little booths and tables, a retractable roof, cool lighting, bizarre décor and a chilled-out, party atmosphere. And no, faithful reader, I didn’t smoke a cigar here either. I simply enjoyed a pint of Oddfellows own ale while our table was prepared in the elegant restaurant.
It was a quiet night and all the better for it. Informal, attentive dining; quality food served in a friendly and helpful manner. What’s not to like?
Oddfellows would be a good metaphor for how I feel about Chester as a whole, really. Different, fun, young, enervating.
Like a stroll on the ramparts, which run around the city and offer glorious views of the Dart and Cathedral et al. Finally, we found something especially for me – a falconry centre in the shadow of the Cathedral itself. Cool, clean mews, obviously well-kept birds including lanner, peregrine and Gyr falcons, a cheerful and not overbearing falconer and even a whopping great Golden Eagle, who unfortunately we didn’t have time to hang around and see properly. She did glare at me from the gloomy back of her aviary though.
All in all, a peaceful, relaxing, fun few days. Can’t speak highly enough of the place.
For more information on 80 Watergate Street, visit www.80watergatestreet.co.uk. For more information on Oddfellows, including details of events and Christmas offerings, visit www.oddfellowschester.com.
Details on Chester cathedral and their falconry days can be found here.