Once a year Heather and I head to Chester, for theatre, history and to see the monkeys (also known as nephews). This year was no different, and so we found ourselves hanging around Euston waiting for a train. Heather wouldn’t let me go in the bookshop so it’s probably for the best the train soon arrived and we were on our way.
As we were arriving by train tradition dictates that we head straight for a pub to recover upon arrival. Chester’s pub of choice is the Town Crier directly opposite the station (I’m almost getting used to its increased size). The weather wasn’t up to letting us sit outside, but that was okay. After refreshments we were once again heading off, just down the road to the hotel (who quickly fixed our non-working bathroom light so that by the time we returned in the evening it was working).
Having sorted out bags and things in the hotel we headed out into the town centre, dodging between the occasionally stupidly heavy rain. The Boot remains a strange little place (now complete with no swearing policy); though we did discover it has a room beyond the bar. Nearby and nicer is the Victoria, sitting above the cross in the centre of town.
Back down from the Victoria and along the road a bit lies one of favourite Chester pubs, The Pied Bull, so we enjoyed a visit. As the evening drew on though it was time to find a shop for picnic food and head to open air theatre. This year’s treat was Twelve Night, which was fun as always (especially with the rain holding off), even if I was pretty confused as to what was happening most of the time. And after a twelve night, a first night of our little break, back in the hotel.
After Heather had breakfast in the hotel the next morning we were collected by Richard and Joe. In turn we gathered together Caroline and Ben and headed for a surprise “marble treat”. A drive down the M6 brought us all to Trentham Monkey Forest. Stepping out of the cars in the car park we were greeted by a sudden and torrential downpour so that by the time we’d walked the short distance to the entrance and then the cafe we were happy to have the chance to dry off over some lunch.
Thankfully the rain had abated by the time we finished eating and headed into the large, forested monkey enclosure. The area contains around 140 free ranging Barbary macaque monkeys, with a path winding around the forest and between and through the monkeys. We’d managed to time our arrival to coincide with one of the hourly feeding times, a variety of monkeys gathering around to claim their share of the goodies. It’s a remarkable experience to be so close to the freely wandering creatures, with monkeys crossing the visitor paths with a barely a glance at the humans among them.
It was also the right time of year for there to be newborns. We saw our first evidence of this spotting a baby macaque high in one of the trees. Delightfully it was soon climbing down to frolic at ground level with the older members of its group. Apparently macaques see there babies as almost social currency, being passed around between group members.
Moving along the trail was a mixture of lovely, quiet forest areas and parts teeming with monkeys (and sometimes the odd single monkey, many seeming to contemplate the world around them, which it was fun to try and spot). The walk was scattered with informative guides (and a quiz for Joe to join in with) which was a nice touch. It was probably about the right length though—there are only so many macaques one can look at; it does see a little bit of a shame to be so restricted to a single species. The path goes in a wide circle, leading back to that first feeding area. There another baby was on display, and Ben found a way of his own to monkey around in puddles.
After that walking it was time for another rest while the ever energetic children had fun in the playground, Ben doing his best to copy whatever his older brother did. Then it was back up the motorway for some dinner in The Little Owl. Dropped back off at the hotel, normally Heather and I would sneak back out to a pub but we were actually so wore out it was straight to bed.
After Heather again had breakfast in the hotel we walked into town and waited at the Coach House for the arrival of the Coopers. As they joined us the heavens again opened and forced us to abandon the seating outside for the safety of shelter—I’m blaming them!
As lunch time was approaching we left the pub and headed to a little bakery just down the road. They have a seating area upstairs with a fair selection of food offerings, though sadly their Yorkshire pudding wrap turned out not to be actually wrapped but rather a large example filled. Still tasty though.
Having been filled Heather and I then took Joe (though not the rather clingy Ben) off by ourselves to see some birds at the cathedral (once we’d found the way in). We’d been before but this was our first time flying solo with Joseph, so to speak. Once the entrance had been located (it’s signposted down off the walls) we started with a wander around to look at the birds of prey in their enclosures. Surprisingly there weren’t just birds to look at, with Joe quickly finding a bearded dragon to examine.
Seeing the birds in action is the point though and there was soon a flying display on the large grassed area. Two hawks appeared to do their thing, along with plenty of opportunities for both Joe and Heather to have a go at holding them. The hawks were followed by a beautiful owl and then very quick kestrel. Again, Joseph showed great enthusiasm in wanting to have a chance to hold them—something he shares with his aunt.
Flying over there was still a chance to hold a few more birds back in the aviaries, and see some more creatures. A snake was initially a little scary but soon held Joe’s interest. Two ferrets, of all things, occupied a large, pipe strewn cage to the back, and finally a tortoise appeared—moving remarkably quickly!
A day like that deserves to be ended with ice cream and so we wandered into Chester to find one. Joe managed to prove that he’s much less messy than his uncle when it comes to eating ice cream! And then it was time to part, as Joe headed off home with his mum—having been impeccably behaved.
For ourselves, Heather and I headed to an old favourite, The Bear And Billet. Good as Joe was it was nice to have a rest with just adults! The Bear is quite near the river and walls so we went that way and, aided by a little guide book Heather had acquired, went for a relaxed stroll around the walls in the lovely evening air. Past the racecourse (with its own racing rhino) we headed down into Water Tower Gardens for a close-up look at the Water Tower—something we’d never actually done before.
Coming back towards the walls we stopped for a wee in Telford’s Warehouse and would have stopped for a drink had there been any space outside by the canal. As it was we carried on round the walls, passing the Eastgate clock and all the way to beside the Roman gardens. Leaving the walls behind we managed to remember that it’s Ye Olde Kings Head we like and so stopped off there for a drink.
Dinner time approached, and we had plans. Two years to the day since last time we returned to the Gate of India opposite the hotel; they were as good as we remembered (and it wasn’t far to stumble tired back to bed).
The final day of our little break, so we left the bags at the hotel and headed back towards the cathedral. We were there to see something that had been on our agenda for the day before but we had ran out of time for—The Deep Lego Exhibition. This saw Bright Bricks return to the cathedral with a range of ocean themed models. Though a few were a bit repetitive (someone obviously worked out how to do mackerel) in general they were worth the visit. Starting with an octopus wrapped around an anchor a few smaller models (though some such as the parrot fish were still remarkable) followed before an impressive giant squid build. A scary looking fish and those mackerel led onto an eel and clever jellyfish. The stars were undoubtedly the large turtle (with babies) and giant shark.
Having been around the admittedly small exhibition we found more Lego in the cathedral model, being amused again by the little details like the site huts and the fact they’d added a little miniature version of the Lego exhibition inside—and finding batman! We added another piece each (this time to a large window, the real life equivalent of which we could see from where we were standing). A wander around the cloisters revealed some more connected art, reclaimed plastic from beaches used to create sea creatures, highlighting the damage man can do (we had to keep avoiding the volunteer determined we should have a free coffee and biscuit though).
Our last morning filled we wandered back towards the hotel along the canal, which meant we got to sit outside The Lock Keeper for a bit before collecting the bags and heading back to the Town Crier to await the train home.
After an uneventful journey back to London we made it as far as London Bridge before seeking a pub. I weaved Heather to the wonderfully historic George Inn, sitting in the lovely cool, and strangely empty, “Parliamentary Bar” for dinner before finally finding our way home.