Storming Up The North West

With blazing hot weather burning London, Heather and I were grateful to escape to the slightly cooler north-west of England, as we often to this time of year, to see that branch of the Coopers, open air theatre, and one of my favourite cities.


In the form of a harpy

We took the big train to Crewe and then, because changing was a bit cheaper, the overpacked thanks to the races little train into Chester. There we made our traditional stop at the Town Crier. That surprised us by having become quite a bit bigger inside, with the frontage to the station side now part of the main pub. Having had a drink to recover from the shock it was time to walk down the road to check into the hotel.

After a quick rest we headed back out into town. A stroll along the canal brought a call at old favourite the Artichoke and then on to The Lock Keeper (always a bit hit and miss but on one of its better days). Another quick stop into Tesco found food and drink to carry to Grosvenor Park and this year’s open air theatre. For once the weather wasn’t too bad, bordering on actually sunny, with no sign of the normal torrential rain—so of course we were there to see The Tempest.

The performance was up to the usual high standards, with the expected by now modernist twist (the shipwreck becomes a planewreck for instance, along with Shakespearean gender swapping of characters, not least Prospero). The Tempest falls into a strange class of play in that I’d read it but never seen it performed (at least on stage) that I remember. It was enjoyable if not the most fun of Shakespeare’s plays—there is also something of a melancholy running through, the playwright at times seeming to almost directly say goodbye to his audience (it was, probably, the last play).

Having enjoyed ourselves greatly we headed for a nightcap away from the rowdiness of Chester centre after races, dropping into the nice Deva Tap before heading to bed.

Clover's Milk

Clover the cow producing milk

We were picked up Sunday morning by Richard, who proceeded to drive us through the showers and Wales to Park Hall Farm. Once a working farm it’s now a collection of family oriented attractions. We were soon joined there by Caroline, and of course Joe and Ben, along with Heather’s mum.

We’d arrived early enough, and in enough drizzle, to be one of the few groups actually at the farm, which meant we got the morning cow milking all to ourselves. I last had milked a cow about thirty years ago and didn’t feel the great need to repeat the experience but most of the others did, before the patient Clover went for a more modern milking demonstration.


And so is the little guinea pig

There was a chance to meet the goats and sheep (and give them some much demanded food) before a ride around the site behind the big blue tractor. In the yard we got up close to the big gentle giant of a shire horse. Back inside the rabbits and guinea pigs emerged (including recently born babies) to be passed around and look cute. We managed to squeeze in some lunch in the cafe (complete with soft play area to keep Joe and Ben happy) before the non-stop action continued with the feeding of the young lambs and kids (goats that is, not Ben or Joe!) The sun had thankfully come out by the time we’d done all that so we could have a rest and look round the slightly random roundhouse outside (Old Oswestry Hill Fort is just down the road, apparently). Because, as the farm boasts, there’s an activity every half hour, we could then watch some pig racing (my pig coming in last, and then refusing to leave the emptied troughs—a love for food which might explain its race performance).

There was still more to do, with a maize maze to get lost in (though Joseph seemed to do a good job of leading us through). There were actually a few parts we didn’t even have a chance to look at like the trenches recreation and Victorian school house (which admittedly seem slightly less related to a farm) before it was time to feed the sheep and goats the last of our food and head off.

Carousel Ride

In a dragon

Having chilled out at Richard and Caroline’s the previous night it was time to head away from Chester and take the short train journey to Liverpool. Happily Heather’s mum and Joe could come with us for the day. We hopped off the train and headed for the docks, just in time to see the round the world yachts leaving. We found some lunch in Brasco Lounge (a relative of Oprington’s Pato Lounge). Up the hill to the hotel to quickly check in (though they seem to have adopted a weird receptionless system) and it was back to the docks for fun.

We looked at the lambananas and took refuge from the rain in the museum to hide from a shower. Around the docks people had a go on the carousel before wandering into the Maritime Museum, where at least the phones set up for audio descriptions amused Joe before we both coloured in a lobster.

That was just about time for people to return to Chester so Heather and I were left on our own. We did a bit more wandering, and without any real plans found ourselves in Wetherspoons. We were going to just go back to the hotel afterwards but the vibrancy of Matthew Street drew us in for one last drink before bed.

Cell (And Inhabitants)

The cells of George’s Hall, with snapshots of past criminals occupying the walls

saw us with a free morning so we went for a little wander around the city. That brought us past St George’s Hall and as the little side door was open we wandered in. A shiny gold wall confronts the visitor—we assumed it to be part of the Hall’s bling but I just learnt it to be a piece of art for the Liverpool Biennial. It turns out you can follow a bit of a random (and at times not well signed) tour through the hall. We passed along the gloomy basement corridor lined with holding cells to the stairs (with a further cell) leading up to the old courtroom. There we paused a moment to watch a frankly confusing video projected onto three screens before escaping to the upper corridors and staircase of the Hall, where there seemed to be nothing much left to see (which was open anyway).

William Rathbone

Social reformer

Back outside we wandered the adjacent St John’s Gardens. Formerly a churchyard the area now forms a memorial garden. We had fun wandering around looking at the varied statues, monuments and more abstract pieces before heading for a rest in one of our favourite Liverpool pubs, the Crown Hotel. We couldn’t stay long though as the reason we were hanging around that part of town was so Heather could see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition.

Oh My Goodness

Reflecting symmetry

As I had no interest in that I dropped Heather off and went to the next door Walker Art Gallery. That proved to be a good choice, as there turned out to be not only an exhibition from this year’s John Moores Painting Prize but also a collection of previous years’ entries. That gave plenty of art to wander around, inevitably some of it more to my taste than others. By the time I’d looked around the other part of the gallery’s collections Heather was almost done, though I still fit in a bit of a wander before getting a text to say so.

Reunited we explored a bit more of the World Museum, taking in the small aquarium and the space section, before hunting out some late lunch in another Wetherspoons. After that little rest we were off again, exploring more of the city, heading vaguely in the direction of China Town. Up the road from that we found an interesting bombed out church (sadly the interior wasn’t open) and couldn’t resist calling into The Phil, where Heather examined the gents* While in there I reminisced about Jim Matthew dragging us all there to look at the toilets during a conference, only to learn of Jim’s sad death a few days later. The most exciting part of those wanderings were probably finding a new lambanana to add to our collection!

We did make it to China Town eventually, though it turned out I wasn’t as hungry as I thought and the meal was a bit average. Never mind; tired we headed to bed.

LIver Tower

With big clock and liverbird

Leaving the bags in the hotel we went off exploring again. Sadly the Hippy Hole seems to have vanished, or at least moved, to make way for restaurants in a refurbished Grand Central. Nearby Bold Street is quite funky though, and we had fun looking around the quirky shops.

From there it was back down to the docks, so Heather could have a proper go on the carousel and we could look around the Tate. That included some strange sculptures on the ground floor and a pretty good exhibition of highlights from the collection.

That took up the rest of our time really, so it was back up the hill to collect bags and then on to the station. Sitting on the train leaving we learned Runcorn station has two lambananas, though that was the highlight of the journey home. London saw the traditional visit to the Euston Flyer followed by dinner in the Tailor’s Chalk to end the holiday.


All the photos!

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