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Chester's Walls and Water

The classic circuit of Chester's medieval walls, with a few variations.

Distance 2.7 miles (4.4km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Pavements and surfaced paths

Landscape Historic but crowded urban scene, racecourse and river

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 266 Wirral & Chester

Start/finish SJ 407664

Dog friendliness Unlikely to feel welcome on streets and narrow wall path

Parking Park-and-Ride at Upton and on A548, A483 and A41

Public toilets On Frodsham Street and at Chester Visitor Centre

1 From Frodsham Street, turn right into Foregate Street then under the clock into Eastgate Street and along to High Cross. Turn right on to Northgate Street. Where it opens out turn left through a gap into Hamilton Place.

2 Return to Northgate Street and continue to the grand Town Hall of 1869. Turn right under the 14th-century Abbey Gate into Georgian Abbey Square. In the corner there's an entrance to the cathedral. Leave the square by Abbey Street and go up on to the walls. Turn left past the Deanery Field, to the Phoenix or King Charles Tower, where Charles I watched his army's heavy defeat at the Battle of Rowton Moor. Follow the walls round, overlooking the deep cutting of the Shropshire Union Canal. As you reach Northgate Bridge, on the right is the Bluecoat School, founded in 1717 to counter 'the growth of vice and debauchery in Chester.' Continue to another tower, Morgan's Mount. Descend steps on the left, loop round through the arch and descend to canal level. To your right is the cutting, carved in solid sandstone. Go left along the tow path to Northgate Locks. Below the locks the canal squeezes under the railway bridge, then the path forks.

3 Follow the tow path round under another bridge to Northgate Basin. Just across the water is Telford's warehouse, with its arched loading dock. Return to the fork, go up to railings then turn left up steps and back to the walls. Turn right to Bonewaldesthorne's Tower, which guarded the harbour until the river changed its course.

4 Continue down City Walls Road; the top of the wall is level with the road for a stretch. Pass the Queen's School then take the higher level, over Watergate Bridge. Just beyond this there's a good view of Chester Racecourse, said to be Britain's first. The course occupies an area called the Roodee, once a tidal pool, but silted up by medieval times.

5 Cross busy Grosvenor Road at the traffic lights to the continuation of the walls below Chester Castle. The medieval castle was replaced by a series of Greek revival buildings in the 1790s. When the walls sink to road level, cross to a path overlooking the river. Cross the Dee Bridge, with its pioneering hydro-electric station from 1913. Turn left along the far bank, past ugly modern flats and a restored waterwheel, to Queen's Park. Go up steps and recross the river by Queen's Park Bridge. It was built in 1923 and bounces gently as you walk across.

6 Climb steps above the end of the bridge and 20yds (18m) further on turn left through a gate to the ruins of St John's Church, Chester's first cathedral. Continue along the side of the 19th-century church and round its west front to emerge alongside the remains of the Roman amphitheatre. Just beyond, on the left, are the Roman Gardens. Go under the arch of Newgate and turn left immediately on Park Street, past an unforgivable multi-storey car park to the graceful almshouses known as Nine Houses (there used to be more). Go up a ramp on to the walls and go left over Newgate.

7 Continue along the walls past the glass-cased remains of Thimbleby's Tower and on to the 18th-century Eastgate, surmounted by the elaborate clock erected to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Just beyond, descend steps on the right to complete the circuit.

Chester's city walls enclose the historic core of the county town, and this walk provides just a taster of the many interesting facets that are there to discover. These include the cathedral, its largely Victorian exterior belying the older fabric that can still be seen inside. There are Roman relics too. A glass window in Hamilton Place shows the strongroom of the Roman headquarters, or Principia, but far more impressive are the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, the largest of its kind in Britain, with walls that once stood 35ft (10m) high - though it's hard to imagine how it could hold 7,000 spectators. The nearby Roman Gardens only date from the 1950s, but they do contain a collection of Roman masonry.

Chester's was historically an important port and transpor hub and the walk highlights several reminders of those days. A section of the Shropshire Union Canal is followed, passing the Northgate Locks. This unusual 'staircase lock', with a total drop of 33ft (10m), comes with full instructions for its use. Further along, the Water Tower and connecting wall, built in 1332 to maintain protection for the port, gives a good view of the railway. This section of line into North Wales was built in 1846. Lines from an 1856 guidebook, quoted on a wall plaque, suggest how railways were viewed: 'Whew! With a rush like that of a tiger from his den ? Full 40 miles an hour.'

What to look for

There are numerous metal plaques around the walls. Excellent design and text that's both entertaining and informative mean they are not to be missed with little human stories bringing dry, historical facts to life.

While you're there

There's loads more to see, including shopping on the unique first-floor galleries of the Rows. You can learn a lot more about Chester's past from the hands-on re-creations of The Deva Roman Experience.

Where to eat and drink

There's no shortage of choice - two pubs and two cafés near Queen's Park Bridge offer riverside settings. For something special, however, go for the Albion on Park Street. Proudly declaring itself 'family-hostile', and with Christmas decorations up all year, it seems to exist in a time warp.


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