Chester is a lovely place to walk because of the mixture of heritage, riverside and old city vibe. I have visited many times, having gone to college there, enjoying it as a place to wander. Most people head there to explore the Rows and to walk the city walls, which I do regularly. But on my recent visit, I craved something new. I wanted to learn something I didn’t know about a city I think I know well. A google search revealed the Chester Millennium Festival Trail.
Chester Millennium Trail
For years I have spotted the little arrows in the floor and the occasional information disc beneath my feet. Even though I had seen them, they hadn’t really registered with me. It was only once we started on the trail, that I had that ‘ah-ha’ moment and realised that all this time, I had been (not literally) stumbling upon the Millennium Festival Trail.
Our initial port of call for our adventure visit was the Chester Visitor Centre in the Town Hall. Unfortunately, there weren’t any walks which really rung a chord with us, which was why we employed Google to do the job for us. We are glad we did though as the Millennium Festival Trail turned out to be somewhat of a hidden gem in the city.
We used the instructions from a website called ‘Do Free Stuff‘ which was more than enough to get us started. Fortunately, the walk began at the Town Hall so we were right on track.
Circular walk around the city
There are forty points along the walk, which take you in a circle (sort of) around the city, taking in some interesting and unusual buildings along the way. We did all of the points in one go, as it was flowing and interesting. Actually, I think we did have a short coffee break in the middle to warm up. There are plenty of places to take a break along the route, so makes it good for everyone.
The first thing I noticed about the walk was that it as nice and simple. It gave you enough of the facts to give you a flavour of the building but not enough to overwhelm. This meant that it was quick to read out loud to Jit without the need for copious amounts of water or sounding like a tour guide. I do enjoy self-guided walking tours like this as it means I get to do a bit more research about the buildings I personally take a liking to.
Around the lesser walked streets
It was enjoyable that the walk immediately went for the lesser trodden paths. It is so easy to create walks in Chester which take you straight onto the Walls. We did get to wander parts of the city walls, but it was in bursts making it a nice blend of areas to explore.
Of course, no walk in Chester would be complete without the second most photographed clock in the country. The Chester Millennium Festival Trail takes you up onto the walls to see the stunning Chester Cathedral. This is shortly followed, along the Roman Walls, to the Eastgate Clock. It is Chester’s most famous landmark so it would be wrong to not include it in the walk, or for me to not share a photo.
I do enjoy heading up to the bridge over Eastgate as it gives the perfect vantage point for the city. It might not be very high up, but you certainly get a nice view of the straight city road.
The Medieval Coffin of St John’s
The trail took us back down to ground level shortly after the Eastgate clock, winding us around the Roman Garden (which is in fact from the 90s), around the amphitheatre ruins and to St John’s Church. The church itself is unusual in that the currently used building is set within the ruins of a former version. Before we headed into Chester, I had read about a curious oak coffin at the St John’s. Realising that the church was part of the trail, I used the opportunity to hunt it out.
It is a strange location for the coffin and according to the information board it was discovered in the 19th Century and installed into the wall on the instruction of the vicar. They believe that the inscription “Dust to Dust” was probably added in Victorian times. Happy to have found something weird, wonderful and certainly new to me, we went back onto the described trail.
Although not part of the Chester Millennium Festival Trail, we couldn’t help but take a tiny detour onto Queens Bridge, which spans the River Dee. We had arrived at just the right time to enjoy the orange glow of the sun setting over the water. It was too good of an opportunity to miss. Besides, the next point on the trail was a stones throw away on the water’s edge.
The next point was Anchorite’s Cell. A building I have spotted in the trees loads of time over the years, but never given a second though to. It turns out that it was a Hermit’s building from the mid 14th Century.
It took us some time to get to the next point, not because of distance, but for appreciation of the sunset. That is one thing I remember doing when I was younger. The difference was that I would enjoy it from the pub rather than an informative city walk. Oh how things change!
“Bear and Billet” Inn
Heading on we were treated to a masterpiece of 17th Century building when we arrived at the “Bear and Billet” pub. In all the time I have been around Chester, I hadn’t noticed it, despite its grand frontage. It is actually fronting an even older building which used to be home of the Earl of Shrewsbury.
Having been well-preserved, it is now a rather lovely looking Inn.
I am a sucker for hidden alleyways and was delighted to find a really unusual one as part of the Chester Millennium Festival Trail we were walking. I had never heard of, let along walked on, St Mary’s Hill. A cute cobbled hill with a steep slope and, thankfully, some stairs to wind you up to the top.
Some students were playing a ball game at the bottom in the dim evening light, which just made it all the more like part of a book story line. It felt like we had stepped out of Chester and into another world. Or at least another city.
I think the dim evening light and the glow from the lamps on the hill made for a very Harry Potter-esque feel to the area. I liked letting my imagination run wild, it simply adds to an adventure.
Anyway, back to reality and the Chester Millennium Festival Trail. As we were wandering around, we noticed that there were plenty of the little arrows pointing our way around this trail. Intermittently, there would be a little button in the floor for what we now suspect is an English Heritage walk. Something I am sure we will look into for the next trip. (let me know if you have a link to it!)
Back towards the hubbub
From nipping down back streets and up St Mary’s Hill, we began making our way through the trail into the city again. Back into the bustle of the shoppers and diners seeking out the next venue to try out. This is more the part of the city I remember from my younger days. The bars, clubs and pubs. Little did I realise how many of them were nestled into historic buildings with stories spanning the centuries.
As the darkness closed in on us, we walked the final part of the Walls for the trail, passing by the Water Tower from 1326, which used to guard the harbour. Now it sits above the Shropshire Union Canal and doesn’t do so much protecting.
Art Deco Cinema
Weaving the trail back to the start, we walk past the Storyhouse. A stunning example of typical 1930’s Art Deco style. This has not long been brought back from the brink as a wonderful community space, theatre and library. When I was younger this was the Odeon cinema I would frequent. Although sad when the cinema closed, I do think this is a far better use of the space – even if I am yet to make an official visit.
And from the straight lines of the Storyhouse to the curved terracotta arches of the Westminster Coach and Car Works, our adventure along the Chester Millennium Festival Trail was at an end.
The walk treated us to a huge variety of eras and the architecture which accompanied them. The changing face of the city and the stories behind them too. It was great to explore the city from a new angle and with a fresh appeal. Although I very much enjoy walking the walls, I learned more than I could do the ‘same ol’ route.
Sometimes the same is good. Other times you need to step outside your ordinary and venture off.
We thoroughly enjoyed this walk and will be looking out for more like it in the other cities we visit. If you’ve got any tips, please do send them my way!
Have you ever walked the Chester Millennium Festival Trail?
Do you have any walking routes you are excited to try?
Let me know in the comments.
Chester Millennium Festival Trail
Route we followed: Do Free Stuff
Alternative Route with pictures: Chester Tourist