Tag: Tourist guide

A walking tour of historic Edgar’s Field Park in Handbridge, Chester

This site is one of Chester’s hidden gems.

Indeed, I used to regularly take my children to this local park, but it was ages before I realised there was a 2,000-year-old historical artefact just behind the swings.

The park is Edgar’s Field in Handbridge and the carving is the Roman goddess Minerva [pictured above].

The shrine is said to have been carved into the sandstone in the second century AD and is believed to the only site in Europe still in its original location, according to experts at Historic England.

Today we’ve come for an audience with Minerva.

Minerva was the patron of arts and craftsmen and, later in Roman history, she became the goddess of war with temples in Rome devoted to her.

She was often portrayed wearing a chiton, which is an ancient Greek garment, and a helmet. Many statues of her show her holding a spear and a shield, to represent her warlike qualities.

But she can often be found offering an olive branch to the defeated as Minerva was a compassionate victor, who had pity on those her armies vanquished.

This is now a quiet park on the banks of the River Dee but it was once a massive quarry, excavating the huge blocks of sandstone to build Chester’s Roman walls.

And this weathered rock shrine was once a site of ancient Roman worship.

The quarrymen, who carved the effigy, would have made offerings and prayed for safety during their gruelling, risky labour.

Sadly, Minerva looks a bit the worse for wear these days — the weather and vandalism have seen to that. But you can still pick out her figure holding a spear and wearing a helmet, an owl over her shoulder on the right.

The awning over the shrine is a 19th-century addition, placed there in the hopes of warding off further damage.

Edgar’s Field dates from the Saxon period and gets its name from King Edgar, the great-grandson of Alfred the Great, who held a council in or near the field in 973AD.

From here the king visited nearby St Johns Church, which was built in 689 AD. Writings from this time describe the scene of Edgar being rowed up the Dee by eight Saxon, Welsh and Viking princes as an act of submission — a romantic image forever associated with Chester.

Edgar’s Field was laid out as a public park by the first Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, who presented it to the City of Chester in 1892 as an act of philanthropy.

My children are grown up now — but I still come to visit Minerva.

I love the way that Chester may change yet Minerva stands, serene and stoic, keeping watch over the good people of Handbridge from her freeze-frame stone tomb.

Join my Context Conversation about Dylan Thomas’ Wales on May 14

May 14 is International Dylan Thomas Day.

The date marks the anniversary of when Under Milk Wood was first read on stage at The Poetry Center, New York, in 1953.

His home town of Swansea, south Wales, will mark the day with live and virtual events while Dylan Thomas fans round the world will remember the impact of his work — now taught in Welsh schools as part of the literacy programme.

Thomas was a complex character but often misunderstood. Success came late for him with his critical plaudits constantly overshadowed by constant money worries and reports of his legendary drunkenness.

But, after his death, he became a cult figure, earning an inclusion on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and inspiring the lyrics of Bob Dylan.

It’s only by visiting the places in Wales associated with his childhood and later life that we can come to understand the man behind the mythology.

My latest travel talk for Context Travel is Dylan Thomas: a literary pilgrimage across Wales.

I’ll trace a journey across the country that inspired Dylan’s writing from his Swansea childhood to Laugharne, where he lived and worked prior to that fateful trip to New York.

It forms part the Context Conversations strand and will be hosted via Zoom on Friday, May 14 at 6pm UK time — International Dylan Thomas Day.

But what to expect?

  • The Swansea years as a young man
  • The Laugharne years and finding fame
  • New York and the final years
  • Readings and events for Thomas fans

Book your place here. It’s a one-hour talk, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A for Wales travel tips.

Thomas collapsed and died in New York in November 1953 aged 39. He was on a lecture tour of America, had been mixing with the Beat poets, and Under Milk Wood had been performed for the first time earlier that year to critical acclaim.

He is buried in the graveyard of St Martin’s Church in Laugharne — that’s me [above] pictured by Dylan’s grave.

In the cold-stone interior of the church itself, a plague to Thomas bears the inscription from one of his most evocative poems, Ferne Hill.

It reads: “Time held me green and dying. Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

Join my Context Conversations travel talk about Bolivia on March 20

It feels like a lifetime away after a year of lockdown.

But there was a time when we all travelled freely and I set out on a South American odyssey.

I spent much of that time in Bolivia and the various journeys I undertook included retracing the final journey of Che Guvara.

The Cuban revolutionary met his end in a remote Bolivian pueblo in 1967 — that’s me [above] pictured at the end of the Che Guevara Trail in La Higuera.

With international travel still off limits, I’ll be recreating that journey, amongst others, for a new travel talk hosted by the American travel specialists Context Travel.

My talk, Unexpected Bolivia, forms part of a wider programme of South America specials under the Context Conversations strand.

It will be hosted via Zoom on Saturday, March 20 at 4pm UK time. But what to expect?

  • The last days of Che Guevara
  • The Salar de Uyuni
  • The little-known tinku festival
  • On the trail of Butch and Sundance

Book your place here. It’s a one-hour talk, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A for Bolivia travel tips when we can all – finally – travel again.

Download my new Haunted Chester audio tour — now available via VoiceMap

My lockdown project is complete.

I used quieter time over the last few months to tinker away at a creative project, creating a new audio tour to my home city of Chester.

The result is Haunted Chester, a 60-minute circular walking trail based on the tours I lead for Chester Ghost Tours.

Those tours have been in hibernation during lockdown, returning hopefully in May.

But, meanwhile, you can download this self-guided tour to your smartphone and explore with just my voice and a detailed map to accompany you.

It’s the ultimate in social distancing.

VoiceMap uses local writers and guides to create quirky walking tours that offer local-knowledge insights and insider tips.

Here’s what my new tour promises:

If you like ghostly goings-on and spooky stories, then this walking tour around the centre of the historic city of Chester offers tantalising tales of the supernatural.

We’ll visit some familiar landmarks — but don’t expect a dry history lecture.

I know my home city well and will be highlighting some of the hidden corners that you don’t find on typical tours. After all, I’m a local boy and I’ll be sharing my insider knowledge.

On this tour, you’ll hear about:

• Roman soldiers still guarding their historic garrison
• The grisly tale of Chester’s last public execution
• The ghostly monk that haunts the city’s spookiest passageway
• Chester’s only official exorcism

Allow one hour for this walk. There are plenty of cafes and bars along the route for a quick coffee stop.

Whether it’s your first time in the city, or you’re a local keen to learn more about your home, Haunted Chester is the perfect way to see it in a different light.


Download the VoiceMap app to your phone and search for Haunted Chester, or use this link:

https://voicemap.me/tour/chester/haunted-chester-a-spooky-stroll-around-the-roman-walled-city

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