Steeped in history, Chester is a county town of Cheshire that dates back to the Roman era when it was a fortress known as Deva Victrix. Today, it attracts visitors from all over the country and beyond who are drawn by its intriguing origins and multiple opportunities for both urban and rural adventures.
Whether you’re a knowledgeable resident or a traveller looking to swot up on the city before visiting, here are some interesting facts about Chester that will test your trivia skills.
1. The Eastgate Clock only has faces on three sides
A popular landmark of the city centre and reportedly the most photographed clock after London’s Big Ben, the Eastgate Clock is a highlight for visitors. The tower itself was modelled on the design of the Cloth Hall in the Belgian city of Ypres, but the clock faces telling the time were installed in 1979. However, sharp-eyed guests of the city will note that while the tower has four sides only three feature clocks.
The west side of the tower which is blank faces towards Wales, and the legend claims that the snub was related to old rivalry with the neighbouring country. While unobserved today, Chester has a medieval law that states that if a Welshman lingers inside the city after sunset, a Cestrian may shoot him with a longbow.
2. Chester has a record-breaking ice cream farm
The most visited ice cream attraction in Northwest England, The Ice Cream Farm in Chester has won awards for the frozen treats it serves. Available in over 50 different flavours, ice cream is made onsite to suit all tastes and even special diets.
The farm has earned a reputation not only for world-class ice cream, but as a major attraction offering family-friendly fun. At present it holds two coveted Guinness World Records, the first of which is for having the largest water and sand play area in Europe. The second record is for its 180-seater ice cream parlour, which according to experts, is the biggest in the world.
3. Chester has the only Roman rock-cut shrine in the UK
A weathered piece of rock might not immediately sound like a tourist attraction, but one that can be viewed by visitors to Chester is the site of ancient Roman worship from centuries past, and the only such relic of its kind remaining in its original location in the United Kingdom. It can be found in Edgar’s Field and is entitled “The Minerva Shrine”. Minerva was the Roman’s version of the Greek deity Athena and a goddess of art, wisdom, war, and craftspeople.
While rock shrines were commonly carved in the ancient world, finding one intact today is exceptionally rare. While time and the elements have taken their toll on the historic site, it is still possible to make out the goddess, armoured in her helmet and bearing a spear with her watchful owl companion close behind. To protect the shrine, stone columns and an awning were added in the 19th century.
4. Chester Racecourse was once a harbour
Established back in 1539, the Roodee in Chester is renowned as the oldest active racecourse in the world. Each year, its celebrated races attract hundreds of thousands of attendees, but it has also become an important events venue for local events like the Taste of Cheshire Food Festival. However, most of its current 65-acre site was not always dry land; in fact, it was an important river harbour on the Dee. City visitors with a passion for ancient history will find the racecourse still shows sign of its role, with anchor stones from the Roman Port remaining in place.
After the Romans left, centuries of river activity formed a silt island in the Dee, and a cross crafted from stone was constructed on the island. As a result, Chester Racecourse’s name “The Roodee” means “The Island of the Cross” in a mixture of Norse and Saxon tongues. In Middle Ages, the weir system in use increased silt deposits and the area became a river meadow, which later became the racecourse. Today, the site is a major name in racing and hosts multiple events ranging from the Boodles Festival to historic races like the Chester Vase, the Chester Cup, and the Cheshire Oaks.
5. The most visited wildlife attraction in Britain is in Chester
One of Britain’s largest zoological gardens, Chester Zoo also holds the record for receiving the most visitors out of all wildlife attractions in the UK.
Each year over two million fans of animals and conservation come to Chester Zoo to explore its 130 acres and see more than 35,000 creatures in carefully designed habitats like The Fruit Bat Forest, the Bears of the Cloud Mountain and The Realm of the Red Ape.
The Zoo was established in 1931 and is a registered charity committed to preventing the extinction of the endangered species both within its walls and around the world, thanks to international collaborations.
Next time you’re in Chester, be sure to explore these sites and attractions and impress your friends with your local knowledge.