Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Looking back, I feel that Wales is quite underrated, as we really enjoyed our time there. I hear of a lot of tour packages that cover England and Scotland, but Wales is definitely worth a fair bit of time if you’re coming to the British Isles. With our week there at an end, we sadly left it behind and almost immediately after crossing back into England we arrived in the town of Chester, located in Cheshire County.
Chester may not be on everyone’s tour radar, but we were still surprised by the number of tourists visiting the town. We are in peak travel season now, so I guess it’s to be expected. Chester got its start as another Roman city in England and has evolved over the years into a beautiful medieval city with a lot to show for itself. We added it to our list a bit late in our planning process but were excited to see what it had to offer.
The streets of Chester
The city center features what the city calls The Rows, which consists of perpendicular streets radiating away from a central square. These streets are definitely the lively heart of the city, full of shops, eateries, street performers, and all the wonderful Old Town architecture. Walk into this area from the east and you’re greeted with a medieval gateway that houses the second most photographed clock in England. The first? Big Ben’s clock, of course.
Eastgate and Eastgate clock
The east gate is part of the city wall that encompasses the entire old city. Similar to Conwy, our last stop in Wales, we were able to get up on the walls and take a stroll. They are intact the whole way round so it made for a great experience. We did stop at one point to go inside Chester Cathedral which dates all the way back to 1092. It still amazes me how each cathedral and castle we see, no matter how young or old, are all unique in some way.
Chester Cathedral from the inside
On our second day in Chester we woke up without a concrete plan but with hopes of a rain free day we set out to wander through some of the local parks, with nice green space and colorful flowers. The parks led us out to a Roman amphitheater which was believed to be here for centuries but was only actually discovered in the 1970s during restoration of a nearby building. I still can’t fathom how these sites disappear under layers of earth over the years and are lost for so long.
Ethan is spinning in the background
In the afternoon we came across the city’s boat locks and were lucky enough to see it in action. The entire series of three locks is all opened and drained (or filled) manually, and has been in place for a few hundred years. The best part was that Ethan got to help out in the 30 minute process to get boats from the canal to the river, opening and closing the locks as instructed. Some of the cills (doors) were quite heavy! Afterwards we visited the local playground for some play time, and since it was a Sunday retired back to our apartment relatively early to work on a bit of planning.
Lock it up
Opening the cills!
In contrast to Chester, Liverpool is quite the modern city. Sitting just north of Chester along the sea, the two are like worlds apart. The drive took longer than expected due to multitudes of construction, but we made it into Liverpool by mid-morning and started walking around.
Ran into these guys while out and about
We haven’t talked about war for a while, but Liverpool saw the second world war up close. Even though no German soldiers made their way there, the city was subject to repeated Blitzes, or bombings by German planes. As I write this I am listening to recordings of story after story of civilians in Liverpool whose lives were drastically affected by the war. These were not soldiers, just people trying to survive the day. It’s estimated only 10% of buildings were left undamaged.
Our first stop was the Liverpool Cathedral, which is the largest in all of the United Kingdom. Towering over the other buildings in the area, it was finished in only 1978 after being under construction for a whopping 75 years. The work paid off I suppose, because it stands impressive from the outside but only gets more awesome as you enter and take in just how big it really is. We were able to walk around and enjoy it before too many tour groups came in.
After lunch, we headed over to the Royal Albert Dock, a world heritage area. It was built in 1846 as a series of warehouses and has evolved into an area of restaurants, shops, and some of Liverpool’s best museums. We strolled through the dock area, and although we’re feeling a bit museumed out from months of travel, we still headed inside the Liverpool Museum where we learned about Liverpool’s history, saw an exhibit on John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Ethan got his hands wet doing some fake fishing and playing with boats.
Royal Albert Dock
Activities in Liverpool Museum
The next morning we found ourselves at yet another museum, the World Museum. While not advertised as being for kids, it was a good place for Ethan to explore. He loves being the leader and telling us where to go next. Both Catherine and I felt they had a great aquarium area, amazing space photography, and we all enjoyed the show in the planetarium about the Apollo program. We ended up spending all morning there checking out all the exhibits.
Getting a bit of a later lunch, we wandered back towards our car through downtown Liverpool with all the shops, musicians, and other street performers. Our drive from Liverpool took us two hours north to another one of England’s AONB’s, the Lake District. We’ve got a nice lake back home but this region is spotted with lakes and tarns (small, mountain lakes) sitting among England’s tallest peaks, which are often categorized as fells or crags, and I don’t entirely understand the difference. The area was inspiration for some famous writers, most notably Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. We ended up staying at a youth hostel just short of the town of Ambleside, right on the beautiful Lake Windermere.
The next morning we got an early start and set out through Ambleside to the town of Grasmere which is a good few miles north along the Coffin Route. As the name implies, it was the road once used to transport dead bodies from Ambleside to their final resting place at St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere. Even though it sounds gruesome, the walk goes through beautiful woodland with views of tarns and passes by two of William Wordsworth’s former homes. We also made sure to grab some gingerbread from Sarah Nelson’s shop, where the recipe was derived over 150 years ago and hasn’t changed at all!
Challenging hike even without coffins
A very green coffin route
After that hike and some food fuel we decided to hike to the top of Helm Crag, a 405 meter peak overlooking Grasmere and the surrounding peaks and lakes. While not the highest peak in the area, it seemed like the perfect one for us to climb. At the very top are also two boulders, called the Lion and the Lamb rocks because of their comparative sizes that sit next to one another. The hike wasn’t easy but the three of us made it all the way with no problems!
View from Helm Crag
Lion and lamb rock in the background
We got up early again the next morning to try to beat the day’s heat and after a hearty breakfast of cereal… and toast… we set out for Loughrigg Tarn and Loughrigg Fell. We drove a short distance to Skelwith Bridge (which happens to be a town, not a bridge) and visited the Tarn. We continued from there up the 336 meter fell and took in the views. We’ve now hiked a crag and a fell, and if someone can tell me what that means they’ll receive 10 bonus Explorer points because I still don't quite get it.
Proof of conquest
Also proof of conquest
Feeling hot, sweaty, and dreading both the three hour drive to Edinburgh and the threat of bad weather in the next few days, we set off for Scotland’s capital a little earlier than planned in hopes of having some good weather there. The Lake District is such an amazing and beautiful place, and we only barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do there. I think this is what heaven will look like when I make it there. For now, I will settle with the hope of coming back to the Lake District some time soon.