Day 3. Chester Cathedral and Zoo

We’d arranged to take a tour of Chester Cathedral but as this wasn’t scheduled to begin until 11.00 a.m. there was time for a short walk after breakfast.  Just along Pepper Street from the Leonardo hotel lies the Roman Gardens which we’d viewed from the city walls but not yet explored.

Chester Roman Gardens
Chester Roman Gardens

The gardens were established in 1949 as the city’s contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain.  They contain a series of Roman artefacts discovered throughout the city, including fragments of stonework and murals.  The columns from the exercise hall of the Roman bathhouse are on display along with a recreation of a hypocaust, an ancient Roman heating system.  Useful information boards explain the significance of the artefacts and it was a tranquil spot for a morning stroll.

Roman bathhouse, Chester
The Roman bathhouse

It was then just a short walk to Chester Cathedral.  This impressive building is an example of several architectural styles.  It began life as a Benedictine Abbey in 1093 where the monks built a church in the Norman style.

Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral

The Norman influence can still be seen today in the north transept, north tower and parts of the cloister.  I always enjoy wandering through a cloister and the one at Chester is beautiful with its leaded glass windows overlooking a lawned inner courtyard.  The cathedral was rebuilt from 1250 onwards in a much more dramatic gothic style.

The Cloister, Chester Cathedral
The Cathedral Cloister

The choir stalls found in the Quire have intricately carved misericords with all kinds of creatures including hounds, angels, dragons and maidens carefully woven into the woodwork.

The Nave, Chester Cathedral
The Nave

Unlike many cathedrals up and down the country, Chester offers free admission although donations towards the upkeep of the building are obviously welcome.  We did though comes across a very interesting fund raising project for the church.  A huge 350,000 piece LEGO recreation of Chester Cathedral has been underway for quite some time and on payment of £1 visitors can add an additional brick to the model.

Chester Cathedral in Lego
Chester Cathedral in Lego

It was approaching 11.00 a.m. so we made our way back to the visitor desk as we were booked on the Cathedral at Height Tour (£10).  I always enjoy taking ‘behind the scenes’ tours of buildings as from these hidden spaces one can learn more about the history of the place than from just the public areas.

Organ pipes on the Chester Cathedral at Heights Tour
Looking down on the organ pipes on the Cathedral at Heights Tour

There were 11 people on our tour and we followed our guide through a small oak door leading up a narrow winding stone staircase to the top of the cathedral tower.  There are a total of 216 steps to the top but it was an easy climb as we stopped frequently to examine carvings and to look at how the church was constructed.

The Choir Stalls, Chester Cathedral
Looking down on the Choir Stalls

We accessed the former bell ringing room via three separate spiral stairways, narrow passageways and along stone balconies.  We were all ready to sit down for a few minutes but my thoughts went to the bell ringers who, after their exertion of climbing the tower had then to pull on the ropes to peal the bells.

The former bell ringing room, Chester Cathedral
The old bell ringing room

Prior to the 1970’s this central tower housed a 29 cwt ring of ten bells with the ringing room positioned directly beneath.  However, with costly remedial work needed it was decided to build a separate bell tower in the grounds.  This was a controversial decision but over time the tower has blended in with the existing building.

View of the new bell ringing tower, Chester Cathedral
View of the new bell ringing tower from the cathedral tower

After our short rest, we continued out onto the rooftop 125ft high.  The weather was favourable and we spent 10 minutes taking in the views from the summit.  From this lookout point we were able to see across the border into Wales and the city centre below.

View of the town hall from the top of Chester Cathedral
Views across to Wales and of the Town Hall below

We took a slightly different route back down and from one of the stone balconies we had spectacular views of almost the entire church.  The hour long tour had been very interesting with the time passing by quickly as our guide was clearly passionate about the cathedral and of sharing his knowledge with us.

Aerial view of Chester Cathedral from its balcony
Spectacular views of the Cathedral from the stone balcony

Leaving there, we caught a bus to another of the city’s top attractions, the famous zoo.  Getting there by public transport couldn’t have been easier as both the X1 and No.1 buses run a frequent service to the main entrance of the zoo taking around 15 minutes.  If you are travelling by car then there is ample free parking available onsite.

Chester Zoo entrance
The main entrance to Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo (standard admission £29.08) opened by George Mottershead and his family in 1931.  It is one of the country’s largest zoos covering 125 acres and housing over 7,000 animals covering 500 species.  The zoo has its own free smartphone app which includes an interactive map showing your location in the park along with a day planner of activities taking place which we found useful.

The Oakfield at Chester Zoo
The Oakfield at the zoo

It was around 1.15 p.m. when we arrived so we decided to eat lunch first.  The zoo has a variety of cafes, kiosks and street food stalls dotted around but The Oakfield a ten minute walk inside the entrance is something special as it is the historic family home of the Mottershead family.  Over the years it has also served as the zoo’s head office and as a wedding venue.

Dining Room at the Oakfield, Chester Zoo
One of the Oakfield’s dining rooms

This unique British pub is an absolute gem with dining in its old library, and drawing room adorned with family heirlooms and animal paintings.  The pub serves a varied menu of high quality dishes using locally sourced produce wherever possible.  Our mains of blade of beef and salmon pavé were very flavoursome and well presented.  We’d been relatively good in not ordering starters but couldn’t resist the yummy desserts.

Food served at the Oakfield,  Chester Zoo
Our chosen dishes at the Oakfield

There were a good selection of beers on offer and with 50 different gins to choose from, I was well catered for too.  Service was friendly and efficient with prices moderate.  Attached to the original building is a bright and airy garden room with additional seating leading out onto the terrace for warmer days.  It’s a great place to spend an hour or two relaxing over a meal in between viewing the animals.

Asian elephants at Chester Zoo
Asian elephants at the zoo

After our delicious lunch we needed to walk off some calories and what better way than by exploring the zoo on foot.  It was a bitterly cold afternoon with a stiff breeze but we were nice and snug with our duvet coats tightly buttoned up.  It was fun wandering around and our highlights included viewing the Asian elephants and learning that Chester was in fact the first zoo to breed elephants in the U.K.

Lemur, Chester Zoo
A lemur disappearing into the distance

The Butterfly House was beautiful with its large and varied collection of butterflies fluttering around.  I tried numerous times to take a photo of some of them but they always closed their wings or disappeared just as I pressed the shutter.

Humboldt penguins, Chester Zoo
Viewing the penguins

The penguin enclosure was very popular and it was fun to watch the endangered Humboldt penguins waddling around on the surface and darting around extremely quickly under water.  I was surprised to read that using their flippers they can reach speeds of up to 25 mph.

Giraffes at Chester Zoo
Viewing the giraffes

The zoo is attractively laid out in a landscaped parkland setting with clearly marked paths and slopes that are accessible to all.  We viewed so many animals that I couldn’t possibly include them all here but there’s much to interest the entire family from giraffes and lions to chimpanzees, some of which have lived at the zoo for over 30 years.

The lion enclosure, Chester Zoo
The lion enclosure

This brought our weekend in Chester to a close and what a time we’d had from walking along the city walls, taking a leisurely river boat trip, climbing to the top of the cathedral tower and visiting the zoo.  It had all be very enjoyable and coupled with a good hotel and some first class places to eat it had turned out to be a perfect city break.  After reading this series of posts, I hope I might have inspired some of you to think of visiting Chester too, as I’m certain you would enjoy it just as much as us.

During our stay we were guests of  Visit Chester and the Leonardo Hotel and as always, all views and opinions are entirely my own.


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Chester Zoo & Cathedral


44 thoughts on “Day 3. Chester Cathedral and Zoo

  1. Going to the zoo is so much fun! It’s been a very long time since I’ve visited one. And I very much love Chester Cathedral, such a stunning building! Thanks so much for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At Chester, all the animals are well cared for with plenty of space to roam and we enjoyed our visit. Chester Cathedral is stunning and I recommend visiting and taking the tower top tour when you are in the area. Have a good weekend. Marion x

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Roman Gardens appeal to me as well, Marion as a lovely peaceful place for a morning stroll. I like the way they managed to display the city’s Roman heritage al fresco, and the recreation of a hypocaust is really interesting. The impressive cathedral is a treasure trove of fascinating history, the tour must have been immensely enjoyable. Love the desserts and always prioritise them over appetisers. Thanks for a lovely and insightful presentation of Chester.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Oh the architecture, be still my heart! The cathedral is just an incredible work of art. I love your photo of the cloister with those beautiful windows. And whoever thought to recreate the building in legos deserves an award for that kind of detail and ingenuity! Another wonderful part of Chester to follow along with 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Meg. Visiting Chester Cathedral was beautiful and climbing to the tower top extra special. Recreating the building out of Lego is such a great idea as it not only raises much needed funds for the church upkeep but it’s irresistible to add a piece to the structure! A lovely weekend away in north west England!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Chester. The Cathedral is gorgeous and how nice that they offer a tour to see some of the hidden spaces and to learn more about the history of the place. I’ve always enjoyed climbing church towers as it’s a great way to get a nice view of the surrounding area.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. ThingsHelenLoves

    Chester is full of surprises, what a great destination for a short break. Especially for a family like mine with a mix of ages and interests, I’m sure we could find something for all. The tour at the Cathedral looks fabulous, I do think it’s worth paying for a good guide and a peek behind the scenes.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’d never considered Chester for a city break but wow, that cathedral sold it for me alone! So funny to think of a bell ringer being late for work and having to run up the stairs and straight into pulling the bells lol!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve heard good things about Chester, but I never realized how much of a modest gem it was. Especially Chester Cathedral, wow! Inside and outside, both are absolutely stunning! I also never thought that fine dining and zoos went together, but apparently they do at Chester zoo (that rhymed, haha)! Glad you got to enjoy the tranquility of exploring the zoo (and especially to see penguins, my favorite)!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do hope you get over to explore Hester for yourself one of these days Rebecca and to take a tour of the cathedral is a must. I’d never associated fine dining with zoos either but it definitely happens at Chester. I thought of you when I went to see the penguins!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I love taking walking tours and also tours of buildings as they are not a bit boring and I agree with you that so much can be learnt from them. The LEGO construction is such a fun way to raise money for the Cathedral and I’m surprised that I haven’t seen something like it elsewhere. Thanks for commenting Lyssy, it really means a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a beautiful cathedral Marion. We always like the tours that take you up to towers or domes for the history and the views. As to appie or dessert, I am with you….dessert every time. Thanks for sharing Marion. Have a great Monday. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Once again, I love that photo of the Cathedral with the trees in full bloom in the foreground! It’s amazing how old the Cathedral is, but still looks so beautifully inside … and what a lovely view from the rooftop (wow, a view al the way into Wales)! Lunch looked great – oh, those desserts – yummy! Marion, did you say 50 different gins … I would probably spent half a day just in this lovely restaurant 😉. And you had some really nice views of BIG animals – elephants, lions, giraffes … lovely to see them and that they are well taken care of.
    Thank you for a great tour through Chester – you certainly has put Chester on the map with your great posts and photo’s.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always find Cathedral rooftop tours interesting as they introduce visitors to so much more of the church, it’s construction and the views. The pub/restaurant in the zoo was unique and not what you might expect to find somewhere like that. Viewing the big animals was fun and hopefully at some point I will be able to see them in their natural habitats. Hope your week goes well.

      Liked by 1 person

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