Investigating Chester: Walking the Roman Landscape, 30 August 2020

When I asked people for ideas to help explore Chester, Sarah May @Sarah_May1 mentioned walking and Romans… after a bit of thinking, I decided to put together a walk covering key parts of Chester’s Roman landscape. You can see my route here.

I won’t fully explain every point on the route, partly so I can do that another time and partly because this was really about the walking rather than visiting certain sites. However, in terms of the Roman landscape I walked from near the location of some farmsteads in Lache across to the large settlement at Heronbridge, my proper start point. From there I walked north on Watling Street through the cemeteries and quarries, across Old Dee Bridge and through the southern canabae into the centre of the fortress. Then I went north, roughly on the line of the Via Decumana, leaving the fortress through the north gate, and walked as far as Bache Brook before turning around and walking south into the fortress again then west along the Via Principalis, through the larger of the canabae, to the site of Chester’s historic water supply. Nearing the end now, I then walked back into the centre of Chester and continued west through the Watergate and out along the River Dee before returning to The Cross to finish.

According to my phone, the walk was about 16 km and it was a great way to get an appreciation of the scale of the Roman landscape. I’ll post a few pictures below with a few short observations.

Heronbridge > The Cross

Start point, the settlement at Heronbridge
Along the historic Watling Street, one mile to The Cross

Walking in from the south, it it easy to gain some appreciation of the topography as you drop down towards the Dee then rise again towards the Roman city. It’s not always obvious that Chester is perched on a sandstone outcrop, but you can feel it in your legs if you walk.

North to Bache Brook and back to The Cross

Bache Brook

Leaving Chester and dropping down the hill towards Bache Brook, you can really feel the sense of leaving the town, especially as you approach the watery landscape around the brook. The route of the Roman road north of here is not well known.

East to the water supply and back to The Cross

Dee Valley Water reservoir near to the Roman and later water supply.

West along the River Dee and back to The Cross

View along the Dee
Start of the Coastal Path, one for another day
Railway viaduct on New Crane Street, rather reminiscent of the old Roman east gate (below)

The ‘watery-ness’ of this part of the landscape is evident, not just in the river and the nearby Water Tower, but in the canal, locks, and building names like Old Port Spa and Waterside Court.

That’s it! As I said at the top, this was about the walking, not the locations along the way, all of which I’m sure I’ll visit again.

Help me walk other period landscapes! Let me know if you have any ideas. Walking the Civil War defences and siegeworks is probably next for me.

Help me investigate Chester!

We’re moving to Chester where I’m starting a new job. Now, Chester’s not exactly new to me, I grew up in a village not far away, but I’ve barely been back since I went to university and am really looking forward to discovering the city again as an adult. That’s where you come in!

I’m fascinated by the little projects, actions, tasks that people use to get to know new places. Maybe you walk a transect or around the outside. Perhaps you look at signposts, graffiti or churches. Some of you take photos, draw, write. Or maybe you listen. Collect? Look for traces of long-gone parts of town? In the past, I’ve done all sorts to get to know new places and spaces: collecting, writing, tracing, cleaning, I’m up for most things.

I would really love to hear your suggestions for things I could to to start the process of being in Chester again. Please comment below or on Twitter and we can get things going. I’ll consider anything, though might speak with you to tweak things to make them practicable. Feel free to make suggestions for me alone or for the whole family.

I’ll post about everything we do so you can see where your ideas lead…

A few things to think about:

  • I lived nearby until I was 18 so know my way around
  • But that knowledge is mostly restricted to the centre of Chester rather than the suburbs
  • COVID precautions apply, parts of the city centre have a one-way system
  • Things for the whole family need to not be much longer than an hour
  • I won’t post pictures of my daughter online
  • Please assume only basic technology and technical competence
  • If I’m on my own a 10 mile round trip is probably my limit for walking
  • If you want to use the historic landscape as inspiration, I’ve marked the approximate location of our house on the 1899 OS below. It’s about 30 mins walk to the centre of Chester.

With that in mind, let me know your ideas. How should we get to know Chester?

Unarchaeological archaeologies at HouseRules – BOUNDING, UNDERSTANDING, REPRESENTING

I wasn’t going to post this, but someone who took part and who I saw last weekend for the first time since told me they thought it was interesting so I might as well! Details about HouseRules are here. The works constitute an alternative archaeological record of the Eastway underpass in the Olympic Park,made as part of HouseRules back in May.

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1 Bounding

I tried to describe the site rather than just drawing a line on a map and did not edit:

EAST

The most solid edge of the site is formed by a barrier of large panels, concrete tongue and groove, holding back the bank of the Eastway while holding up the Eastway itself. The barrier spreads, perhaps, beyond the site, or is the site, the boundary, the limit. Deceptively linear, the surface of this edge rises and falls with the interface of each pair of panels while where concrete has decayed or been intentionally broken we see further texture. A hierarchy, stratigraphy, of paint schemes places micro-layers over the boundary edge, but all are within the site as below, between giant letters, we see through to the pebble matrix of the original concrete. The real edge? The beyond? The exception that proves the ruler, a hole in almost the furthest panel north at the edge of the concrete road above takes us 30 cm further to a curved, moist, metal edge. Beyond the moisture, everything else. The whole emits a cool breeze. We must call this edge indeterminate. Oh, but above the panels, below the road, steel grilles and a void behind. No idea what’s behind there, it’s too high to see, wrong angle, but there’s something further for sure. At least now we…know…that…we…don’t…know, as they say, or keep saying. We must call this edge indeterminate.

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NORTH

Can’t see the north boundary of the site so we have to infer. Marks on the floor of a former wall base in the north-east. That’ll do (but less ambivalent). This edge then formerly hard, in part, now not. Characterised by, if anything, seepage of the outside in or the failure of the inside to be so. Bicycle track in mud a main entry point, a thin strip of access between the inaccessible and the wrong way. Up the whole line, concrete flags run into soil, debris, fallen leaves (a year-round feature). Beyond, well, not site, but it’s dirtier, things dumped beyond the boundary maybe, or pushed there. As for the world, so for this underpass. Tree roots break the line, of course, and occasionally branches of the trees themselves. The other corner we cannot discern. The boundary line is obscured by, or becomes, or is a pile of reclaimed wood waiting for use. It belongs to the man who owns one of the boats. The line runs from a scrape of past to a pile of future. How…cheesy of it. We must call this edge indeterminate, but it has the novelty of performing four dimensions. That’s something.

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SOUTH

We’ll call this metal fence the southern boundary. It seems to hold out, or in, very little. Gravel, spider webs, dead leaves, rubbish, weeds, all exist on both sides, but then they’re small and the fence is much more hole than fence. Bikes are only ever on our side, and we have way more copies of Time magazine. We’ve got loads of copies of Time magazine. Big plants are only on the other side, but they lean in. The fence turns a corner and carries on, fencing its merry way somewhere else, around the plants I suppose. This boundary is not indeterminate, although, although, climbing plants growing from beyond it have twisted around the spikes of the fence in the south-west corner. But they can’t all be indeterminate.

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WEST

Western boundary, water boundary, western water boundary is predominantly made of air. For the most part we can discern the line between which molecules are ours and which are not by the not-straight line on the floor between our site and a double row of cobbles that I generously assign to the rest of the world. The line is occasionally broken. Poured concrete doesn’t care. There used to be a wall here of some kind but now only the base remains. The air hasn’t moved.

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UP

Up is infinity and the Eastway. There are small holes between structural elements, but it is by and large solid, although in two parts, lanes, divided by a big gap of nothing much, today sunlight. People have been there and tested it, either personally or via their agents. Most of the concrete-encased beams of the structure bear the marks of muddy footballs and occasionally there is chalked writing. People have tested this boundary and found it hard, despite the massive hole.

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DOWN

The bottom, the floor, base is the most indeterminate of all. There are concrete flags and poured concrete, sure, and tile and it’s holding us up and we can’t see through it. But, first but, there are drains, drains that go where we don’t know. And that’s excitingly indeterminate because although we don’t now where they go, we know that they go somewhere. But also, the biggest but, bigger but, there are also fucking ants’ nests. The limits of our site are only known to fucking ants. I can’t top that.

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2 Understanding

An alternative to putting a grid through the site, I reduced it to its spaces.

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3 Representing

I created a temporary, ephemeral archive of the site on my body.

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Coming Soon – Working in the City – 01/09/2013

Next weekend, Sunday 1 September, I will be in Bristol to take part in the In The City series of events organised by The Parlour Showrooms. As part of a weekend dedicated to work and tools, I will be speaking in a session called ‘Tea Break Talk: Tools of the City and Movements of Work’ alongside artists Clare Thornton and Paul Hurley and Sang-gye of Tibetan Therapies. More information here: http://inthecityseries.co.uk/programme

Coming soon - Working in the City

My role in the discussion will focus on how and why tools are created and used and how tools, bodies and natural and built landscapes intersect. Full details revealed on the day but I’ll be starting with Japanese macaques washing potatoes and ending on why we don’t wait for the green man before crossing the road.

Tickets available here: http://inthecityseries.co.uk/tickets-august