Taking a Holiday from My Holiday in Chester
Homesickness is a natural symptom of long term and solo travel. Even when you are visiting amazing places and having the trip of a lifetime, it’s very easy to miss family and friends and long for home. And for many, Christmas can be the hardest time for that homesickness.
For me in particular, the prospect of spending Christmas overseas is a daunting one. I have a huge family, my Dad is one of five and Christmas Day involves around 30 people crowding into my Nan’s house and basically eating all day.
Christmas has always been one of my favourite days of the year.
However lucky for me I didn’t have to spend Christmas completely alone. My Aunt, Uncle and three little cousins live in the North of England, in a town between Liverpool and Manchester called Chester. Every second year they stay in the UK for Christmas, and lucky for me 2015 was the year they weren’t going to Australia.
Hence after four days in Amsterdam I boarded a flight to Liverpool to spend 10 days with family. Not only did going to Chester give me an opportunity to spend Christmas with family, it also presented an opportunity to have a holiday from my holiday.
Travel can be absolutely exhausting. It’s equal parts exhilarating and stressful, especially in the first month when you haven’t quite found your rhythm or gotten used to packing your bags every other day.
Thus whilst in Chester I did all of the things I had gotten an opportunity to do while travelling; I slept in, I sat around all day in my pyjamas, I cooked, I baked, I did some shopping, I booked some more of my trip, I watched movies and I read books. It was amazing and just the mental refresh that I needed.
That said, I did manage to have some small adventures whilst in Chester.
The Sandstone Trail
At the start of 2015, Sash and Mike (my aunt and uncle) made a resolution to walk the whole 55km of the Sandstone trail with all three kids in tow. Every other weekend they would head out to the trail to do a couple of kilometres. When I arrived in Chester, they had about 7km left to go.
And whilst they finished the last leg a couple of days after I headed to London, I had managed to go out with them on the trail on two occasions. The first time the weather was absolutely gorgeous (which is saying something for Northern England at any time of the year, let alone in December) and I managed to fully christen my hiking boots with inches of mud.
After all the pavement walking through busy and noisy cities, it was super nice just to experience the English countryside. Well when the kids weren’t asking me about a thousand questions!
Exploring an Abandoned Mine
My uncle has this recent obsession with mining. He and his mates idea of a good night out is navigating old abandoned mines, usually just across the Welsh border (which is super close to Chester).
So of course he couldn’t wait to make me do it. I hate to admit it but it was actually pretty fun. We found some old mine signs, old railway tracks for the carts of rock and even a shovel. It was pretty cool going all the way down, but definitely not an activity for those afraid of being understand, being in darkness or heights!
The Pantomime is an English institution and it’s a tradition to go to one just before Christmas. It’s essentially a play that includes lots of involvement from the crowd (which is always 90% children).
For example the crowd is encouraged to boo when the evil character comes on, answer the questions of the actor and yell out warnings when something bad might be about to happen. We went and say Dick Wellington and the Cat and it was pretty funny. It’s definitely something for the kids!
Chester itself is a beautiful city and is actually a popular tourist spot especially during high season in Europe (ie summer).
It is home to a beautiful cathedral (that you can now enter for free) that is always decked out for Christmas.
If you wander down the main street you’ll find the beautiful and historic buildings that Chester is famous for. The double storey shop fronts are particular unique to the town and bring shoppers and tourists to the city.
I particularly love the old Chester clock that sits in the middle of the old town. It’s so stunning! I don’t think I’ve quite seen a clock like it.
But my favourite part of Chester is the old walls that surround the city. Any visit to Chester would be incomplete without walking all the way around them.
Chester makes a great day trip from nearby Liverpool or Manchester and is definitely a town I’d recommend visiting on any trip to Northern England!
A Local Football Match
Football (or Soccer as it’s called in the US and Australia) is an important part of British culture. But if you can’t quite afford the (insert price) for a ticket to the Premier League, a good budget option is to visit a local football match.
My uncle is an avid Chester Football Club fan and he took me to a home match on my first day in Chester. I’ve never really liked soccer, the idea of waiting a whole match and still not seeing a goal seems pretty boring to me.
But funnily enough Chester scored a goal in the first minute of the game, which hardly ever happens! I must have bought some good luck because by the end of the match Chester had won.
Of course I still think Aussie Rules is 100x more exciting, physical and interesting, but a soccer match isn’t something you should miss while in the United Kingdom.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Before I head to a country I always consult the UNESCO World Heritage List and I was surprised to find one less than a half hour’s drive from Chester. Hence when my aunt and uncle asked me if there was anything I specifically wanted to do I mentioned the aqueduct.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct straddles the Welsh and English border and was inscribed on the list because of its significance as a representation of the civil engineering during the Industrial Revolution.
It’s actually a pretty popular tourist stop in Wales and you can even pay to take a canal boat across the aqueduct or down the canals to view it from the bottom.
We started by walking across (and back) the aqueduct, much to the dismay of Sash who was feeling a bit queasy at the height.
But to get the best view of the aqueduct itself we walked down the trail to the local park.
While in Wales we also visited another aqueduct and a tunnel on the canal at Chirk which was pretty daunting to walk through. It was pitch black and this time it was my turn to feel slightly queasy.
I’m not sure you can visit these easily on public transport, like many places in the UK it’s best if you have a car (there are plenty of free parking spots).
When Christmas Day arrived I did find myself missing home, especially when Mum sent me a photo of all the amazing food she had cooked.
But I was incredibly lucky to still be able to spend Christmas with family. I wasn’t just welcomed by Sash and Mike for Christmas, but by the whole Challinor (Mike’s family) clan. We had an amazing Christmas lunch and dinner.
This was the second time I spent Christmas in Chester (I visited for Christmas when I was on exchange in France back in 2009) and whilst this time we didn’t get snow, I still had a fabulous day.
It is definitely going to be a lot harder for next Christmas when I’ll most likely be somewhere in South America!
When I finally boarded my train from Chester to London, I was left feeling refreshed and ready to travel again. Having family in England is definitely something I am grateful for, as it gives me a safety blanket to fall back on if things go wrong or even if I just find myself needing a break from travel.
I’ll be returning next week for another break (and to pick up all the summer clothes I dumped there).