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The Lodge Bar, The Bawn Lodge, 8 Hoole Road, Chester, Cheshire
Last summer, on an extremely short holiday in Wales, we found ourselves confronted with a last-minute decision to find accommodation. As we had spent the day driving across Anglesey, through Snowdonia, and across the Vale of Clwyd, we were faced with the depressing prospect of finding a place to spend the night on the northeast Welsh coast. As we had neither a caravan nor a carload of screaming children, and our idea of an evening meal was a bit more than strolling through a noisy arcade munching on battered sausage rolls, we forewent the possibilities in Prestatyn and Rhyl; and by the time we got to Fflint we had pretty much lost the will to live. Realising the charming parts of Wales were miles behind us we crossed the border back into England, shattering my hopes of gaining a rudimentary fluency in Welsh through another day of reading the bilingual road signs.
Before we knew it we were in Chester. As it was the late afternoon of a long day and we were dying to park the car and stretch our legs, we decided to see what this historic city had to offer in the way of accommodation.
Chester has a history dating back to 75 AD when the Romans built a fort next to the River Dee and called it Deva. A local market for the soldiers quickly grew, with potters, bakers, butchers, carpenters, and blacksmiths providing local goods while wine and fine pottery were imported through the port. After the Romans left England, the settlement was invaded by the Saxons who battled the Welsh in 617 AD and took control, renaming Deva "Ceaster", which in Saxon means a group of Roman buildings. By the Middle Ages the main industries in Chester were leather and wool. In 1506 Henry VII made Chester a county in its own right; and today the city of Chester features the most complete city walls in Britain, a shopping area with two-tiered medieval street galleries, and the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain.
We found ourselves driving through Hoole, a popular residential neighbourhood a mile northeast of the city centre and close to the train station. Although the original village of Hoole dates back to at least 1119, its Victorian terrace houses, villas, and semis date from the 1930s and went through a period of decay in the 1960s and 1970s before becoming desirable again in the mid-1990s.
We booked one of the 15 reasonably priced ensuite rooms at the family-run Bawn Lodge and headed down to the hotel's Lodge Bar for a drink. We were delighted to find that not only does the bar serve cask ale but at a very reasonable price. We ordered two pints of Wainwright (4.1% ABV, Daniel Thwaites Brewery, Blackburn, Lancashire) and sat outside on the patio under two huge interconnected umbrellas with efficient halogen heaters. Our pints were named after Alfred Wainwright, a Lakeland author who wrote seven walking guides to the Lake District and also hosted a popular TV series. Golden and well rounded like a typical Thwaites, Wainwright (the ale, not the man) has a tingly bitter with caramelly malt, and it was a welcome respite after our exhausting drive. At that point we could thank our lucky stars, Thwaites, and Wainwright we didn't end up staying in ff'in Fflint.
On this particular summer Thursday the patio was buzzing and throbbing with trendily-dressed Chester folk; but as we were settled for the night with plenty of food and drink options we were quite content. Although the Lodge Bar serves freshly made sandwiches, snacks, and shred platters, we decided to try out a local bistro recommended by the barman. When we returned to the bar later that night we ordered nightcaps of double shots of Talisker and took them back out onto the patio. The heaters, along with our whiskies, were welcome relief from the midnight nippiness.