What did the Romans ever do for Deva?

Chester Amphitheatre
Chester Amphitheatre
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IT’S Saturday evening and, in Chester city centre, two burly bare-chested men are squaring up.

In front of wide-eyed onlookers, they hurl themselves into a mauling, brawling battle.

Broken Britain and one more sign that our weekend streets are lost to louts?

Not at all.

These two gents are trained gladiators and, on this early summer’s evening, they are part of a huge show being staged at the city’s incredible ancient amphitheatre.

Some history, then?

Chester was founded as the Roman fort of Deva in 79AD, and the evidence of its long history is everywhere.

It’s four principle roads follow routes first laid out by our Latin cousins, while the city walls are the most complete in Britain.

And that amphitheatre? That was built almost 2,000 years ago too.

The largest such structure in the country, this Grade I-listed arena was once used for military training, bull baiting and, of course, gladiatorial combat.

Today only the northern side is exposed but it’s an impressive enough site anyway.

And, as we visit for the weekend, those two bruisers down in the pit are putting on a historical display of the violence once meted out for ancient audiences.

It’s all part of the Roman Festival – one of several annual celebrations of the city’s past.

And it’s well worth going along for. The brawling brutes justify the trans-Pennine train fare alone. But, as part of the same display, there is also an emperor explaining about the city itself and ancient dancing girls.

Not far away in Grosvenor Park, meanwhile, there’s a Roman tent village featuring arts, crafts, live music and sausage in buns. It’s fabulous.

But then Chester well knows how to make the most of its distinguished history.

The cathedral, built 1541, is another Grade I- listed building which is open for all to explore, while the world famous mediaeval Rows are a delight for shoppers, offering two tiers of quirky stores.

There’s plenty to do, alright. Which means you need good accommodation and good refuelling.

We found both.

The city’s Delamere Street Travelodge is exactly the same as every Travellodge: functional, well located and with a beauty of a breakfast. Recommended.

And the food? We confess we went to the chain Pizza Express for lunch – which is exactly the same as every Pizza Express: functional, well located and with a beauty of a dough ball starter.

But for the evening meal? Well, we were saving money by staycating, weren’t we? We decided to spoil ourselves at Michael Caines.

And spoil is the right word.

It doesn’t come cheap – the final bill with wine, starters, desserts and coffee for two came to more than £120 – but it’s worth every gold aureus.

Set on the fifth floor of the Abode hotel and with glass walls over-looking Chester’s glorious race course, there couldn’t be a more breath-taking setting.

And that setting is more than matched by the food – lamb for her, pork for me – which is genuinely exquisite. All served by attentive staff.

It was a lovely way to round off a lovely day.

The next morning we were sad to leave so soon. Broken Britain? Not here.