One of the many things I love about living in North Wales and working as Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester is the commute to work.
I have a number of options that I take but I particularly enjoying taking my bike on the Bidston line to Shotton or Hawarden Bridge and cycling along the old railway line into Chester, coming off at Parkgate Road. This was once the railway line that ran through Blacon and into Chester Northgate station as discussed here.
Whether I traverse along the River Dee from Shotton to Chester or along the old railway line, the 7 mile cycle gives me some much needed exercise and time for reflection. Some of my best archaeodeath schemes come to mind whilst cycling. I particularly enjoy the mock railway station signs and level crossing gates when the cycle path enters into Blacon. This is possibly the best way to enter – and leave – Blacon.
Gravestones by the Tracks
Still, there is always an archaeological dimension and an archaeodeath one too. If I take the old railway line, my cycle takes through Blacon and past the cemetery there. Through the old line-side vegetation I can see the common graves but also the Commwealth War Graves. The stark contrast in the level of maintenance between the civilian and war dead is also a focus of fascination for me, and seeing these graves from the outsider’s perspective of the cycle path, where there is no access to the cemetery, and visiting the cemetery itself, offer a very intriguing and distanced engagement with a mass of regulated memorials.
Cremation by the Tracks
This commute cycle also has allowed me to observe the transformation of Blacon cemetery as a landscape of cremation and cremation commemoration. Over the last two years I have observed as I have cycled the demolition of Blacon Crematorium and the building of its space-age replacement beside the Ellesmere Canal. The landscaping of what had been fields into a new memorial environment, with paths, flowers and trees has been equally fascinating. It has still to fully bed in, but it has been intriguing to watch the practical work and decisions made regarding how a crematorium should look and operate in the 21st century compared with its mid-20th century predecessor.