Heritage doesn’t get odder than this folks. So Cestrians, recognise this heritage art in a prominent location passed by tens of thousands of people each day?

Probably not! Why not?

This is the flipside of a heritage tourism map upon a red sandstone on Chester City Walls at the corner of the Grosvenor Road (A483) and Castle Drive, just up and opposite (over Castle Drive) the steps leading down to the Little Roodee Cafe and opposite (over the Grosvenor Road) from Chester racecourse and the Roodee proper viewed from Nuns Road and the HQ building. The portcullis on the front of the stone evokes the medieval castle ruins that are behind it in this location.

Still don’t recognise it, despite this being one of the main routes of tourists around the city and over commuters and visitors in and out of the city?

That’s because the only way you can comfortably view this wonderful image is to be a parked car in one of 3-4 parking spaces in the University of Chester car park for the Riverside Campus! And even then, it is blocked by a lamp-post with a sign on it indicating the direction to river trips situated directly in front of the image!

Here are three stills from Google Streetview to illustrate its utter invisibility.

Castle Drive 1
From Castle Drive, you can see the sign, just in front of the bus, with the city wall footpath and the pavement on Castle Drive diverging from each other.
Castle Drive 2
From the very corner of Castle Drive and Grosvenor Road, here is the sandstone plinth with the map of the city, with the portcullis of the castle below the map carved in relief.
Castle Drive 3
From the Grosvenor Road looking along the city walls footpath, you can see the map and see how only by craning oneself out over the car park, or walking c. 100m around and into the car park, can you view the art.

More startling still this becomes when you realise that the image is of the Roodee: and you cannot actually see it from this location. Yes, if you are one of those few parked cars, it is evoking art connected to what you cannot see because of the road and trees opposite, namely the Roodee. Yep, they really did put it on the WRONG SIDE of the Grosvenor Road!

I kid you not! This is an utterly dreadful heritage fail that hardly anyone notices and no one AT ALL can properly apprehend what the art is doing there and what it connotes.

This is even more tragic when we realise this is a very rare attempt to represent a medieval free-standing cross in the city of Chester – perhaps the only one! This is because the art is a wonderful evocation of the Roodee cross in gold on a blue background. Roodee is the current Chester Racecourse, but area to become the racecourse and which this heritage board overlooks was once the ‘eye of the rood’ – the island of the cross. One tradition has this cross dating back to the 10th century AD; and its stub and base, now heavily worn, sit out amidst the race course. In medieval times, this would have been a small island in the wider ‘pool’ of the Dee.

The image, therefore, gives us an imaginative sense of how impressive this cross might once have been. The Dee’s waters lap close to its base and medieval boats and quays are visible behind. It thus affords a stylised impression of the medieval approach to the city of Chester.

Therefore, I applaud the art, I welcome its presence as a rare instance of medieval archaeology being depicted in the city. Yet I feel shame and sadness that its prominent, public position is matched by its near-invisibility to local people and tourists alike!

Note: this is part of a series of heritage trail installations, red sandstone slabs with a motif evoking an historical aspect of the past, with a gold-and-blue image on the back doing likewise. The other ones I’ve seen allow access to both sides, but for this one it looks like the city couldn’t find a place to install it where the front and back could be adequately engaged with.

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