Food, Falcons and Polo in Chester

Eastgate Street

Eastgate Street - Credit: Archant

Chester’s rich heritage is not the only thing drawing in the crowds. We speak to people with some grand plans

Tommy McNally, Chester Cathedral falconer

Tommy McNally, Chester Cathedral falconer - Credit: Archant

Tommy McNally has kept birds of prey since he was a young boy. He ran Cheshire Falconry, near Bridgemere, for almost 20 years, was the head falconer at Peckforton Castle and has been dedicated to their conservation and preservation for most of his life.

Now, the 47-year-old is pursuing ambitious plans to set up a falconry centre and nature gardens in the Dean’s Field in the grounds of Chester Cathedral where he is falconry manager. The cathedral has submitted plans for the new centre which will house Tommy’s birds of prey including falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures and owls as well as purpose-built aviaries for the security and comfort of the birds.

The plans complement the cathedral’s five year plan to develop innovative projects that make the best use of the building’s assets and to encourage visitors to spend more time in the city, giving the economy a boost. Tommy hopes to stage birds of prey displays for the public as well as raiseing awareness of the need for their conservation. It is hoped the centre, if granted permission, will be open by summer.

Tommy continued: ‘I want to be able to fly a bird, probably my Golden Eagle, Grace, from the top of the tower on the cathedral down into the field. Wouldn’t that be spectacular?

Stephen Wundke (centre) with Cheshire West and Chester Council Leader, Mike Jones and Maud Duthie, C

Stephen Wundke (centre) with Cheshire West and Chester Council Leader, Mike Jones and Maud Duthie, Chester University Food Innovations Partnerships Manager at the Chester Food, Drink and Lifestyle Festival Sausage Competion - Credit: Archant

‘It is giving people a fun time. But it is also about making people more aware of how important it is to look after these birds of prey. The birds seem to have this knack of firing children’s imagination and enthusiasm. The cathedral would be an incredible setting and the centre would also be a great addition to the city centre.’

There are events in Chester that have been pulling in the crowds for many years. The Chester Food, Drink and Lifestyle Festival is considered the main event that kicks off the tourist season. This year’s festival over the Easter weekend April 4-6th will include appearances from Jean-Christophe Novelli, Masterchef judge Greg Wallace and Sunday Brunch star chef Simon Rimmer as well as 150 food and drink producers.

The final of the annual Sausage Competition will also be held along with children’s cooking classes being hosted by the Academy of Culinary Arts and Artfest will also feature work from over 40 local and UK top artists.

The popular event, which pulls tens of thousands of people into the city each year, is held at Chester Racecourse and was founded by principal organiser Stephen Wundke. He launched the event as a way to boost the visitor economy.

Richard Thomas, chief executive of Chester Race Company

Richard Thomas, chief executive of Chester Race Company - Credit: Archant

He said: ‘When we started this event it was put on at Easter at the request of hoteliers who said that as nothing happened over this period in Chester the city was deserted. Now all that has changed and 14 years later Chester has an event that generates over £2.5 million in economic benefit and really has had an impact across the region.

‘It is incredible to look back and think how far things have come. Now, people struggle to get a hotel room when the festival is on because people enjoy it so much. Every year 1000’s of families come out to enjoy really good food and drink and have a great time together.’

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A few weeks later on May 22nd and 23rd, Chester Racecourse hosts the prestigious LDF International. The polo tournament was founded by Richard Thomas, chief executive of Chester Racecourse. The event attracts elite polo players from across the globe and former England team captains and Prince William.

The event has put Chester Racecourse Polo Club on the map as an established member of the British polo circuit. It is regarded as one of the sport’s premier events in the region with a prize of £10,000. Richard, himself an accomplished player, said: ‘It is a fantastic day. We have had some well-known people visit over the years including former Bond girls and many celebrities.

Katie Lyttle, host of The Chester Food Assembly with some of the members

Katie Lyttle, host of The Chester Food Assembly with some of the members - Credit: Archant

‘But it is something for everyone to enjoy. It is a really full two days. And in between you get the opportunity to enjoy the city.’

There are also plans in place to establish a polo academy, expected to launch in early May just before the start of the season. Richard said: ‘The aim is to create more members for Cheshire Polo Club. The academy will be for all ages, whether it’s for corporate events, for children during the school holidays or someone just wanting to give it a go.

‘Like everything else we do here at Chester Racecourse, it’s about being able to offer something more in the city and getting more people here. Chester is a fabulous place. Our polo players love coming here because it is such a great place to visit.’

Steve Roberts of Beatons Tearooms Chester in front of Chester Cathedral

Steve Roberts of Beatons Tearooms Chester in front of Chester Cathedral - Credit: Archant

Food for thought

There is a huge appetite in Chester for locally grown, fresh food, as one enterprising woman has demonstrated. Katie Lyttle has launched the Chester Food Assembly, a social enterprise and the first of its kind in the north west. It allows customers to buy online from local producers, including Polkadot Bakery, Pen-y-Lan Pork and Ollie’s Orchard, which they then collect from Telford’s Warehouse each Monday evening.

Katie explained: ‘It’s about building a food community so people can order straight from the producer. There is so much amazing food here and it is a fantastic way of people discovering that.

‘I was looking for a project to get started with and the Food Assembly ticked all the right boxes – sustainability, local enterprises and getting people together around food, they are my passions.’

Time for tea

Steve Roberts had always dreamed of running his own tea rooms and his dream will come true this month when the 53-year-old will open Beaton’s Chester. The new tea room, inspired by photographer Cecil Beaton, will have a book shop stocking Beaton’s work as well as local publications. It is in Bell Tower House in Bell Tower Walk, next to Chester Cathedral. It is a huge change of career for the former IT consultant. But he cannot wait to get started.

He said: ‘I thought of doing this over 20 years ago but the time has never been right. It’s feels right now though. And Chester is the absolute perfect place for it.

‘There are a lot of cafes in Chester. But there is room for something like this because it is different.’

Beaton’s Chester are on twitter at @BeatonsCheshire

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