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Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, May 19, 2012

A check on the Hackney Colliery Band website just after the Mach festival meant that we spotted a gig in Chester which is only just up the road. Too far to want to drive back after the concert though so we booked into the George & Dragon. We would probably have headed up to Wales at some point this weekend and Chester is a much better place from where to visit the north coast.

After breakfast at Pine Tops Cafe we set off up the A49 and A41 and then followed the A55 west until we got to Flintshire from where we cut across to Gronant passing through some pretty villages that we had not noticed before. Gronant has two wildlife-based claims to fame, being the only location in Wales were Natterjack Toads breed and also the only place for breeding Little Terns. The former, which are endangered in the UK, have been introduced here to help spread the range and the numbers whereas the latter represent the last surviving breeding colony of a species that was once much more widespread around the Welsh coast.

Natterjack Toads are most active after dark so we didn't expect to see any but Little Terns generally arrive in mid-May so I was optimistic about our chances. Upon entering the coastal reserve it was immediately obvious that there were some migrants about because Sedge Warblers were making a lot of noise in the small reed bed and Common Whitethroats almost as much from the hedgerows and bushes. There were Swallows and Swifts overhead and a single Avocet heading east, perhaps towards Burton Marsh. closer to the edge of the dunes and the start of the beach there were also several Wheatears which I'm sure don't breed there. However the cordoned off area where the terns nest (I'm sure it was right on the beach the last time I was here) was completely silent so presumably we were too early in the year. Our new 'tick' for the week had not yet been achieved.

As we were intending to make a proper night of it in Chester we decided that this was not going to be a long day's birding and we turned left (therefore east) onto the major road, thinking we'd give the RSPB reserve at nearby Point of Air a quick try. We started down the path to the main hide but it was blocked for repairs so we decided that this was not going to be our lucky day and set off for Chester.

Not really being a believer in over-planning we didn't really know where our hotel was apart from a vague idea. As we came around the ring road I said that I thought it might be next left or the one after and as I was driving I took the next left and there it was, so our luck was improving.

Chester's a nice city in many ways and the extensive city walls are worth a visit in their own right. We worked out that Telford's Warehouse was not far from the hotel so walked down to it to check what the route was like in case Julie wanted to wear heels for the night out. It was mostly down hill but not too bad. We liked the look of the venue, though which had an interesting menu, some beers that were unfamiliar and a great view over the canal basin.

From here we crossed the canal and railway line and walked along a short section of the wall from where we found our way into the centre. We were ready for a drink and went to The Pied Bull, an old favourite that also keeps a good cellar. While we where there it occurred to me that the 'going out' clothes that I had painstakingly laid out before setting off in the morning weren't hanging up in the car, so we drank up and went to Debenhams where I bought a new shirt and trousers. This was getting to be an expensive weekend :)

Eating after getting dressed up seemed a bad idea so we went back to Telford's Warehouse for a reasonably early dinner where we had a bar meal - not cheap but decent quality, meze and black pudding hash for starters and a rather good steak & ale pie and seafood linguine (mussels, crayfish and king prawns) for mains plus drinks just over 40. The only table we could find was in the lowest section, where the band were setting up. The other three tables were reserved for them, although one group of three sat at one of the reserved tables with the rationale that "we'll be gone before they need them". I'm not sure how they knew the band's plans in such detail. At least one of them had the decency to be rather embarrased by being there.

When the band and their entourage did start to fill the tables up it was clear that there was a bit of a problem. Some of them were stuck on the motorway following a breakdown of their van. Oh no. We listened to them debating what to do. I was on my 3rd pint otherwise I'd have volunteered to drive down and collect them. They were considering going down the A41 and A51 but I suggested the longer but faster M56/M6 option. They were just about to set off on one route or t' other when they got a call to say that the recovery vehicles had finally arrived and they were on their way.

Next we returned to the George & Dragon to get ready and try on my new stuff, returning to Telford's Warehouse at about 21:30. The venue had been opened out so that the room with the stage was visible from the main bar but we went into the downstairs section again to get reasonably close to the band and to enjoy the music that was being played which was an eclectic mix including a lot of ska and reggae. I reckon to know a bit about music but there was only one tune played before the concert that I could name both the artiste and the song - the excellent "Long Shot Kick de Bucket" by the Pioneers - and they didn't even play the whole song!

Some time after 11 the Hackney Colliery Band, minus a couple of members who had returned to London with the out of sorts van, came on stage and played a blinding set. Remember "Africa" by Toto, a big hit in the 1980s and IMO a pretty dreadful song. They do a spellbinding version that even makes you want to sing along. Like I said before, just go and see them if you get the chance.

Someone was handing out fetching 3D glasses to all and sundry, which is how we come to look so incredibly cool in the photos. Well that's an illusion that I can choose to foster if I like :)

We left Telford's Warehouse at about 01:15 for the short walk back up the hill to the hotel and a not so early night.
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