Normans, Dickens & Baggins
Rochester town is in the heart of the Medway in Kent, and for Gary and me, it’s just a few miles down the road. We often pop there for lunch, but as with so many places that are on your doorstep, you just take them for granted.
However, this time was different rather than just fleetingly pass through; we decided to befriend Rochester and discover its rich history as a tourist.
The historical centre of Rochester is easy to stroll around; there is just so much to discover amongst the little alleys and lanes, let alone the imposing Norman fortress & beautiful cathedral. There’s no surprise to see why Charles Dickens was inspired here.
I’m sure after visiting Rochester you could add to this list (and your certainly welcome to comment), but this is our “starter for 10.”
The striking Norman Castle protecting the town is the first thing you’ll see when crossing the River Medway, into Rochester. The 12th century Keep has far reaching views across the town and is in a prime position to defends itself. You may even notice that one of its towers is round and the other three square.
Access to the castle is free for English Heritage Members (Prices for 2017 are £6.40 for adults, £4 for 5-15yr olds) You’ll also find Upnor Castle is also free to members too.
Just an arrow shot away from the castle is Rochester Cathedral, the history of the Cathedral dates to the 7th century and the Diocese of Rochester is the second oldest in England after Canterbury. The stories that this building could tell would be amazing, from the Anglo Saxons to the present day. In 2004, it had its 1400th anniversary, now that’s old!!!
All things Dickens, where do you start. Charles Dickens lived in Medway for almost 20 years and referenced Rochester in a few of his novels, particularly the Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations the Seven Poor Travellers. Elements of Restoration House (in Rochester), are used for Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations.
Even a festival is held every year for him.
Rochester Guildhall was built in 1687 and houses a museum on the many elements of Medway History. Mounted high on the roof is an amazing weather vane in the form of a fully rigged 18th-century warship. It has weathered the ever-changing climate since 1780. Entry to this museum is only £1 (2107).
Discover the history of the Huguenots, in Britain’s only Huguenot museum. Their French Hospital nearby was founded in 1718. It still provides accommodation for elderly people who are of Huguenot heritage.
One of the best ways to discover anywhere is to take to the streets and Rochester is no exception. Around the Cathedral & Boley Hill is a history lovers’ delight, the King’s School founded in 604AD is the second oldest school in the world. There is even a 150-year-old Catalpa tree.
A stroll through the High Street is a must, as there are some fantastic examples of timbered homes and great quirky little shops.
There is an ironmonger store reminiscent of the Two Ronnies “Four Candles” sketch.
No excuses are needed, lunch is calling, and the Coopers Arms which was built during the reign of Richard I in 1189 is a quintessential English pub. If its winter snuggle down next to the open fire with an ale, or if you’re lucky like we were, enjoy the sunshine in the garden.
Take in the maritime vibes along the River Medway to Chatham and visit the Historic Naval Dockyard, where HMS Victory was built. Jump aboard two warships and a submarine and walk the streets of numerous film sets.
Another fortress treat is Upnor Castle, nestled on the opposite side of the Medway on the edge of the river. An extra reason to bring along your English Heritage pass, the little village itself is worth a visit.
How to get there
You can catch a train from London St Pancras or London Victoria to Rochester Station which takes around 40 minutes.
Inspired to visit Rochester?
Does the history tempt you? would you like to stroll up the hight street and step back in time?
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