The Normans, Charles Dickens & Baggins
The historic town of Rochester in the heart of Kent is a place that Gary and I know very well. Mainly as Rochester is full of so much intriguing ancient history and that it is just a few miles away from where we live.
We regularly visit for lunch and have also attended some of Rochester’s annual events for festivals, parades, and music concerts in the castle grounds.
It’s so easy to take places for granted when they are on your doorstep. So, next time you visit an old haunt, head along a different street, wander a new path and check out an unfamiliar route.
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 and Rochester’s beautiful Cathedral.
There’s no surprise to see why Charles Dickens was so inspired by Rochester.
10 Places to discover in or around Rochester
The striking Norman Castle protecting the town is probably the first thing that jumps out at you when crossing the River Medway, into Rochester. The 12th century Keep has far-reaching views across the town and beyond and is in a prime position to defends itself from ne’re-do-wells.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that one of the castle’s towers is round and the other three are square. For a little more insight into the Rochester Castle’s history check out our post - 'The Kings' footsteps, Rochester Castle, Kent, England'.
The fascinating history of Rochester Cathedral dates from the 7th century.
The Diocese of Rochester is the second oldest in England after Canterbury, which is further down the road in Kent. Home of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Canterbury Cathedral.
Where to stay
- The Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel – Located within the heart of historic Rochester. Easy walking distance to the Castle, Cathedral, the River Medway and a great selection of restaurants.
- The Gordon House Hotel – This traditional, comfortable hotel is located along the Dickensian High Street in Rochester. Just a short stroll to the Castle and Cathedral.
The intriguing stories that Rochester Cathedral holds are amazing. From the Anglo Saxons, through the Medieval period and up to the present day. In 2004, Rochester Cathedral 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, notably 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.
Throughout Rochester, there are references to Dickens, and the attractive High Street really has a lovely Dickensian feel about it.
Rochester even holds an annual festival for Charles Dickens too.
Kent coastal road trip
A scenic coastal road trip around the shores of Kent, UK
The charming Guildhall is free of charge to visit and now houses a museum on the many elements of Rochester and Medway’s naval history.
Mounted high on the Guildhall roof is an intricate weathervane, in the form of a fully rigged 18th-century warship. Incredibly this structure has weathered the ever-changing climate since 1780.
Visit some of Kent’s Historic Towns, Villages & Cities
Just along from the museum is La Providence, the French Hospital. The first French Hospital in Britain was founded in 1718 in Finsbury, London. It moved to a couple of locations (Hackney and Horsham) and then 1959, moved to Rochester in Kent.
It still provides accommodation and care for elderly people who are of Huguenot heritage
Map, guides and more
When you’re nurturing the seed of a road trip, plotting your destinations across a paper map just brings the adventure to life. Whether it’s the touchy-feely aspect of the map or the rustling sound of mastering the art of origami while trying to fold it away, I’m not too sure. Nonetheless, the good old Ordnance Survey guys and gals always come up trumps.
Take a look at the vast array of maps you can choose from.
The lanes all around Rochester Cathedral and Boley Hill is a history lovers’ delight. King’s School located near the Cathedral was founded in 604AD and is the second oldest school in the world.
There are ancient buildings, charming architecture, pleasant gardens to relax in, and even a 150-year-old Catalpa tree.
If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".
You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.
A stroll through Rochester High Street is a must, it’s like stepping into a Dickensian novel. There are some gorgeous examples of half-timbered homes, quirky little stores and quaint boutiques.
You’ll also find old-style sweetshops, ice-cream parlours and irresistible curio and antique dens.
One shop you won’t want to miss is Baggins Book Bazaar; this is a bookworm’s paradise.
It is England’s largest secondhand and rare bookshop and an absolute maze of shelves. Head inside and expect to lose at least an hour of your day as it is a treasure trove of paperbacks, hardbacks, manuscripts, poetry and novels.
Kent rural road trip
A road trip around the Kent countryside
You are spoilt for choice for pubs and alehouses in Rochester, and no excuses are needed, lunch is calling.
Kent is renowned for the Faversham brewer Shepherd Neame, and you’ll see many of their inns dotted around Rochester.
However, just for a change, we chose The Coopers Arms, which was built during Richard I’s reign in 1189 and is a quintessential English pub. If it’s winter snuggle down next to the open fire with an ale, or if you’re lucky like we were, enjoy a bit of al-fresco dining in the courtyard garden.
Where to eat & drink in Rochester
- Don Vincenzo -A wonderful family-run, unpretentious Italian restaurant that is a joy to experience on the high street.
- Café Nucleus - great little place at the Bridge end of the high street for a coffee or more
- The Cooper's Arms - A great traditional pub, just a short stroll from the Castle & Cathedral
- The Two Brewers - Another traditional pub, this time a Shepherd Neame one, midway down the High Street
- Thai Four Two - A splendid little Thai restaurant on the High Street
- Three Sheets to the Wind – An unusual twist in this family-run pub, there’s a delightful Anglo-Austrian mix.
- The Eagle Tavern - A great little independent pub in the centre of the high street.
- Ye Arrow - Pub with a garden view overlooking Rochester Castle & Cathedral
Also, to keep you amused is the Victorian Ropery, where rope has been made for nearly 400 years.
Take a stroll around the old warehouses' alleyways, and you may recognise a few of your favourite movies and period dramas that were filmed here
Chatham Dockyard will undoubtedly be familiar with fans of the BBC TV series ‘Call the Midwife’.
How to get to Rochester
- By Train
You can catch a train from London St Pancras or London Victoria to Rochester Station which takes around 40 minutes.
- By Car
Rochester is just over 3 miles (4.5km) off Junction 2 of M2 motorway. Parking is limited but there are a few car parks in and around the town.
Need a car?
Upnor Castle is nestled on the opposite side of the Medway along the edge of the river. This delightful castle is now a little unknown; however, from the late 17th-century, it played a prominent role as England’s largest ‘Magazine’ storing guns and munition.
That’s not to say it didn’t have a role prior to that, it was the “Battle of Medway” in 1667 that it is most famed for. As it was here that the Dutch defeated the British (although we don’t like to talk about it).
Would you like a little more?
We have created a little YouTube video of Rochester - why not check it out?
Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?
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Rochester is a lovely place to visit, it has some incredible history.