Ramble In Rochester

Posted on: 20 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

For a memorable day out or an interesting and romantic weekend, take time to visit this laid-back and relaxing city.

A small cathedral city on the River Medway in the north of the English county of Kent, Rochester is only 45 minutes by rail and about 30 miles by road from London.

The city is steeped in history, dominated by a fine Norman Castle and Cathedral, bounded by the maritime traditions and spirit of past British naval dominance on the River Medway.

What To See

In Rochester it’s easy to see the world through different eyes. Charles Dickens spent parts of his childhood as well as his final years in and around the city which featured in his writings more than any other town apart from London.

Much of what he knew remains here. Location spotting is fun so follow in Dickens’ footsteps on a self-guided tour with a leaflet and map from the Visitor Information Centre and track down the haunts of the city’s most famous son.

Spot Mr Pumblechook’s house from Great Expectations; Westgate House from the Pickwick Papers, and Dickens’ Chalet with his room ‘up among the branches of the trees’.

The free-entry Guildhall Museum (www.medway.gov.uk) has a Dickens Discovery Room which adopts a tabloid newspaper approach to present the author as one of the UK’s first real celebrities. 

Over at the spectacular new £62 million Dickens World at Chatham Maritime, a brief journey from Rochester, the themed complex draws on the author’s life and works and allows visitors to experience first hand the best and worst of life in the early 19th century (www.dickensworld.co.uk).

Rochester Cathedral is the second oldest in the country and has been a place of worship since 604 AD. The present building, dating from 1080, has some glorious Norman architecture (the nave and parts of the crypt) and one of the finest Romanesque façades in England making it an inspirational place to wander round.

There are some wonderful examples of later Gothic styles as well as the magnificent 14th century Chapter Library door. Hidden from view although it can be seen by special appointment, is one of the oldest doors in England.

The cathedral became a major place of worship in the 13th century following the death of William of Perth – a Scottish baker who was murdered nearby. His body was brought to the cathedral and miracles were reported at his shrine of which, unfortunately, no trace remains.

Russian iconographer Sergei Fyodorov’s fresco - the first to be created in an English cathedral for 800 years - was dedicated in 2004 and is well worth a closer look (www.rochestercathedral.org).

Rochester Castle: As one of the best preserved and most outstanding examples of Norman architecture in England, it's history is somewhat chequered, though, having survived sieges  - in 1215 King John gained entry to the south west tower using the fat from 40 pigs to set fire to the pit props - battles and neglect over the centuries.

You can also get a flavour of the castle in medieval times in the virtual reality tour at Medway Visitor Centre (www.medway.gov.castles).

Rochester’s quaint Victorian High Street is packed with an irresistible collection of independent and family-owned shops selling porcelain, paintings, handbags and accessories. It’s also home to Baggins Book Bazaar – England’s largest second-hand book store. (19 High Street; www.bagginsbooks.co.uk).

Where To Eat

You won’t go hungry in Rochester. Just aim for the High Street and cathedral precincts for an impressive number of restaurants and cafés.

Topes Restaurant is modern European and head chef and co-owner Chris Small has created several different menus including a lunchtime brasserie version. All ingredients are fresh and seasonal, sourced daily from local suppliers. (60 High Street; 01634 845270; www.topesrestaurant.com)

The Atrium is a friendly restaurant serving contemporary British food in relaxed surroundings (86 High Street; 01634 847776).

Peggoty’s Parlour (81a High Street; 01634 845400) is renowned for its delicious homemade cakes and snacks or try the Adventure Café – the UK’s first high street adventure travel agency offering UK and worldwide adventure holidays, safaris and discovery tours – and great coffee and cake! (64 High Street; 01634 404400; www.adventure-cafe.com). 

Where To Stay

The award-winning Bridgewood Manor Hotel at the edge of Rochester is renowned for its fine food in Squires Restaurant and the Terrace Bistro and has the added bonus of a health and fitness spa. (Bridgewood Roundabout, Walderslade Woods, Chatham; 01634 201333; www.qhotels.co.uk). 

Located in Chatham Historic Dockyard, the Ramada Encore is an exciting new hotel experience offering stylish, upbeat and comfortable contemporary accommodation. Relax in the Hub Bar or enjoy a selection of modern dishes in the informal atmosphere of the Hub Restaurant. (Western Avenue, Chatham Historic Dockyard; 0844 8010 313; www.encorechatham.co.uk)  

Web Links

Kent Tourist Board

Rochester Tourist Board

Rochester Cathedral

Have you been to Rochester?

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