Rochester, the hub of the Medway towns in North West Kent, is rich in historic attractions. Its links with Charles Dickens have made the town a firm favourite with Dickens fans. Rochester Castle ranks as one of England's most striking castles. This huge Norman architectural gem has one of the tallest keeps in England.
There's no end to Rochester's historical treasures - alongside the castle, Rochester has England's second oldest cathedral - a mish-mash of gothic and more Norman glorious architecture with well worn pilgrims steps. Add to this boat trips in one of the countries few remaining power steamers along the River Medway and a huge choice of chic restaurants and specialist shopping particularly along High Street and you have all the ingredients for an exciting Kent holiday base.
Medway Visitor Information Centre, 95 High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1LX. Tel. 01634 843666.
Not by chance has Rochester Castle's keep, dating from c.1127, survived. Rochester Castle was an outstanding defensive castle - during an attack by King John in 1215 only starvation forced the Rebel Barons to concede. Deliberately built as a mighty defensive stronghold on the banks of the River Medway, Rochester Castle was contructed by William of Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury out of Kentish ragstone.
Find Rochester Castle and Gardens on the banks of the Medway on Esplanade, south of the Bridge and Guildhall Museum. Rochester Castle, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1SW. Tel. 01634 402276. See also Upnor Castle on the High Street, built later under orders from Elizabeth I to protect warships positioned on the Medway and at Chatham Dockyard.
Founded in 604AD by Bishop Justus, Rochester Cathedral is England's second oldest cathedral. Most of the present cathedral dates from 1080, however the original Saxon Cathedral was on this site in 604AD. This magnificent building elicits a fine example of late Gothic architecture, plus visitors can still climb the Pilgrims Steps, now well worn since the height of pilgrimage here in the 13th century when pilgrims came to the shrine of William of Perth, a Scottish baker where miracles were reported. In 1872 the cathedral underwent a major restoration programme under George Gilbert Scott. The mix of architectural styles over the centuries is apparent in a tour.
The West Front outside is a stunning example of a 12th century Romanesque facade whilst just inside the entrance to the North Door is a recent Fresco painted in 2004 by the Russain Iconographer Sergei Fyodorov. Spot the cathedral's many Green Man carvings on the ceilings especially above the pulpitum steps. The symbol represented natural life, death and decay which to Christians is overcome by faith. Other highlights include part of a 13th century 'Wheel of Fortune' wall painting depicting the ups and downs of life and the original Norman crypt. The mighty cathedral organ contains over 3000 pipes. (Viewed by special appointment is also one of England's oldest doors, hidden here at Rochester Cathedral).
Rochester Cathedral, The Chapter Office, Garth House, The Precinct, Rochester, Kent ME1 1SX. Tel: 01634 843366. Open daily 07:30 to 18:00 (17:00 on Saturdays). A shop and tea room is on-site.
Rochester is a Kent hotspot for specialist shopping and fine restaurants. Main hub is High Street where historic attractions, country inns, arts and crafts, antiques shops, fashion and accessories shops, bookshops and chic cafes all compel the eye. Rochester town centre is friendly and largely car free and ranks as one of the prettiest towns in Kent easily. Attractions and fine shops are all within easy walking distance, making Rochester a superb short break and holiday base.
Rochester is particularly good for antiques and collectables, quirky fashions including 'Rocket' on the High Street and the famous Baggins Book Bazarr also on the High Street. Baggins is England's largest secondhand/rare bookshop. Restaurant choice is excellent with an outstanding choice of English, Continental and Asian restaurants plus numerous cafes, tearooms and real ale atmospheric pubs. Note the famous Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, a 400 year old coaching in on Rochester's High Street near the Guildhall. This inn got its 'Victoria' tag after a visit by Queen Victorian in 1836.
For a comprehensive listing of Rochester's many specialist shops, restaurants and inns see the Shopping/Eating Out Rochester weblink right. Vegetarians and alternative diets are well represented across the restaurant and cafe choice.
Rochester's Guildhall pushes into the many corners of Rochester's history, including a Napoleonic prison hulk, artefacts from the Darenth Roman villa, a full set of 18th century carpenter tools (a rare find a complete set!), a collection of paintings and prints depicting the Medway area and a reconstructed Victorian drawing room and kitchen. The detailed exhibits on Hulk Prison ships, which includes a part recreation of an early 19th century Medway prison hulk, is particularly moving. Napoleonic prisoners were kept in dire conditions in converted old ship hulks. Many of the prisoners supplemented their income by selling intricately crafted Straw Work and a selection of this work including geometric shapes, tea caddies, sculpted brids, flowers, buildings and ships are on display. Straw Work, which became a highly popular specialised craft, was first introduced to England via Holland then later from France where many of the prisoners originated from.
Guildhall Museum & Dickens Discovery Room, High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1PY. Tel. 01634 848717. Open daily 10am to 4.30pm. Closed Mondays.