Car-free adventures aroundRochesterKent
A huge historic dockyard, a Norman castle, England's second oldest cathedral, and connections with the novelist Charles Dickens... and all this just 30 minutes from London by train. You can get to Rochester, on the banks of the River Medway, on fast trains from London St Pancras International, also from London Victoria, Luton or the Kent Coast. Once you've arrived, there's a picturesque and compact town centre to explore and a mind-blowing sprawl of boat-related history in neighbouring Chatham. WIth so much to see, you might want to make it a mini-break. Scroll to the end for more information on buses, trains, places to eat and stay.
1. Rochester Castle and more
The first view of Rochester’s impressive stone castle is out of the train window as you cross the river from Strood. Bishop Gundulf of Rochester first built it in the 1080s and the 12th century stone keep is now the tallest surviving one of its kind in Europe.
- How to get to Rochester Castle: Head right out of the railway station to the lights and cross over the main road. Keep straight up Northgate, past Tiny Tim’s café and on, across the High Street, towards the castle.
- Don’t miss the great views from the top of the tower, overlooking the cathedral and the mighty River Medway.
- Rochester cathedral is next door, with its beautiful Norman arches, vaulted crypt and medieval graffiti – also definitely worth visiting.
- Head back past Ye Arrow pub to the High Street and turn left to the find the Guildhall Museum with its three-floor recreation of a Medway prison hulk, as featured in Great Expectations.
- Stroll along the High Street for more Dickens-related sights, like Restoration House on Crow Lane, which became Miss Havisham’s Satis House in Great Expectations.
- Shane Waterman does entertaining guided tours of historic, spooky or secret Rochester all year round. Think horrible histories crossed with the pub landlord and you’ll get the idea!
2. Historic Dockyard
Chatham’s eighty acres of historic dockyard are more like a whole town full of visitor attractions than just one. You could easily spend a day or more exploring submarines and sailing sloops, steam ships and model boats. And learning more than you ever knew there was to know about rope-making in Europe’s longest brick building.
- A ticket to the dockyard entitles you to visit as many times as you like for 12 months and is cheaper if you buy it in advance online.
- How to get to the Historic Dockyard: Buses 1 and 2, which leave frequently from the train or bus stations, stop close to the dockyard. If you already have a ticket, get off at “Main Gate” and go on in! If you need to buy a ticket, go one stop further and walk left at the roundabouts.
- Or take the train to Chatham. An arrow outside the station points right with a sign telling visitors the dockyard is a mile away (or about 30 minutes’ walk).
- Make sure you book on the way in to visit HM Ocelot, a fascinating (if claustrophobic) glimpse into life on a submarine. And for a tour of the Victorian Ropery, where rope is still made on the ¼ mile ropewalk. Chatham is the only surviving Royal Naval rope yard still in operation.
- When you’ve seen and done everything you want for the day, leave via the gate near the ropery, close to the Commissioner’s Garden, a peaceful walled oasis of flowers and fruit trees. Walk under the subway and catch bus 1 or 2 back to the station. (Thanks to the Historic Dockyard for photos and Robert Radford for the banner image below.)