Last month I found myself with a day off and fancied getting out of London for the day. I didn’t want to go too far and remembered on the way to Margate last year, passing Rochester which looked lovely from the train window. I actually have a book, called Escape London, which is filled with places to go that aren’t too far from London and lo and behold, Rochester was in there – so that settled it!
Rochester is in Medway, Kent, and is really easy to get to from London. You can travel from either London Victoria, Stratford International or London Bridge and it takes between 30 and 45 mins, depending if you’re on a fast train or not. Both Southeastern and Thameslink trains go to Rochester.
I’m not going to lie, the arrival into Rochester isn’t great as you have to cross a main, busy road before you get to the historic town but when you get to the high street, it’s so quaint. Plus, who doesn’t love colourful bunting?
Rochester is steeped in history and has maintained much of its Victorian charm. It was also the old stomping ground of Charles Dickens and there are many buildings in Rochester that feature in his novels, such as Six Poor Travellers House, which was a 16th century charity house and is now a museum.
Dickens beloved Swiss Chalet, which was part of his home in Gad’s Hill, can also be seen in the gardens of Eastgate House (which I stupidly didn’t go and see – but you should!).
Once you’ve had a wander around the lovely high street, which has lots of independent shops and restaurants too, I’d recommend a visit to the absolutely magnificent Rochester Cathedral.
Rochester Cathedral has been a place of worship since 604! There is lots to see inside the cathedral, because it’s huge. There’s also a lovely cafe in the crypt if you fancy tea and cake. The cathedral also plays host to music concerts and theatre shows as well as exhibitions. It’s free to visit the cathedral although a donation is welcomed.
Once you’ve visited the cathedral, wander over to Rochester Castle , which was built in the 1080s. The Norman Tower, which was built around 1127 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury with King Henry I’s encouragement, stands around 34 meters high. It’s one of the best preserved Norman towers in England.
During the medieval period it served as a strategically important royal castle and helped protect England from invasion. In fact, it came under three sieges during its history, including a famous siege by King John. For a small fee, you can go inside.
Just a 5 minute walk away from the castle is The Vines, which is a lovely little park. It’s nice to have a stroll through and look at the wooden animal sculptures or to sit down for a few minutes. It’s also right opposite Restoration House, which is a beautiful manor where King Charles II stayed on the eve of the Restoration. If you’re familiar with Dickens’ Great Expectations, this is Satis House, the home of Miss Havisham.
If you’re a Dickens fan, you can pay to go on guided tours or The City of Rochester Society offers free 90 minute walking tours on selected days from April to October. If you fancy going it alone, print off a walking trail map ‘In Dickens’ Footsteps‘ or pick one up from Medway Visitor Information Centre for £1. And of course, there’s an annual Dickens Festival which takes place in June.
I had a wonderful time exploring Rochester! It’s a very pretty town, beautifully preserved and steeped in history. I highly recommend it for a day trip from London.