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What to do, see and eat in Rochester, Kent

PUBLISHED: 12:49 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:49 29 April 2019

Opposite Rochester Cathedral, the Norman keep of Rochester Castle is thought to be the best preserved in the country

Opposite Rochester Cathedral, the Norman keep of Rochester Castle is thought to be the best preserved in the country

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

With its quirky shops, Norman castle, ancient cathedral and riverside setting, even Charles Dickens would agree it doesn't get much better than historic Rochester

An historic cathedral city granted that title in 1227, Rochester became the victim of an administrative error in 1998 and lost its city status. Luckily, it hasn't lost any of the features that have made it one of the biggest tourist hotspots in Kent.

One of the Medway Towns and particularly attractive to lovers of history, Rochester is best known for its castle and cathedral. Rochester Cathedral is Norman in origin but was built on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. Just across the road, and dated to around 1127, is the Norman keep of Rochester Castle, thought to be the best-preserved in the country.

Other historical treasures include the freshly refurbished Eastgate House, which has been an Elizabethan family home, a boarding school, a museum and the inspiration for stories by Rochester's most famous fan, Charles Dickens. It is now open to the public, following a multi-million pound conservation project.

Another house with an exciting story to tell is Restoration House in Crow Lane. Originally two medieval buildings remodelled in the late 16th or early 17th century, it has been described as the finest example of a pre-Civil War mansion in England. Charles II stayed here on the eve of his Restoration and Dickens used it as the home of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Opposite Grade II-listed gardens The Vines, it's privately owned but open to the public twice a week in summer.

An artist’'s impression of Innovation Park Medway, the business park being built at Rochester AirportAn artist’'s impression of Innovation Park Medway, the business park being built at Rochester Airport

Further treats for history buffs include the Guildhall Museum, with its reconstruction of part of a Medway prison hulk and its Dickens room; the Huguenot Museum, looks at the history of French Protestant refugees who settled here in the 16th century.

It's a town with a fascinating history but, like so much of Kent it is looking to the future. A new business park which could bring up to 1,300 jobs was officially launched in September. Based at Rochester Airport and seen as Medway Council's flagship regeneration site, the Council hopes Innovation Park Medway will attract high-quality technology, engineering and manufacturing companies. The first tenant is Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, which moved its headquarters into a new bespoke building after 18 years in Marden.

Plans to improve the airport itself have also been approved. The existing control tower, clubhouse and other buildings will be demolished to make room for a new hub building, family viewing area, car parking and relocated helipads.

Meanwhile, the huge Rochester Riverside project has reached an important milestone. The £419m regeneration scheme will eventually provide 1,400 new homes across four distinctive new neighbourhoods, all located along the banks of the River Medway. The first show homes opened in November and the initial phase of homes are on sale now. The landmark scheme is also set to include a new primary school, retail space, a hotel and more than 10 acres of green space.

Restoration House was used by Dickens as the home of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (photo: Manu Palomeque)Restoration House was used by Dickens as the home of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Rochester's new state-of-the-art railway station opened in Corporation Street in 2015 and now the surrounding land is seeing development too. A new six-storey apartment building was given the go-ahead in November. The 'car-free' residential scheme will aim its 64 units at young commuters using the station and will not provide parking space.

The river has always been at the heart of the Medway Towns and Rochester is no different, with a pretty marina and a river cruise business called Jetstream Tours, based at Rochester Pier. And while traffic passes across it daily without a second thought, it's worth noting that Rochester Bridge is historically significant itself. A Roman bridge was built on this spot a little after AD 43 as part of Watling Street.

Alongside the river, on the Rochester side, is the Esplanade and its gardens, a great spot to enjoy the views and with an excellent children's play park. This site was built up in the Victorian era but only last year archaeological excavations revealed a medieval water gate – an entrance to the castle from the river – which had been filled in 160 years ago.

If you're planning a stay in Rochester and want to get out and about, there's also plenty to see and do in the surrounding Medway Towns and villages.

Rochester is a fascinating mix of ancient buildings and 21st-century construction (photo: Manu Palomeque)Rochester is a fascinating mix of ancient buildings and 21st-century construction (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Don't miss a day out at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, the spectacular maritime museum on the site of one of the UK's most important dockyards. And a top tip is to visit the nearby twin villages of Lower and Upper Upnor. Set on the banks of the river, these tucked-away little gems offer great views, the Elizabethan artillery fort Upnor Castle and cosy pubs.

Shopping and eating

Rochester's quirky High Street is a mecca for lovers of individual independent shops. Look out for Kiss Kiss Heart, I Dig Dinos, Capture the Castle, Rocket, Paloma Studio, Fieldstaff Antiques, the enormous Baggins Book Bazaar, Pink Flamingo, The Ivy Tree, Frances Iles, Copenhagen Blue, The Candy Bar, Pastures New and many more.

Café culture is booming too. Try Mrs Tickit's Pantry, The Seaplane Works, Fleur de Thé, Playopolis board game café, Tony Lorenzo, The Deaf Cat, The Cheese Room, Tiny Tim's Tearoom or Crepe & Co. Dine out at places like The Quills, Elizabeth's, Smoke & Liquor, Oliver's, Don Vincenzo, Brettington's, Thai for Two and Mamma Mia. Enjoy a pint at The Cooper's Arms, the Flippin' Frog micropub or the Eagle Tavern.

Events

With such a rich heritage, it's no surprise that Rochester has several annual events. The summer always kicks off with Sweeps Festival, a celebration of the traditional May Day holiday where chimney sweeps would line the streets and have dance. This year's event (4-6 May) will see dozens of Morris sides, a Jack-in-the-Green ceremony, and a fair and live music in the castle grounds.

June brings the Dickens Festival (1 and 2 June) and in July huge crowds flock to the castle gardens for the Castle Concerts (10, 11 and 13 July). Performances will come from Rudimental and Jess Glynne, as well as the traditional proms. The castle grounds go back in time for Medieval Merriment (10 and 11 August), a family event with archery, falconry and much more. And this summer fans of cycling will be able to see some of Britain's top competitors as the 2019 HSBC UK National Circuit Championships come to Rochester's cobbled streets on 21 July. u

A postcard from Rochester

We're Anke and Philippe Hatch and we run Capture the Castle, a small, independent home and giftware shop with a cosy coffee shop situated on the busy High Street in Rochester.

We opened our doors in 2007 and have not looked back since. We are a husband and wife team with a retail and catering background.

We stock unique Nordic-inspired homeware, including fabulous lanterns, soft furnishings made in Yorkshire, scented candles made in Cornwall, hand-crafted sterling silver jewellery and more.

If you feel like a relaxing break, we have an in-house coffee corner serving fresh barista coffee, a variety of teas, delicious sandwiches made to order and home-baked cakes.

We love Rochester's vibrant High Street and there is always a special find in one of the many unique shops. The Norman castle keep and the cathedral are always worth a visit and very interesting for all ages. Brush up on your Dickensian history in the Guildhall Museum.

Some of our favourite places to shop and eat are Mama Mia Italian restaurant, Pink Flamingo boutique, Dickens Wine Emporium, Baggins book shop, Copenhagen Blue boutique and Fieldstaff Antiques.

Visit www.capturethecastle.co.uk

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