Rochester's literary past reveals a great deal about the city

Charles Dickens, champion of the working man and the overburdened woman, would be delighted with the offer each day from 7am to 9am outside the
Golden Lion pub: tea or coffee for 49p. I’ll have two, thanks, and keep the change: a boost of caffeine is just what you need to make the most of the city that has been thriving for two millennia – and, within the past year, has moved even closer to London and the rest of the country.

Rochester may appear still to be where the Romans founded it, under the name Durobrivae, 2,000 years ago – on the west bank of the river Medway, shortly before the river broadens out to ooze through its muddier reaches on its way to the Thames Estuary. But thanks to the new High Speed One train services, which began last December, the city – plus the other Medway towns of Strood, Chatham and Gillingham – is now barely more than half an hour away from London St Pancras, with easy connections to elsewhere in the UK. Its historical importance is partly due to its location: it lies where the Medway was crossed by the ancient road from London to Canterbury and Dover, which Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled down in The Canterbury Tales.

A couple of minutes’ walk from Rochester station takes you to the eastern end of the High Street, a thoroughfare that resembles a film set and was central to Charles Dickens’ upbringing. The great Victorian writer and social commentator recreated many of the locations in his books.

The city and its traders are understandably keen to make the most of their celebrity. The handsome 16th-century Eastgate House, for example, served as a model for the Nuns’ House in The Mystery of Edwin Drood; in The Pickwick Papers Dickens did not over-extend himself to rebrand it as Westgate House. The last 13 years of his life, in which he produced some of his best writing, was spent nearby at Gad’s Hill Place in the village of Higham. The garden chalet in which he worked has now been transplanted and sits in the gardens behind Eastgate House itself.

Elizabeth’s of Eastgate, close by at 154 High Street, has a plaque asserting “Here lived Uncle Pumblechook” from Great Expectations. The restaurant offers dishes such as rump of lamb with shallot and wild-mushroom sauce, and has a list of suppliers in Kent and East Sussex. Just off the High Street, towards the western end, is the 16th-century Restoration House. It owes it name to Charles II’s decision to stay there on the last night of his return from exile via Dover to reclaim the monarchy in London in 1660. And it served as Satis House, the home of Estella and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. The gardens contain a ghostly sculpture, created from the stump of one of the many trees destroyed in the 1987 hurricane.

Another notable 16th-century creation is the |grey stone building at 87 High Street. The Six Poor Travellers was an act of flamboyant philanthropy by a former MP, Richard Watts. He bequeathed this fine house to provide a shelter for half a dozen poor travellers who would receive “lodging, entertainment and four pence each” for one night only, so long as they were not “rogues or proctors”. Watts’ generosity ended only in 1940, when it was deemed out of keeping with wartime austerity.

Dickens would no doubt have encountered pilgrims seeking refuge there as he was growing up. He would also be amused, perhaps, by the creation of DickensWorld nearby in Chatham, a brave attempt to create a literary theme park featuring a GreatExpectations Boat Ride, a reconstruction of a Victorian School and the obligatory Haunted House. You can also expect to meet some of his famous characters.

It’s a tribute to the city’s rich history that there is so much to explore without even venturing into its two greatest treasures – but the castle and cathedral provide a magnificent finale to a visit. Nine centuries on, Rochester Castle still dominates the city. It has crumbled over time, but is ripe for roaming and researching. And as the sun begins to sink, in its shadow stands the second-oldest cathedral in England (the first, you will not be amazed to learn, is down the A2 in Canterbury). Work began soon after the Norman Conquest. As is usual, styles and masonry evolved during its long construction and amplification, making it a superb ecclesiastical and architectural cross-section that guides you through the past – with Dickens at your side.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Staying there

* Golden Lion, 147-149 High Street (01634 880521)

* Eastgate House, High Street, Rochester (01634 338141; eventswithelegance.co.uk )

* Elizabeth’s of Eastgate, 154 High Street (01634 843472; elizabethsofeastgate.co.uk )

* The Six Poor Travellers, 87 High Street (01634 845609).

What to see and do

* Restoration House, 17-19 Crow Lane (01634 848520; restorationhouse.co.uk). Admission £6.50

* DickensWorld, Leviathan Way, Chatham Maritime (01634 890421; dickensworld.co.uk ). Entry £11.50.

* Rochester Castle (01634 335882). Admission £5.

* Rochester Cathedral, Garth House (01634843366; rochestercathedral.org). Admission free.

More information

* visitmedway.org

* dickens2012.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup