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Rochester: England’s Unvisited City

On frequent visits to London, I have become addicted to the pleasure of small journeys via a cheap-day return train ticket to towns within an hour or so of the city. Having “done” Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, etc., I headed off to Rochester—lesser known and certainly less crowded but equally enchanting. In only 45 minutes from Victoria Station you are transported to Roman ruins, a well-preserved 12th-century Norman castle, atmospheric dockyards, a magnificent cathedral, and the colorful world of Charles Dickens, who grew up here.

View from Kisdon Hill, Yorkshire Dales

Rochester’s High Street could be straight from any of Dickens’ novels. Eastgate House, built in 1590 (called Westgate House in Pickwick Papers), today is home to the Charles Dickens Centre, filled with lifesize models of his life and characters. In the courtyard stands Dickins’ Swiss Chalet, moved here from his home in nearby Gad’s Hill. The nearby Corn Exchange (1706), where Pip was apprenticed to Joe Gargery, today is a fascinating museum rich with artifacts of regional history.

The marvelous Rochester Cathedral, built in 1080, is the second-oldest in the country and considered one of the finest examples of early Norman architecture.

Across the road is the modest hill on which Rochester castle was built by Henry I in 1026 to defend the land from river invaders. Four towers, the moat, and a 3-story keep with 12-foot-thick walls are in near-original condition despite three sieges.

To climax my day trip, I stopped by Mr. Topes Café on High Street for a bite of lunch and bit of heat from its Delft-tiled fireplace. The lunch—fish and chips and a pint—was a bargain at £5. In the afternoon I spent what I’d saved amid High Street’s dozen antique shops and rare and used bookstores.

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