Visit Rochester - at Christmas and beyond!

https://bistrom.co.uk/

Rochester at Christmas - Credit: James Hunt

It's time to revisit Rochester, says Shane Waterman - and he should know: he's a key part of the city's marketing team. Here, he picks out six great reasons to head for Dickens' old stomping ground to discover how it's changed...

Since the formation of the towns’ tourism initiative, Visit Rochester UK in 2019, things have moved on in the town as never before. Playing to its commutable strengths - it's just 32 minutes from London St Pancras by hi-speed train - and within easy reach for anyone living around the southern M25 andbeyond, Rochester hasn’t just emerged from Lockdown... it’s come out of it like a champagne cork leaving the bottle!

Charles Dickens once described Rochester as " ancient and drowsy". What's changed? The answer is... a lot! Yes, there's still masses of heritage on offer here, but it's being presented in new and engaging ways, ensuring it's as relevant to today's visitors as it's been to those of the past.

Rochester Castle
Put simply, if you’re a fan of Castles and you haven’t visited Rochester Castle, you need to!  Most castle towns tell you what happened there over the centuries, who lived and died and so on. It used to be the same with Rochester’s imposing Castle Keep – the tallest in England. Not now. They’ve condensed that all down into one astonishing fact: Rochester’s Castle Keep is the most original Norman Castle Keep in the world
Now that you know why you should visit it, what do you need to do? Rochester Castle is maintained by English Heritage, so it’s a good idea to join on a monthly basis and you not only get admission to Rochester, but also to every other English Heritage property. Join at english-heritage.org.uk

Rochester Cathedral
Whilst dwarfed by Canterbury, York Minster and many of the other large Cathedrals in the country, Rochester boasts arguably one of the prettiest. Its beauty was enhanced in the last quarter of the 19th century by George Gilbert Scott, the prolific Victorian architect who left his mark on over 800 public buildings in his career. As the 2nd oldest cathedral in England (Canterbury only beats it by seven years), it has long been a place that welcomes pilgrims in the tradition of the Benedictine Order on which it was originally founded in 604ad.
Today, Rochester Cathedral is striking out into very new areas. In February 2020, it hosted The Museum of the Moon, which attracted 120,000 visitors in just three weeks – its highest visitor count in its 1,400 year history – and has a calendar of similarly ground-breaking events planned up to four years ahead. Best of all, entrance to Rochester Cathedral is still free! rochestercathedral.org

Textus Roffensis 
Also in the Cathedral is a relatively small but hugely significant book: Textus Roffensis, the Tome of Rochester. It is often described as the most significant medieval book you’ve never heard of. It was written single handedly by a monk in 1123ad, so in 2023 the cathedral will be celebrating its 900th birthday. Look out for the social media campaign starting early in 2022 telling the story of Rochester’s most prized artefact ahead of the celebrations.

Charles Dickens
As Shakespeare is to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Charles Dickens is to Rochester. His presence is literally everywhere, so it’s no surprise the town claims ownership of the global brand that is #CharlesDickens.  Thanks to just five of his 320 known works, the town claims a unique place in the world of the foremost novelist of the Victorian era: It has more Dickens-featured buildings and places than anywhere else – including London! From his first folio, Sketches by Boz, to the novel he was writing at the time of his death, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens drew heavily on the places he knew from his childhood in Chatham, and new ones he discovered after he purchased Gads Hill Place, three miles outside Rochester, in Higham.  A professional guided tour around them is a must for all fans of ‘The Man who invented Christmas’! And of course there's the upcoming Dickensian Christmas Festival, December 3-5, just around the corner

Kent’s Independent shopping capital
Rochester’s High Street is unique for its architecture, much of which dates from the William & Mary early 18th-century era (even more exclusive than Georgian!) but it is now almost unique in the UK for the composition of the businesses trading there. Out of one hundred and sixty shop-fronts, just five are national chains. Shop windows are full of unusual, often one-off items of everything ranging from clothes to home decor, and there is also a well-established Vintage & Artisan Market on the 2nd Saturday of each month. You'll find a full range of wares offered for sale from stylish Ferrari-red gazebos, positioned all along the High Street. So, if you want independent, boutique style retail therapy, we here in Rochester believe this is the place to head to for it!

Food and Eating Out
You'll find everything from a full English breakfast to  a cream tea priced at as little as £3 (yes, you did read that correctly!) and an evening dinner which could feature anything from Thai dishes to hand-reared Argentinean beef.  Rochester also boasts the only Russian restaurant in Kent. Taking all that into account, it’s no surprise in the 2021 Medway Food & Drink Awards, Rochester High Street won the Best Food Offering category.