Craving a weekend away? You don’t want to be schlepping on long journeys only to reach destinations that just feel a little underwhelming. And you really don’t have to. Because us Londoners have some lovely spots right on our doorstep. Namely, Medway in Kent.
The towns of Rochester and Chatham here are threaded together by the River Medway, which means there’s a strong history underpinning it (we’re talking castles, cathedrals, dockyards – you name it). Oh, and it’s where Charles Dickens grew up and wrote some of his most famous novels in the Dickens Chalet at Eastgate House (featured on QI), so there’s plenty of literary connections to explore.
Hop on a train for 30-ish minutes and you’re in a vibrant area that’s beyond expectations, with bustling food and drink, shopping and a thriving cultural scene. Plan a trip that won’t break the bank and make sure to hit up all the things on our bucket list.
Now, this is quite the attraction. Following its huge success last year, Medway Light Nights is a two-night event that’s set to be bigger and better than before.
From February 10 to 11, the naval town of Chatham will be illuminated with creative, colourful displays that celebrate the landscape and local stories. Make sure to be there for the launch when a lantern procession will light up the town centre. And you can take part in the local Cocktail Week celebrations too.
History and literary buffs will be delighted to know there are plenty of Dickensian sights to see.
Whether it's his country home in Gads Hill Place, Eastgate House (the home of Sir Peter Buck, an inspiration to the author) and the Medway Marshes which inspired ‘Great Expectations’ and the character Magwitch.
You’ve also got Rochester Castle to climb, a 12th-century location that features heavily in ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’. A little fact for you, the castle is not only gorgeous to look at with its striking Romanesque and Gothic architecture, but it’s strategically placed to guard an important crossing of the River Medway.
If it’s a permanent Dickens exhibition you’re after, the Guildhall’s ‘The Making of Mr Dickens’ has everything you need in one place.
If shopping is your thing then you won’t be disappointed there’s a plethora of independent shops and markets you won’t want to miss during your stay.
With its’ cobbled streets Rochester oozes plenty of Victorian charm and is packed with specialist shops. Particular highlights include England’s largest second-hand bookshop, Baggins Book Bazaar and the colourful Get Ready Comics, which play into the area’s literary ties.
Most notably, this area plays host to the monthly Rochester Artisan Market, which sells a wide range of homemade crafts, including art and collectables.
Whether you’re seeking out old-fashioned pubs or sleek modern bistros, there’s a world of food experiences to enjoy.
One favourite is the tour of The Copper Rivet Distillery which produces gins, whiskies and vodkas from grain to glass in a stunning converted Victorian pumphouse, The Pumproom here serves delicious menu offering a contemporary take on classic dishes, Fish at 55 serves top-quality seafood cooked to perfection, you can enjoy fabulous food at the two quirky at Café Nucleus’ or enjoy modern international cuisine and hand crafted beers, lagers , craft spirits and cocktails overlooking the stunning marina at Pier Five.
From March 31 to April 2, you’ve got the very exciting Medway Food and Drink Festival, which will showcase some of the very best food vendors in from the area - it’s must-see.
Rochester is home to the second-oldest cathedral in England and it's here that King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves, which is a fun titbit for when you visit! Inside you’ll find some of the earliest forms of graffiti, one of the most important of all medieval manuscripts - Textus Roffensis, aka ‘the Book of Rochester’ (Predating the Magna Carta it is actually two books in one, containing a compilation of early English laws, dating as far back as the year 600) - and gaze up in awe at the carefully sculpted ‘Peace Doves’ installation by Peter Walker from February 12 to April 21.
You’ve also got The Historic Dockyard Chatham to explore - over 400 warships were built here including Nelson’s HMS Victory – and you may recognise many of the facades from being featured in films and TV like ‘Living’, ‘A spy among friends’, ‘The Crown’. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘Les Misérables’. The area is no stranger to big screen with the likes of Tom Cruise rumoured to have recently filmed his next film here too!
That’s not all though, as the painter William Hogarth once wrote about rambling through the Hoo peninsula, Upnor, Rochester and the Chatham Dockyard and, so why not recreate his trail – minus the cowpat throwing?
Ps Until 15 April in Rochester don’t miss the chance to see fabulous pieces of work by iconic fashion designers Dame Zandra Rhodes, Wendy Dagworthy OBE and internationally acclaimed jeweller Stephen Webster MBE at the UCA Rochester Retrospective alongside works by students, graduates and staff. current and upcoming artists.