This week, the guest post series takes us to the garden of England, its pretty county of Kent. While large chunks of Kent are tourist hotspots (Canterbury Cathedral, anyone?), resident Natalia of Let’s Do Something Different takes us to a more quiet corner of the county. An easy day trip from London, the region of Medway is still relatively undiscovered by visitors yet holds a handful of fun attractions, including the second oldest cathedral in England.
Many people know about Kent – the garden of England, and a bit of a tourist hotspot. One part of Kent, however, is often overlooked by tourists – Medway. An area that includes the towns of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham, Medway might not be the prettiest or most exciting part of Kent but it has attractions that should get a lot more attention than they presently do.
Rochester is probably the most ‘tourist friendly’ part of Medway. Firsr there is a lovely High Street (that’s a Main Street for American and Australian readers). It is a mix of quirky independent shops, cafes and galleries with everything from second-hand books to alternative fashion, with dinosaurs (yes really, a shop that sells fossils), fine art and good food in between. The two main tourist attractions are Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral, which can both be covered in a day trip from London.
Rochester Castle is an English Heritage property overlooking the city and River Medway. The original tower keep was built in the early twelfth century and a fortification has stood on the site ever since. With three storeys and a basement, visitors can walk around the castle and imagine what life was like there over the ages (Note the stairs are steep and narrow, so not suitable for prams/pushchairs or people with mobility issues). There are models within the castle showing what it was like during its glory days, and children seem to love learning about King John’s successful undermining of the castle in 1215. We have visited the castle various times over the past twelve months, and each time my five-year-old finds something new and interesting. It is well worth climbing to the very top of the castle for the stunning views over the surrounding area. There are large grounds around the castle that are good for picnics on fine days, but a bit cold if there is wind blowing.
Rochester Cathedral is the second oldest cathedral in England, founded in 604AD. An architectural beauty with a host of interesting art and features, the church has been an important pilgrimage site throughout the ages. If you visit when there are no services going on, there is usually at least one volunteer happy to point things out and explain features of the cathedral. One of the fun things to do is try to spot as many representations of ‘The Green Man’ as you can in the cathedral. The ones on the ceiling are best viewed lying on your back on the floor. I can personally vouch for that!
Chatham is not a pretty town, and the city centre can be given a miss. But Chatham is also home to The Historic Dockyard Chatham, which is actually a complex of attractions (all falling under the one admission fee) that could keep a family entertained for a whole day, or more. We have visited multiple times, usually with at least one or more little boys in tow. Favourite parts include a Lifeboat Museum (which is a LOT more interesting than it first sounds); two sailing vessels and a submarine you can go on and explore; and a museum that covers the period of the Dockyards in operation from Tudor times through to the Cold War. There are cafes on site but also lots of places to sit and have a picnic (and a nice play area if kids need a break from ‘looking at stuff’). Another advantage, if you look at these things anything like I do, is that the gift shops and souvenirs are not too in your face, which makes a nice change from some places.
The Royal Engineers Museum is on the edge of the town of Gillingham (which, like Chatham, doesn’t have a particularly interesting town centre). While probably not worth travelling from other places to visit on its own (unless you have an avid interest in military engineering), it is worth visiting if you are in the area. Plus there are combined deals with visiting the RE Museum and the Dockyards. Even if you are not all that interested in military history or engineering, the museum is well set out and has a lot to do with British history in general. This is due to the importance of the Royal Engineers in building structures and managing projects through the British Empire. On display are some fascinating artefacts, including a map of Waterloo used by the Duke of Wellington at the battle in 1815, many Chinese artefacts from General Gordon’s time in China and also Gordon artefacts featured on the BBC television series Seven Ages of Britain. The museum also showcases lots of large machines, vehicles and bridges, both in the building and outside (other interesting bits of ‘big engineering stuff’ are on display at the Historic Dockyard Chatham). If you have kids that are into machines, they are sure to find something here they love.
Everything outlined above is an easy day trip from London (a short drive by car or a relatively quick journey from any central London train station). Whether you are looking for something a bit different, or just want a chance to escape London for the day, consider making the time for a trip to a corner of Kent many others haven’t discovered yet.