Saturday, 12 September 2015

A weekend in Rochester

Rochester castle 
For months Becks and I have been saying it would be nice to have a weekend away over the summer, but we didn't get around to forming any concrete plans, let alone book anything. Two weeks prior to the August Bank holiday weekend we finally got round to looking into options. We thought the Kent coast might be nice, but unsurprisingly everywhere we looked at was booked. Which explains how we ended up staying at the Medway Leisure Park just outside of Rochester.

I had a long training run on the Saturday morning, so we caught the train to Rochester just before lunchtime on the Saturday morning, arriving in Rochester for a late lunch.
Inside the castle
We headed straight for the quaint High Street when we arrived and had lunch in the Tony Lorenzo café not too far from the station. The attractive looking sausage rolls in the window drew me in, but it turned out to be pretty standard café fayre. It seems that we well as being a café owner Tony Lorenzo is also a singer and his new CD was available to buy. Although they didn't have his CD playing in the café so we'll never know how good a singer he is.

After our late lunch we continued up the High Street, stopping at the Rochester flea market, the tourist information centre and looking in a few shop windows. They've done well to keep a historic feel to the high street and all of the shops were well maintained.

After our drift along the high street, we crossed the Medway into Strood and walked through a not particularly glamorous industrial estate out to the Leisure Park where we were staying. It was just over a 3km walk, bit further than I was expecting and not exactly convenient for popping in and out of town!

On Saturday night we decided to stay in the Leisure Park and had dinner at Frankie and Benny's (classy) and went to the cinema to see The Man from Uncle.
Rochester cathedral
Sunday was our day to check out the local delights! After an early morning run and maxing out at the buffet breakfast in our hotel we headed back into town. We started by visiting Rochester Castle. The castle is open to the elements with no roof, windows or floor joists, but we were able to climb the walls of the castle with the staircases still in tact. It was interesting without being fascinating. Unfortunately we missed that we could have received two for one entry with our train tickets!

After the castle we walked the few steps over to the cathedral which is in much better condition than the castle.

I enjoyed the scale and tranquillity of the cathedral which is well looked after with beautiful choir stalls and alter. We didn't spend that long in the cathedral, but it was very pleasant to wander around.
Not quite Leica
By the time we left the cathedral we were looking for some lunch and started drifting down the high street keeping our eye open for suitable places. We didn't really know what we fancied and before we realised it we were at the end of the high street. We decided to press on towards Chatham where we planned to visit the Historic Dockyards hoping we'd see somewhere along the way. Pickings were slim (although we did see quite an epic looking all you can eat Chinese) and we ended up grabbing a sandwich in the shopping centre.

After our stop we continued to press on towards the dockyard which was a bit further than either of us expected and we walked close to 10km since leaving the hotel that morning by the time we arrived.
Chatham Historic Dockyard
The first thing we did when we arrived was to book on the (free) timed tours of HMS Ocelot and the Rope Works.

We had a quick look at a display of model ships before it was time for our tour of the submarine HMS Ocelot. Built at the dockyard in 1962 the submarine was retired in the early nineties. We entered the submarine via the torpedo room at the front of the vessel and then made our way to the engine room at the back of the submarine before leaving via a rear hatch.
HMS Ocelot
HMS Ocelot was diesel electric submarine (the sub ran entirely on electric motors, with the batteries charged by the diesel engine which ran when the sub surfaced). The tour gave us an appreciation for how cramped it must be to live on the sub. There were absolutely no private spaces and the bunks effectively lined corridors. Only the captain had a cabin.

It was also a reminder for how far computing technology has come since the sixties. There was a lot of cabling and electronics on board and I'm sure all the computing power was probably equal to the smartphone I was carrying in my pocket.

I (don't think) I've been on a submarine before and it was very interesting to look around.
HMS Cavalier 
After the submarine we had a look round HMS Gannet. Launched in 1878 she is an example of a composite (timber frame and iron clad) and steam / sail powered ship. I didn't pay full attention to all of the historical information boards, but it was enjoyable to look around. In contrast to the submarine the captain of the Gannet had a palace at the rear of the ship to himself. Some of the furniture in the captains quarters reminded me of pieces in my parents / grandparents house.

We then headed across to the rope works for our second tour of the day. The rope works at Chatham is still open, although they weren't rope making the day we visited as it was the weekend. The ropes for the recently renovated Cutty Sark were made at Chatham.

We had an interesting talk, and demonstration, on the materials that go into rope making (who knew it was the cannabis plant?), the types of rope the Navy demanded and a little about the workers who made the ropes when the dockyard was still open. The rope works building is a quarter of a mile long and, built in 1790, is the longest brick build building in Europe.
Inside the rope works
By the time we'd finished looking round the rope works the dockyard had started to close down for the day. We had a look round a couple of further exhibitions, including the might 'big space' (below) as we headed to the exit.

Thankfully we were just in time for the last bus of the day from the dockyard back to the Leisure Park. The bus was almost like a private taxi as we only picked up one other passenger on the 10km journey back to the hotel and we were both pleased not to be walking!
Big space
We were both a bit too tired to head back into Rochester for dinner so again had dinner in the Leisure Park, this time at Coast to Coast. Almost identical menu and prices to Franky and Bennies, but a slightly nicer atmosphere. It was nothing is not a sophisticated culinary weekend!

When we woke up on Monday morning it was a complete wash out, so after a lazy start to the day we decided to get a taxi back to the train station and head home.

It was a random weekend but quite enjoyable. There were quite a few attractions in the local area that we didn't get a chance to visit and sounded pretty good. I wouldn't rule out going back, but next time I think we'd need a car.

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