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Three towns on the River Medway, with historic cathedral, docks and castle


Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Castle
Dickens World
Chatham Dockyard
This area of Britain has a long history, because it was on the main Roman road between London and Dover. It became the primary route between England's capital, and mainland Europe. It's also on the River Medway, which was another easy way to travel to the continent. Clustered around the river are three settlements that have become known as the "Medway Towns" - Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham.
The first and most famous of these is Rochester. The town is known for its cathedral, which has a history stretching back over 1400 years. This makes it the second-oldest in England after Canterbury. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, and although it's relatively small, the building is considered to be a fine example of Norman architecture. Right next door is Rochester Castle, which was built at a similar time. Its Norman keep, with its four blocky turrets, is the tallest in Britain. You can climb up the awkward spiral staircases to the top of the battlements and enjoy views of the town and river.

Rochester Cathedral
Photo jimbowen0306

Rochester Castle
Photo Visit Kent
Another historic structure is the Guildhall, which is one of the grandest 17th-century buildings in Kent. The interior is filled with elegant staircases and decorated ceilings. On the roof, there's a weathervane in the shape of a huge warship, which is over a metre-and-a-half tall. It has been blowing in the wind since the year 1780 despite weighing a meaty 51 kilograms. The Guildhall was turned into a museum in 1979, spoiling visitors with a plethora of wonderful sights. They've got the most complete 18th century cabinet-makers tool set in the world. Visitors are actually allowed to touch an axe that's 200,000 years old. Alongside treasures like these there are various models and reconstructions, including a huge, life-size section from a 200-year-old prison ship.
The museum also has exhibits and information on Charles Dickens, one of the most famous British authors of all time. Dickens grew up in Chatham, the second of the three Medway towns. This is where you'll find another museum called Dickens World, which is a must-visit if you're a fan of his. They've got a recreation of Dickensian London, as well as a Victorian schoolroom, a haunted house and a boat ride based on his book "Great Expectations".
Chatham's main landmark though, is its dockyard. From the 16th century, it was the second most important in England after Deptford in London. It housed hundreds of vessels, including royal ships, and built many of the country's best craft. Although the dockyard closed in 1984, much of it has since reopened as a visitor attraction. There are plenty of different exhibits and museums on the site, but the star attractions are the HMS Gannet, the HMS Cavalier and the HMS Ocelot: three vast, imposing craft from various stages of British history.

Chatham Docks
Photo Visit Kent
Despite the name, much of Chatham's historic dockyard was in the neighbouring settlement of Gillingham, the third and final Medway town. Sports fans might be familiar with the town's name as its team is the only one in Kent to play in the professional Football League. However, Gillingham has more to recommend it than just this. It has contributed well to the Medway's illustrious naval history. The town's most famous son, William Adams, was the first British man to ever reach Japan, in the year 1600AD.
Gillingham is also the location of the Royal Engineers Museum and Library. It contains exhibits on topics as a varied as aviation, bridge building and bomb disposal. Its collection has received an official "designated" status, which is held by only three military museums in the country.
Joining these three towns together is the River Medway itself. Along its twists and turns there are dozens of marinas, boatyards and sailing clubs. There are also innumerable cruises, in vessels as varied as yachts, motor boats and coal-powered steamers.
Visitor Information
Rochester Tourist Information Centre, 95 High Street, Rochester, ME1 1LX. Tel: 01634 843 666

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