Tuesday, 6 February 2018

5 unusual things to look out for in Rochester

Rochester Castle, Kent

I don't believe that anyone who has visited a place for just a day - or even a week - is truly in a position to write about the best places to eat/drink/visit there. You have to go deeper than that to have any sort of authority to write about a place.

That's why, having visited Rochester for a day to fulfil the January part of my visit-a-new-place-each-month plan, I'm not going to tell you about the things you should see, do, eat and drink if you visit. Instead, I want to share a few unusual and quirky things I spotted in my few hours there. Keep an eye out for them if you ever venture into these parts. Or don't. Whatever.

The wonky doors of Rochester

Wonky barber shop, Rochester High Street, Kent

I thought I'd seen the full extent of England's wonky doors when I lived in York, but Rochester has some pretty strong contenders too. Highlights are J.R. Barbers (above), and Topes Restaurant - which, like many Rochester buildings, claims Dickensian links:

Topes Restaurant, Rochester High Street, Kent

Don't miss the door frame of this house next to the castle. Trippy stuff.

Wonky house next to Rochester Castle, Kent

Rochester Bridge

Rochester Bridge, Kent

The people of Rochester, it seems, love their bridge over the Medway. It's a magnificent beast, a bridge of two halves; an ornate offering, decked with handpainted crests, crowns and a quartet of lions not dissimilar to those in Trafalgar Square. 

It's also an ugly hulk of industrial steel, something Brunel would be proud of. The two are completely at odds with each other, but the people of Rochester are proud of it; a building adjacent to the bridge on the Rochester side proudly announces itself as the Bridge Chamber, base of the Bridge Committee; a exhibition dedicated to the bridge can be found in the crypt of Rochester Cathedral, and leaflets about the bridge take pride of place in some of the town's shops.

Rochester Bridge Chamber, Kent

The beach at Rochester

Before you go digging out your swimsuit, it's not that sort of a beach. I'm pretty sure it's more mudflat than beach actually, and probably dangerous and off-limits to the public. But it does make for lovely photos (imagine more sunshine than I managed to capture) and a on a summer's day at low tide, you could probably make out your strolling along the French Riviera. Maybe.

Rochester's unusual post boxes

Unusual post boxes on Rochester High Street

If postal whimsy is your thing, a stroll down Rochester High Street will see you right. The short street has three unusual post box for admiring. The green and black ones pictured above both sit outside the (free!) Guildhall Museum, and date back to the reign of Queen Victoria.

Unusual post boxes on Rochester High Street

The third is the above, which you'll find outside the Post Office at the southern end of the high street. It's not as historically interesting as the other two, but still quirky to look at. 

England's largest second hand bookshop

Baggins Book Bazaar second-hand bookshop, Rochester High Street, Kent

Oh my, the bookshop. If you're a book lover, start planning a pilgrimage to Rochester now, for behind the castle and cathedral lies what claims to be England's largest second hand bookshop. Having been inside, I don't doubt it. It's a maze of aisles and staircases, hidden reading rooms and stacked tomes.

Baggins Book Bazaar second-hand bookshop, Rochester High Street, Kent

A sign on the ground floor kindly requests that shoppers leave rucksacks and shopping bags at the till while browsing - a little further into the shop, as the aisles narrow and the precarious stacks of books get higher, you understand why.

I'm reluctant to use such a cliche, but it really is a Tardis of a shop, its splendid but modest exterior telling nothing of how far back the shop goes.

Baggins Book Bazaar second-hand bookshop, Rochester High Street, Kent

Plus, a tip for visiting Rochester:

Strood railway station, near Rochester, Kent

If you're visiting Rochester by train, you've got a couple of options. Coming from London, you can speed straight into Rochester station. However, if you're coming from West Kent, as we did, you might be better heading to Strood station instead. There are direct trains from Tonbridge and Maidstone, and when you get to Strood, the station is only a 10 minute walk (across that magnificent bridge) to Rochester Castle and the town centre.

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5 quirky things to see in Rochester, Kent

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