Merrie England (Rochester, Kent)

Here are some pictures taken from my various visits to Rochester over the last few years. No, I was not there in the Middle Ages but I’ve included a few stills from the recent film Ironclad which, while not unrealistically depicting the thirteenth century siege of Rochester Castle with as much mud and blood as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, effectively removed all trace of the even older cathedral and surrounding town. I really cannot understand why the castle was shown standing all alone at the mouth of the Medway but I suppose I was expecting too much from the filmmaker whose previous offering Minotaur had a hero named Theo leading a group of sleek teenaged munchies into a labyrinth with predictably gore spattered results. However, I first found out about Ironclad from a display in the Rochester Visitor Centre and it also had a very respectable cast so I can’t have been the only one embarrassed by the results.*

Rochester is either an attractive historic little town a short train ride from London or a hideous sprawling conurbation accessed with great difficulty from junction 2 of the M2, via the A228 (or should I have taken the B2002?). It has its adherents and its detractors but it does make a lovely outing for visitors to England; one with plenty of photo opportunities and literary references, not to mention the souvenir and tea shops. I could never tire of the cathedral, with its solid Norman interior and delightful medieval details (it got off remarkably lightly during the Victorian restoration period) and have never succeeded in getting out of Baggins Bookshop without making at least one purchase.

2004 was the year of the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the founding of Rochester Cathedral and I managed to get a place at the November ceremony by joining one of the pilgrimage walks from another of the Medway towns. I was lucky not to have had to walk all the way from Canterbury but it was worth a few blisters to see the cathedral full to bursting with clergy from all over the world, choirs, congregation and visitors plus the obligatory member of the royal family. As luck would have it I was late, having probably got lost somewhere on the B2004, and the great doors were just about to be closed when I arrived in a somewhat breathless state. I may even have mistakenly flashed my police identity card instead of my invitation because I found myself ushered up towards the front of the cathedral to one of the few empty spaces next to the Chapter Room doorway. My soaking wet hiking shoes and floppy rain hat must have looked a little odd next to some of the immaculately turned out dignitaries but a lifetime of training meant that the Heir to the Throne was able to look straight through me and save me from any embarrassment.

Last year was the first time I had visited at the time of the Sweep’s festival and it was again raining buckets so I feared that the trip would be a disappointment to Zoltan, our Hungarian visitor. In the photographs he seems to be enjoying himself, if a little bemused, and the Morris Dancers appeared well prepared (and fortified) for the English Spring weather. The sight of all those men and women with blacked up faces, feathers in their hats and bells on their trousers would probably see off all but the most determined of invaders.

* the IMDb (Internet Movie Database) has some cracking reviews so I needn’t pick out any more of the inaccuracies to complain about. The chap in the blue face paint looked as if he might be at home.


  • sandy says:

    The spring blossoms are absolutely breathtaking–I’ll have to visit in the spring next time!

  • Bea says:

    It is a beautiful cathedral and very profitable for the organist. Uncle Cyril used to play there and as so many people wanted music for their hatched, matched or despatched, he was busy most weeks.

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