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Friday, 5 November 2010

Walk 10 Chatham to Rochester via St Mary’s Island

Walk 10  Chatham to Rochester via St Mary’s Island (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 7 miles
Difficulty: easy – mostly flat.
Terrain: easy but quite a bit of tiring pavement walking
Access: Car parks in Rochester and Chatham
Public transport - plentiful trains and buses to both places

This walk involves some retracing of steps. There is a lot to visit and see in the area and this would require a 2/3 day stay to fully visit the various attractions.

Leaving Chatham railway station follow the cycle path marked on the map northwards leading out of the town. You will pass the historic dockyard with its many links with British and local history; it has been here for 400 years and used extensively for boat building including Nelson’s flagship The Victory. If you decide to visit, it will need the best part of a day to do it justice. Do not miss the rope making!  There are also many connections with Dickens in the area, including in Chatham; Charles arrived when he was 5 after his father got employment here. Perhaps unfairly, the town has become associated with the origin of the word ‘chav’ although it is far from certain that this is correct. Some believe it was connected with Chatham girls and a certain style of hair and clothes, others thought it originated as an abbreviation of ‘Chatham average’. It is quite possible that there are more historic origins elsewhere.

Continue onto the more minor road that crosses to St Mary’s Island – marked as a cycle path on the map. You will pass a tall mast with a bell at the top. This was taken from a ship in 1859; from 1898 the bell was used to summon workers to the old dockyard. The structure was moved here in 2001. Near here is Dickens World, a light hearted look at Dickens characters and settings (Update - now closed).

Walk on to St Mary’s Island where you will find access to a path on the west side that goes around most of the island. Nineteenth century convicts created the island from marshland. Many had been kept as prisoners on the hulks in the Medway. Conditions were tough and this led to a revolt by 1000 convicts in 1861. When complete the area was used as an extension to the dockyard. A view of Upnor Castle (more of this on a future walk) on the opposite bank, and many moored boats, provide a pleasant outlook.

Continue around the island towards the east past many newly constructed houses of various colours. An historic river crossing point marked with a sculpture is near this development. This marks a crossing which has existed from Roman times until the early twentieth century. Follow the road and paths until you reach the bridge on the eastern end of the island, cross back onto the mainland and follow the road into Rochester.

There is much to see and do in Rochester. It was called Durobrivae by the Romans, meaning the stronghold by the bridge. Many parts of the area feature in Dickens stories e.g. the town is known as Cloisterham in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The town museum/Dickens Centre is well worth a visit. A walk guide from the museum helps you to explore the town and spot places such as the original inspiration for Miss Haversham’s house in Great Expectations. The cathedral has an altar in the crypt dedicated to Ithanor the first English bishop. The castle with its Norman keep provides panoramic views across the area including the Medway. The audio guide is very informative.

Take a walk towards the river and bridge ( actually made up of 2 bridges). The old bridge carrying westbound traffic was originally a Victorian swing bridge but was not successful and was rebuilt in 1914. The other part carrying traffic eastwards was once a rail bridge. It is worth walking over it and looking both ways along the river. The rail bridge is impressive.

Follow the road route back to Rochester Station or car parks.

Snaps show: Rochester Cathedral taken from Rochester Castle;  Rochester Bridge; view over the Medway towards Strood; one of the ships at Chatham Dock Yard.


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