Monday, June 25, 2012

Rochester Dickens Festival

As I mentioned in my previous post, many towns and villages in North Kent like to exploit their connections with the famous author Charles Dickens.

A Dickens Festival is held annually in Rochester and this year took place from the 8th to the10th June. Incidentally 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth and the 9th June was the 142nd anniversary of his death.

The highlight of the Festival each year are the parades where participants dressed as characters from Dickens' famous novels are lead through the streets of Rochester by marching bands and strolling musicians up to Rochester Castle grounds. A traditional funfair is also held on the Castle grounds over the weekend.

Here are a few pictures to give you a flavour...

HRH Queen Victoria


Scrooge - Bah Humbug!

Miss Havisham

The Council laid on a  free park and ride bus service from Chatham Historic Dockyard to Rochester so we did not have to worry about finding a parking space (which can be a problem even on a normal weekend.).

The event was very well attended and there were tourists there from all over Europe, Japan and the USA as well as the locals.

All in all it was a good (and inexpensive) day out which I would recommend to everyone

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

In the Footsteps of Dickens

A couple of weekends ago, when the weather was being kind for a change, I went for a circular walk around the village of Higham (mid way between Gravesend and Rochester).

Normally I tend to devise my own walks but on this occasion I followed a suggested 6.6 mile route from Kent County Council Explore Kent.

Many towns and villages in this part of North Kent including Higham claim links to the author Charles Dickens and trade on it to this day.

The walk starts and finishes at Higham station on the main line from London to the Medway towns. Dickens was an avid walker and covered on average 12 miles a day regardless of the weather.

From the station the route of the walk crosses over the railway bridge and then across open farmland towards the centre of Higham village.

Looking up the line towards Gravesend and London.

The distinctive buildings to the left of the picture are oast houses which were used for drying hops.

The church on the horizon is St John's church. It was consecrated in January 1862 and the Dickens family had a pew in the chancel. Dickens was a close friend of Joseph Hindle, the vicar of Higham.

Shortly after leaving the church you pass one of the village's remaining pubs, the Gardeners Arms. 

On 14th March 1856 Dickens purchased Gads Hill Place and resided there until his death in 1870. A number of his famous books were written here including Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities and his final (unfinished work) The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The house was originally built in 1779.

Nowadays Gads Hill Place is used as a private school. At some point this year, when new school buildings are finished, it is due to become a Dickens museum and will be open to the public.

Opposite Gads Hill Place is another watering hole, the Sir John Falstaff where Dickens guests were sometimes accommodated.

The walk climbs up Telegraph Hill adjacent to the pub. At the top of the hill is a concrete obelisk shaped monument to Charles Larkin a local political reformer who died in 1833. Unfortunately despite being mentioned in the KCC guide the entry to the field where the monument is located was padlocked shut. A bit of a disappointment on an otherwise excellent walk.

The walk passes along Hermitage Road with good views across the farmland towards the river (Thames).

The base of a windmill originally built in the 1760's but partly demolished in 1921.

The horses in the neighbouring paddock were very pleased to see me and followed me for some way. I think they thought I had some sugar lumps about my person!

Poplar trees surrounded by cow parsley. Not a bad place to stop for a quick sandwich before continuing on to Higham's second and original parish church, St Marys.

Parts of the church date back to the 13th century but there is evidence of earlier Saxon and Norman churches at the site. The church is no longer in regular use but is maintained by a national charity called The Churches Conservation Trust. It is open daily to visitors.

On 17th July 1860, Dickens' daughter Katey was married at the church. Reverend Hindle conducted the ceremony. Katey's mother Catherine was not at the wedding. Dickens had separated from her in 1858 after starting a secret affair with actress Ellen Ternan.

Dickens with his daughters Katey and Mary.

The stained glass windows are very impressive especially when the sun shines through.

Medieval floor tiles near the altar.

The door to the church is adorned with crude carvings thought to be from the 14th century.

After leaving the church the walk heads back to the starting point at Higham station and passing two more pubs.

The Chequers above closed a few years ago and has now been converted into apartments.

The final pub of the walk is the appropriately named Railway Tavern. I would recommend this walk. It is mainly over easy ground with plenty of points of interest and good views over the countryside.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Voyage to the Dark Side

The dark side? Well I mean Essex of course.

A couple of Saturdays ago my  five year old son and I had another "boys day out". As a special treat I took him for a visit to Tilbury Fort. For those unfamiliar with the local geography, the town of Tilbury, Essex lies on the opposite bank of the River Thames to Gravesend, Kent.

We joke that while other towns in Kent have twinning arrangements with towns on the Continent, in Gravesend we have a mutual suicide pact with Tilbury.

The two towns have been linked by a ferry service for centuries. As well as it being my son's first visit to Tilbury it was also his first time afloat, albeit for only a very short time - the ferry crossing only lasts about five minutes.

The current ferry operating the service is the "Duchess M" built in 1956. Up until the opening of the Dartford Tunnel in the 1960's car ferries operated the service but now it's foot passengers and bikes only.

Looking back at the Gravesend river front.The passenger vessel alongside the pier is the "Princess Pocahontas". She operates pleasure cruises on the Thames.

The ferry berths on Tilbury Landing Stage. The 1142' long Landing Stage was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper to accommodate large passenger liners and was opened by Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald on 16th May 1930.

On the same day the P&O vessel Mongolia called to embark passengers for Australia. Subsequently many thousands of passengers transited through Tilbury on their way to the Antipodes and other corners of the Empire. Another famous vessel to call at the Landing Stage was the Empire Windrush which brought some of the first migrants from the Caribbean in 1948.

From the Landing Stage we had a short walk along the river bank to Tilbury Fort passing by the appropriately named Worlds End pub. The river bank is very popular with anglers but nobody seemed to have had much luck as we passed by.

The shipping passes close to shore. The Hong Kong registered tanker "MTM Singapore" was inward bound from the USA.

The Fort, according to English Heritage, is one of the finest surviving 17th century forts in England.

Construction was started in 1672 during the reign of King Charles II on the site of an earlier Tudor fortification. It was built to defend London from attack by the Dutch who had mounted a daring raid up the River Medway a few years previously (more about this in a later post...). The impressive Water Gate pictured above serves as the main entrance to the Fort.

The Guard house which doubles as the ticket office and gift shop

My son explaining the finer points of 17th century artillery operations!

The officer's barracks and water pump in the parade ground. Some of the buildings are used as residences by the English Heritage staff and their families. One of the buildings contains a museum of World War I and II weapons, uniforms etc.

My son was looking at the World War II gas masks and asked me if I used to wear one - cheeky sod!

The Fort was surrounded by moats as an extra defence. 

The business end. Throughout it's history the Fort was regularly re-equipped with more modern guns. The last guns were installed in 1902. However, by this time the Fort was becoming obsolete due to advances in naval technology.

During World War I the Fort was used as an assembly point for Allied troops en-route to France and as a supply depot. It remained under military control until the 1950's.

Heading back to the ferry the "Maersk Nairobi" passed inward bound from Mexico and Central America whilst the 93000 tonne "Santa Teresa" left London headed for Brazil.

I'm not tired Daddy. I'm just sunbathing.....

Gravesend Town Pier opened in 1834 is the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world. It now houses the Riva restaurant and bar.

St George's church - another Gravesend landmark. We could hear the church bells across the river in Tilbury.

Well we had been to the dark side!

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