Great expectations fulfilled

How lucky we are in our UK friends. Yesterday we visited Liz and Bernard, and sat in their lovely garden on a warm summer day. Bernard was Best Man at our wedding in Edinburgh, and he remains one of the best men we know today. Liz is his equal in loveliness, and our time together is always too short.

And then we were fortunate to have another day with our wonderful tour guides and willing adventurers, June and Alan. Today’s outing included church, state and literature, which is a lot to pack into one town, along with an early lunch. The town was Rochester, site of Rochester Castle, Rochester Cathedral, and favorite city of Charles Dickens, who wrote and died here. And then – believe it or not – there was also time for hearty elevenses at one of the local tea rooms, named for the faithful Peggotty.

We began with the castle, as one should.

The first castle at Rochester was founded in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, and thus has very Norman features. In 1127 King Henry I granted the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and throughout the 12th century the castle remained in the custody of the archbishops. It seems to have played a part in almost power struggle in England over the next seven hundred years, and eventually became the beautifully decayed tourist site that it remains to this day. Its keep and perimeter wall is still mostly intact, and it only requires a bit of imagination to see it as the important stronghold it must have been during Norman times and all the subsequent struggles it witnessed.

The nearby cathedral is second only to Canterbury in age. It was responsible for the founding of a school, now The King’s School in 604 AD, recognised as the second oldest continuously running school in the world. Poor Rochester, always in second place. But maybe that helps keep the crowds away from this lovely church.

And then there is the Dickens connection. Charles loved this area and borrowed many names and places from it. While his actually chalet/writing haven peeks over another building and is not quite visible from the street, there is the hope that it will be restored at some point. In the meanwhile, on to Dickens Land.

Miss Havisham’s house has the distinction of being the site of a stay by Charles II on his return to England to be crowned. Wish we could have gone in.

All in all, a wonderful village that certainly has enough claims to fame for two.

We made a brief stop at Upnor Castle, further down the River Medway. This Elizabethan artillery fort was intended to protect both the dockyard and ships of the Royal Navy anchored in the Medway. Despite its strategic importance, the castle and the defenses of the Thames and Medway were badly neglected during the 17th century and the Dutch Republic mounted an unexpected and successful naval raid in June 1667, in one of the worst defeats suffered by the Royal Navy. Gun fire from the fort and from adjoining emplacements forced a Dutch retreat after a couple of days, before they were able to burn the dockyard itself. Still, the video playing in the castle has a Dutch narration, which means someone is still celebrating…

Our brief walk in the town itself was interesting, and we had it all to ourselves. This town may be a bit slow to change. They still honor King George at the old post office, though you can’t actually post anything there.

And how did we dine, you ask. Quite well, I say. Don is recovering from the joy of his cortisone shot, (foot is all better, thanks) but we thought the photos from today’s goodies will tell the tale, capped by a huge tea at June and Alan’s, where everything from Champagne to tea accompanied a lavish spread.

Sigh. Tomorrow we leave fabulous London and our wonderful friends. This has been a complete treat from start to finish. We hope to return soon, but will review the good fortune of this visit as we travel for six hours tomorrow to the southwest corner of England – appropriately named Land’s End.

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