Monday, June 17, 2002

Walk 47 -- Rochester, Strood and Upnor

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 40 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 182 days.
Weather: Thunder storms with torrential rain! Then suddenly it turned very hot and sunny.
Location: Rochester, Strood and Upnor.
Distance: Nil.
Total distance: 297½ miles.
Terrain: Climbing up, in and around ancient buildings.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No. 13, Rochester Castle. No.14, Temple Manor in Strood. No.15, Upnor Castle. We also looked at Rochester Cathedral.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove from our campsite to Rochester, Strood and Upnor.
At the end of the day we drove back to our campsite.

Rochester Castle.

The tall square tower of the ruined Rochester Castle dominates the River Medway at its first bridging point. It was built by the Normans on the old Roman city wall, and was an important stronghold for various bishops. We listened to a ‘tape-tour’ which told us of the battles fought there – it was interesting at the time, but went on a bit and was instantly forgettable! The view from the top was magnificent and well worth the climb, though my medieval knees didn’t take kindly to the medieval stairs as we came down!

Rochester Cathedral.

This magnificent church was first built by the Normans in the 11th century, though it is believed a place of Christian worship has stood on the site since the 7th century.
The potted history reads as follows:
604 Augustine sends Justus to found the cathedral
1077 Lanfranc consecrates Gundulf as Bishop 1080 Gundulf begins new cathedral and establishes a Benedictine Priory
1130 Norman cathedral complete
1137 & 1179 The great fires
1180 Building of Gothic cathedral begins
1227 New quire consecrated
1343 Central tower and spire raised
1423 Monks expel the townsfolk from cathedral and build a separate church next door
1535 Bishop Fisher is beheaded by Henry VIII
1540 Dissolution and refounding
1561 Bishop Ridley is burned at the stake
1642 Cathedral is damaged by Cromwell’s soldiers
1800s Years of restoration
1904 New spire completed
1986 Cleaning and conservation programme begins

It certainly is a fantastic structure. It always amazes us when we look round our ancient cathedrals, that such gigantic and beautiful buildings were constructed with primitive tools and without the benefit of modern technology.

Temple Manor.

We had great difficulty finding this 13th century manor house because it is in the middle of an industrial estate – we had actually driven past it twice! When we did finally locate it, we found it only opens at weekends and we had planned to go home by then. We couldn’t even see it properly from the road, so Colin climbed over the gate to take a photograph of it.

Upnor Castle.

Constructed in the 16th century, this is not really a castle but a gun fort built to protect Queen Elizabeth I’s warships in the River Medway. It didn’t do this very well on some date I can’t remember (in the 17th century, I think) when the Dutch came roaring up the river and took them all by surprise. Most of the British Navy ships were burnt or sunk, and there were simply not enough men or guns at Upnor Castle to stop them. It was one of England’s most shaming defeats. The Dutch could have just walked right in and taken over, but they didn’t. Having made their point, they went home. After that, Upnor Castle was used more as a gunpowder store than a fort having proved its uselessness in the latter function!
We followed a ‘tape-tour’ which was very good and brought it all alive – except where it tried to take us through a locked door! There was also an excellent model with commentary about the Battle of the Medway, and life-size dummies dressed in period costume of men storing the gunpowder.

We enjoyed our trip round, we were the only people there! From the roof we watched little speed boats zooming up and down the river at great speed. They were being driven by Army personnel from the base next door. Then a paddle steamer packed with tourists went past, a beautiful sight! We had good views of St Mary’s Island, and were picking out places where we had walked yesterday.

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