Soaked in history, heritage and boasting a lively festivals calendar that swings throughout the year, Medway is a culture vulture’s dream destination. The home of Charles Dickens, Medway has long inspired creatives, so it comes as no surprise that it continues to host some of the county’s best fests and cultural delights. Set in North Kent, getting here couldn’t be easier, with travel links from the capital and beyond making it the perfect destination on any family getaway, while Medway’s newly opened stretch along The England Coast Path links Kent’s Heritage Coast to London for intrepid walkers.
We’ll start with the history, a very good place to start, because Medway boasts castles galore. Take your little historians to the riverside Upnor Castle for impressive architecture and an Elizabethan lesson in how not to protect your fleet of ships from invasion. While Rochester Castle’s Norman tower-keep still stands guard along the River Medway and tells a complex tale of sieges, rebels and destruction. In a place with so much history it should come as no surprise that the town of Rochester is also home to England’s second oldest cathedral. Visit this architectural gem and you’ll find Medieval wall paintings and a history that goes back as far as AD 604
Medway is famed for its military history, starting with iconic family favourite, the Historic Dockyard Chatham with its ropery, Cold War submarine, ship-making prowess and exhibits which tell the tale of the age of sail. Visit nearby Fort Amherst, Britain’s biggest Napoleonic fortress and discover a maze of underground defensive tunnels, nature trails, soldiers’ quarters and 20 acres of green space perfect for family friendly days out. While the Royal Engineers Museum is another family must-visit with treasures including 25 Victoria Crosses, Wellington’s map of Waterloo, a huge piece of the Berlin Wall, a Harrier Jump Jet and much, much more.
We told you Dickens found his home here in Medway, but we didn’t mention that much of Medway has been immortalised on the pages of his much-loved works, so it's the perfect spot to introduce little ones to his novels. Grade I listed Eastgate House was written into history as Westgate in The Pickwick Papers and the Nun’s House in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and today stands as one of the most impressive buildings in Rochester High Street. Discover the stories of those who have lived here and get a peek into Dickens’ writing world in his very own Swiss Chalet within the grounds of the house.
Just off the High Street, true Dickens fans may recognise Restoration House from the pages of Great Expectations as Miss Haversham’s rambling manor. The real manor is just as intriguing as a city mansion and amalgamation of two medieval buildings to create the grand house you can visit today. While Rochester’s Guildhall Museum is a must-stop on any Dickens tour with its exciting new exhibition, the Making of Mr Dickens, depicting the writer’s childhood years in Rochester and Chatham, the fondness for the area that brought him back, and the characters that helped shape the man behind Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.
Once your history lesson has concluded, it’s time to get into the cultural curiosities that make this area one of Kent’s most exciting spots for a weekend away. With a river running through its heart, a boat tour with Jetstream Tours from Chatham’s Sun Pier is the perfect gateway to the Kent coast. Post-tour drinks at Chatham Maritime Marina offer sunset views across the water and some exceptional food and drink.
Tour and taste your way through Copper Rivet Distillery, an exciting and innovative craft distillery set in the architectural splendour of Pump House No 5. Here you’ll find gin, whisky and vodka crafted in one of the UK’s only grain to glass distilleries, which takes inspiration from Chatham’s rich history of innovation and craft to produce a range of distinctly unique spirits. Round off your day with signature cocktails crafted with their artisan spirits, and sensational seasonal dining at the
Pumproom Restaurant next to the distillery. Or head over to Shepherd Neame’s Pier Five, perfect for local brews, gastro dining and a game or two of shuffleboard!
Saving some of the best til last, Medway’s festival calendar is jam-packed with annual events. Look out for the food and drink festival for culinary delights, The Rochester Sweeps Festival for a taste of the region’s quirky traditions, and the Dickensian Christmas and Dickens Festivals for fairy-tale markets, Instagrammable views and a taste of Victorian England.