Thursday, June 07, 2007
Last Saturday I took a trip to Rochester, a town situated approx. 50 km (30 miles) southeast of London, where the Dickens Festival takes place at the beginning of June each year. Rochester has a strong connection with Charles Dickens, who lived in the area as a child, and again for 13 years prior to his death in 1870. Many of his novels include references to Rochester and the surrounding area. 'Restoration House' was the inspiration for Satis House in Great Expectations, where Miss Havisham lived.
Rochester is a beautiful town, situated next to the river Medway. It’s full of old, lopsided, half-timbered buildings, most of which date back to the 18th century, while others are some 600 years old. The long high street with its medieval city walls is lined with little boutiques, cafés and interesting souvenir shops, and is a pleasure to walk along. The main attractions are the Cathedral and Castle, one of the finest examples of Norman castle architecture to be found in England. It’s an interesting place to visit anyway, and more so during the festival.
I heard about the festival quite by chance, and if I’m honest, I only went because I had nothing better to do and it was a sunny day - a shame to spend it indoors, as we’ve not had that much sun so far this summer. I expected a fun event, but what I found was way better. Words can’t describe the colourful parade, music, dance, drama, and street theatre. There were stalls, a fun fair and various events within the Castle grounds. The atmosphere had a buzz similar to that of a German Christmas market, but in a summer setting. The most amazing thing was the large number of people in Victorian costume mixing with modern-day visitors. It was almost surreal to see a Victorian lady talking on a mobile phone or Oliver Twist having afternoon tea at the next table.
I’m reliably informed that there is nowhere else in the world you can see a festival of all Dickens characters, which include Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Magwitch, Pip, Miss Havisham, Bill Sykes with his faithful dog Bullseye, and many more. It really was extraordinary, and I’m surprised the festival isn’t even more popular than it is. Actually I shouldn’t be saying that, because part of the pleasure was in that there weren’t too many people around. It was crowded, and you had to queue for food and ice-cream, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Busy, but not jam-packed. Loud, but not defeaning. In other words, just perfect!
Mr. Pickwick arrives by train to Rochester and heads the Saturday afternoon parade along the high street towards the Castle. These photos were taken outside the railway station just before the start of the parade. I hope that I've managed to capture the lively atmosphere.