A Stroll with Charles Dickens

I hate goodbyes. If I go away for the weekend and have to say goodbye to my dog, I will cry. The thought of saying goodbye to the people I had spent the last 9 days with filled me with dread. We had laughed, cried (mostly with laughter), argued, discussed and experienced two of the most amazing countries together and I can honestly say I will never forget them. Luckily, many of them live in Australia, so now I’ve got an excuse to go visit their hometowns! And as for those who live overseas, well I may just have to wait a little longer before seeing them!

The hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say was the day I finished exchange. I’d spent a semester at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and met people who are now more like family than friends to me. Thankfully, some live in Australia but others live a little further away…. So the first thing I did after we docked in Athens? Jump on a plane and head to England.

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My first stop was Kent, where a former flatmate lives when he’s not at uni. Jamie and I get on like a house on fire and he and his parents had very graciously offered to let me stay with them while I was in town.

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We hit the ground running, and no sooner was I in Kent than Jamie and his mum were taking me on my very own walking tour. Kent is located conveniently close to Rochester, which was our first stop for the day. The town’s most famous former resident is the one and only Charles Dickens and close to everything that can be related to Dickens, is.

We began with a much needed beverage at The Leather Bottle, which served as inspiration for Dickens’ first novel, the Pickwell Papers. As much room as humanly possible has been devoted to showcasing Dickensian drawings, writings and other paraphernalia. The Leather Bottle even proudly shows off a glass case which contains Dickens briefcase, and you can have a seat in Dickens writing chair and contemplate life.

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I particularly enjoyed this quote above the bar

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We soon moved on to one of the oldest Cathedrals in England. To the trained eye, Rochester Cathedral screams it’s heritage, but sadly this is not a skill I possess. Happily for me, Jamie’s Mum is a Religious Historian and she was able to point out some of the finer details. Jamie also has a flair for history and between them they impressed upon me a wealth of knowledge.

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One of the lighter notes I picked up was that somewhere in Rochester Cathedral, there is a floor tile that has been placed upside-down on purpose. We soon made it our mission to find it, and Jamie was crowned Owl-Eyes for his find!

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The Sanctuary was also beautiful and one of the biggest I have ever seen.

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I’ve always had a bit of a thing for churches. I don’t know if it is their peace and quiet or church-goers devotion or their inherent beauty, but I’ve always enjoyed a wander through.

After paying our respects, the Dickens tour resumed. This alley contains the house which inspired Mr Tope’s dwelling in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” It was just so quintessentially, adorably English!

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I don’t know why the English like bunting so much but I’d really like Sydney to adopt some. We wandered a little further down the street before we came to Charles Dickens’ writing Chalet. Yep, rather than write in his study, Dickens purchased a Swiss Chalet and had it uprooted and moved across the road from his house. He then had a tunnel dug under the road so that if inspiration struck, he didn’t have to wait for something as mundane as traffic to jot down his brilliance. The Charles Dickens’ Foundation had the chalet moved closer into Rochester and built a garden around it.

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They also brought the well, but however hard Jamie tried, it seems it’s just not functional.

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I was also fortunate to visit Gad’s Hill Place, formerly the Dickens’ residence. Coincidentally, Gad’s Hill Place has been a school for a number of years and Jamie did some of his junior schooling there. His Mum was so involved on various Committees that she was able to swing us a wander through. What a champion!

Dickens’ study has been converted into the Principal’s Office. Imagine getting into trouble and having to face up to your crimes here??

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Literally every possible wall is covered with floor to ceiling bookshelves, including the back of the door. Sounds like the perfect library!

We wandered from the study through to the Observatory, where you can see the actual lounge Dickens passed away on. I declined to test it’s comfort.

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Halfway through dinner one night, Dickens suffered a stroke and was removed to this lounge. He reportedly called out for “Ellen” in his sleep and never regain consciousness. Although Dickens’ affair with actress Ellen Ternan was no secret, that can’t have been easy for the author’s wife!

Dickens was buried against his wishes in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. He had wanted “an inexpensive, ostentatious and strictly private” funeral  and to be buried in Rochester Cathedral. Oops.

Tell me, would you have been as giddy as I was at the Dickens locations? Or is there an author you’d be more excited by? Shakespeare? J.K. Rowling? George R. R. Martin? Let me know who and where in a comment so I can add it to my list of places to visit!

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