<> Rochester, August 1999 <>

Last modified: Sunday, 14 August, 2016

Note: these entries were originally entered on my Palm Pilot while we were away on our travels. That's my excuse for any remaining typos; my Graffiti is often a little slap-dash!

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* This trip was not only our first taste of cycle camping, it was my first experience of camping of any sort. Furthermore it was the first time Lisa had a chance to get to know Rochester, the town where I grew up. Just three of the reasons why this trip has a special place in our memories!

Thursday, 26th August

* Cycling from home to Harlow Mill station was our first time out fully laden. I was unsettled by the effect that relative lack of weight over the front wheel had on the handling of the bike. We just made it in time for the train to London and strapped both bikes into the official WAGN bike bay.

* At Liverpool Street we threaded the bikes through the station and out to Broad Street where we set off for Victoria. Our route took us down to the Embankment, through Parliament Square and past Westminster Abbey. At Victoria, we armed ourselves with baguettes and drinks from the "Upper Crust" concession before finding the Guard's van on the Connex service for Dover. With the bikes safely stowed we found seats in the adjoining saloon where we munched on our lunch during the journey to Rochester.

* On arrival at Rochester we travelled with our bikes down in the lift from platform to ground level and remounted. From the station we rode up past Century (now "Sentry") Supplies, scene of my first ever work experience back in 1975, to the foot of Maidstone Road, Rochester. The climb up, past Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School (where I was educated between 1969 and 1976), to Rochester Airport was pretty strenuous but we made it O.K. with just a couple of brief halts. Once the climb was done, the campsite signpost soon came into view: we'd made it!

* Woolman's Wood campsite has just a small area for tents in one corner of a caravan park. We set up the Bug (as we call our tent) between a guy who was packing a substantial setup into a pickup truck ready to leave and an unoccupied one-man tent. After setting up, we checked out the excellent facilities and rode off to the nearby Asda. Returning laden with groceries we found that the pickup truck had been succeeded by a young couple of Austrian cycle tourists. Lisa set to to concoct a dinner of lamb, curry-flavoured noodles and stir-fry vegetables on the Coleman stove in the gathering gloom. After dinner we had a couple of beers. And so to bed.

Friday, 27th August

* We awoke, tremendously refreshed after out first night away from home in the Bug, and breakfasted on salad, yoghurt & bread washed down with hot coffee. After washing up and showering, we stowed all our gear in the Bug except what we needed for a day in town.

* In warm sunshine, we rode back down the hill to Rochester via the Esplanade which runs along the Medway. Lisa was fascinated by the river-side environment, natural and man-made, and I was full of information and reminiscences about by old stomping ground. We parked our bikes outside the Old Victoria & Bull Hotel and walked along the High Street. Dickens connections abound in Rochester (indeed the inn featured in "Pickwick Papers") and since the days I lived there much more has been made of the tourism opportunities of this. Freed of the choking A2 traffic, the High Street has become a very attractive place for visitors to pass a day.

* Our main sightseeing objective of the day was Rochester Castle and we spent a couple of hours exploring the curtain wall, grounds and the Norman keep: climbing as far up inside as visitors are allowed. The views of the Medway estuary and surroundings from the castle are dramatic, well worth the effort of clambering up the treacherous stairs in the turrets.

* After our exertions clambering around the Castle, our thoughts turned to lunch. Strolling along the High Street we happened upon a small Italian cafe, Casa Lina, which smelled tremendously inviting. Our noses did not deceive us! Casa Lina turned out to be a real hidden gem: delicious, reasonably-priced home-cooked food and a friendly atmosphere. We both enjoyed a pasta main course and a salad. We emerged some time later feeling fully satisfied (and determined to return at the first opportunity) and returned to our parked bikes at a decidedly leisurely pace.

* The ride back up Maidstone Road was a little easier on our unladen mounts but still a significant exertion for two inhabitants of the notoriously flat county of Essex. After a pause to recapture our breath, we headed out again to Asda to get supplies for our evening meal and tomorrow's breakfast. Dinner was a seafood stir-fry after which we headed for bed.

Saturday, 28th August

* Breakfast this morning consisted of smoked salmon with cream cheese and German rye bread, washed down with fresh orange juice and ground coffee. As you can see, we don't let camping get in the way of our gastronomic enjoyment!

* All too soon it was time to strike camp and pack everything back into our panniers. Having never done this before, it took rather longer than we'd allowed for and we had to phone ahead to let my parents know we'd be later than expected for lunch.

* Finally all was ready and we rode out past the "Links Fahren" sign at the campsite entrance and back down Maidstone Road to Rochester. In the City we found a Norman festival in full swing and had to thread our way carefully through the packed High Street full of people in costume and selling all manner of more or less relevant merchandise. The crowds taking part in this event underlined for me how the character of Rochester has changed in the last twenty years: on the surface, at least, the transformation into a tourism-oriented economy seems complete.

* From Rochester High Street we crossed Rochester Bridge into Strood (where I was born and lived for eighteen years), round the one-way system to the traffic lights at the foot of Strood Hill and took Gun Lane out to Frindsbury. After climbing and descending Frindsbury Hill we next had to tackle Four Elms hill to bring us into Hoo. This last was almost a hill too far for Lisa but, with a couple of halts and some verbal encouragement, she made it and eventually we rolled into my parents' place where we ceased to be campers.

Sunday, 29th August

* Sunday run out.

Monday, 30th August

* Monday trip back home via Rochester and Victoria.

* Coffee at Victoria then across London in Bank Holiday sun.

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