A Dickens Walking Tour of Rochester
Exit the cathedral through the door at the end of the right aisle, where straight away the castle looms ahead of you. Turn left, follow the cobbles as they swing right, and cross over the road. Pause by the wall on the other side, to look down upon the gravestones in the ‘little graveyard under the castle wall’, where Dickens expressed a wish to be buried.
Go down the slope to cross the moat diagonally left and pass through the arch at the top of the steps in the far-left corner. Keep ahead and continue through the gates surmounted by the stone lion heads then pause outside the cream building in the corner.
This is Satis House, formerly the residence of Richard Watts of Poor Travellers fame. In 1573, whilst Queen Elizabeth I was being entertained here, she summed up his hospitality by uttering a single Latin word – 'Satis' (enough) – hence the property’s name. Dickens used the name, though not the actual building, for Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations.
With your back to Satis House, go down the pathway, pass by the two gateposts, and cross the road. Bear left down the hill and a little way along, on the right, go through the gate to enter the grounds of Rochester Castle, the entrance to which is clearly visible on the right.
Built in 1128 Rochester Castle is a magnificent, ruined fortress, whose lofty heights afford stunning views of the town below. As a child, Dickens had often pottered about these ruins, and they feature in the pages of several of his novels. Alfred Jingle in Pickwick Papers calls it a ‘fine place… glorious pile – frowning walls, tottering arches – dark nooks – crumbling staircases’. Indeed, it is from the timeworn ramparts reached via its crumbling stairs, that you can best appreciate the final lines that Dickens wrote about Rochester on the day before he died.
‘A brilliant morning shines on the old city. Its antiquities and ruins are surpassingly beautiful, with a lusty ivy gleaming in the sun, and the rich trees waving in the balmy air. Changes of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of birds, scents from gardens, woods and fields… penetrate into the cathedral, subdue its earthly odour and preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold stone tombs of centuries ago grow warm; and flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble corners of the building, fluttering there like wings.’