The national charity saving historic churches at risk
If you are planning an outing in the Garden of England, an excellent place to start would be with a visit to the atmospheric church of St James in Cooling.
The church is well known for its connection to Charles Dickens, who was inspired by St James' graveyard with its sad children’s gravestones which would become ‘Pip’s Graves’ in the opening chapter of Great Expectations.
Literary links aside, this 13th-century church in its bleak Kentish setting is wonderfully light and airy inside.
There’s another Trust church a mere few miles down the road at Higham and well worth a visit if you have time. St Mary’s at Higham, a fascinating mix of flint and ragstone, sits apart from its village in an orchard on the edge of Thames marshland. A Victorian restoration provides some marvellous windows in the chancel.
If you want to make a day of it, a very short drive – less than half an hour - will take you into the bustling town of Rochester where there are a variety of options. Rochester Cathedral - England’s second oldest cathedral - stands proudly in the centre of the town.
As well as regular guided tours, there are the cathedral’s wonderful gardens – originally the monastic herb gardens, and the Cathedral’s Tea rooms provide a welcome opportunity to refuel.
At certain times of the year there are Sweeps and Dickens Festivals, and from Easter to September there are walking tours of the town which start from the Visitor Information Centre every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday at 2.15pm.
Everything in Rochester is ‘on the High Street’ and there are plenty of quirky cafes and independent shops if you like to include a bit of browsing in your day out. But if you fancy something more military, Rochester Castle, just a short walk from the town centre, is not to be missed.
Now in the care of English Heritage, the castle’s massive keep – one of the tallest in the country – towers over the River Medway. On a good day, its grounds provide an excellent setting for a picnic.
Finally, if you have the time, either on the way in or out of Rochester a short deviation would take you to another lovely Trust church, St Mary’s at Burham whose stocky west tower was a welcome sign for long ago pilgrims on the route to Canterbury.