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Rochester, Chatham & Gillingham

An intriguing Charles Dickens connection, a Cathedral at its core and top-notch heritage sites, ensure Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham sit high on Kent's must-see list.

This area is where Dickens' life started and ended; the places that pop up in his books still sit among its characterful streets, shops and ancient buildings today. Track down his literary locations on an expert-led tour or a self-guided trail. Highlights include the Six Poor Travellers House and Miss Haversham’s 'home', Restoration House. The Guildhall Museum is alive with interactive Dickens exhibits, while Baggins Book Bazaar, one of England's largest second hand bookshops, is hog heaven for bibliophiles. For streets alive with stalls, carol singers and lamp-lit parades don't miss the atmospheric Dickensian Christmas each December.

Here non-literary history is just as rich. Marinated in heritage, the towering keep of Rochester Castle is one of the tallest in the country; graceful Rochester Cathedral alongside is England's second oldest - built in 604. The dramatic exhibits at The Historic Dockyard Chatham  include  a climb-on-board Victorian Sloop, a WWII destroyer and a Cold War submarine. In Gillingham the compelling Royal Engineers Museum reveals an absorbing heritage, while Fort Amherst is Britain's largest Napoleonic fortress.

Speed fiends can screech round the karting track at Buckmore Park (Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have burnt rubber here too), while Gillingham Football Club provides plenty of reasons to cheer. Or sooth your soul at the stunning Hoo Peninsula, where the Heron Trail and Saxon Shore Way lead cyclists and walkers through an inspiring landscape of marshes, heronries and RSPB reserves.

A knot of towns with a powerful history, looped along the tidal reaches of the River Medway proves the perfect no-nonsense mix of ancient and modern. 

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