Chatham Historic Dockyard, and Rochester revisited.

Just back from a couple of days extending our exploration of Kent. Back in the summer we went on a trip to Canterbury, Whitstable and Rochester. We meant to visit Chatham that time, but it was too much.
     I’m glad we left the Historic Dockyard until later in the season. On a dull, blustery, damp November day, just before it closed for the winter, the place was practically empty. I’ve often moaned on here about the crowds at various visitor attractions, but this was the complete opposite.
     We started off with the Rowland Hilder exhibition. Since we moved down here, we have often been struck by the Kent ‘Hilderscapes’, oast houses, vast skies, rolling hills and bare trees, still much as he painted them. He is often dismissed as a chocolate box Christmas card painter, but his work is beautiful. Here are two examples:

Rowland Hilder

 Next, the historic warships.  
    HMS Gannet is the oldest, a hybrid sailing/steam ship dating from 1878. The ship was empty except for the custodian. A very beautiful ship and interesting, but not a lot left inside.

HMS Gannet

    Battleaxe’s favourite was the destroyer, HMS Cavalier. Built in 1944, she served in the Arctic and the South Pacific. She is preserved exactly as she was on the day of her decommissioning in 1972, and once again, we had the ship all to ourselves.
     Captain Battleaxe was piped aboard by Bosun Philosopher. I went a bit transgender. Women don’t star in WW2 action movies, and in any case, their uniforms are just no good. As a compromise, I channelled Noel Coward ‘In Which We Serve’.  Spent a happy time barking orders down speaking tubes: ‘Action Stations!’ ‘Prepare for Rounds’ etc.  Saluting, ‘Sah’, ‘Stand down, men!’. We peered into the empty distance from the bridge, I rang the ship’s bell, and we found those great ship’s phones where you wind the handle and shout ‘fwaugh fwaugh fwaugh’ in the teeth of the raging gale. By this time, Noel Coward had changed into Jack Hawkins in his oilskins (The Cruel Sea). Then off with the oilskins, back to Noel Coward, strolling into the wardroom for a snifter, in immaculate dress uniform dripping with gold braid.
      Being a boy, the Bosun, by this time promoted to Chief Petty Officer, was more into ‘Bammerbammerbam… BLAM….POWIEEEEE….BOOM……CRUMP.’  The Radio Ops room – ‘Beep….bip bip bip…beep….’, ‘Hisssss…Ssssst…..rrroooar’  as he found various strange dials and stopcocks.

HMS Cavalier
Captain Battleaxe takes the wheel. That big red thing is the speaking tube that communicates with the bridge.
Bam bam etc…..
The NAAFI shop
Along a passageway….
The wardroom
And while you are at it, you scurvy lot, rescrub those heads ……

      Our fun was only halted by the sudden appearance of a party of school kids. We shimmied down a near-vertical ladder to escape them, and then it was time for our tour of the third ship, the submarine HMS Ocelot.
      This is a cold war sub, operational from 1962 to 1991. You can’t visit on your own, but even so, there were only five of us plus the guide on a tour meant for twenty. This is a diesel electric sub, and I was astonished at the size of the engines needed just to pump fresh air, let alone propel the thing along. The hatches between the compartments were very small – this is not a tour for oldsters! The insides were crammed with machinery and equipment, but Philosopher and I had visited another smaller submarine in the ‘U’ Boat pens in St Nazaire a good few years ago, so we weren’t surprised by the cramped interior.
    Obviously, having company was inhibiting, but we peered down (up?) the periscope and there was a certain amount of torpedo firing, muted fwaugh fwaughing, and of course pip pip peeping round the sonar compartment.

HMS Ocelot
Torpedo tubes
Small hatchways…
Crammed with machinery….

      We’d booked for the night at a new Premier Inn at the edge of the docks area. A bit in the middle of a building site but excellent, and only £35 for the room! As the weather was vile by this time, we stayed in – dinner, bed and breakfast only cost about £65…. Battleaxe would totally recommend.
       Next day, we revisited Rochester, and spent the morning cruising the old High Street. Totally excellent shopping experience, plus even a vintage flea market…..
       We stopped for coffee at a cool-seeming place called ‘The Deaf Cat’, which suffered from over-complicated menu plus too few staff syndrome…..
        Here’s a final shot of the Cathedral to finish up with.

But too complicated…..
Rochester Cathedral


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