The narrow high street at Upnor drops down the hill to the edge of the Medway; the street today is a smart rendition of Dickensian England with weatherboard houses and fine pubs. Chatham, just upstream across the river, was the Royal Navy’s principal dockyard and the little town, that was built around the old, riverside castle, was the haunt of admirals and other ranks.
The history of Upnor castle established in 1559, later converted to a gunpowder store and witness to the successful Dutch raid on the Medway in 1667 is well told here. Chatham and the Medway enjoyed a long period of pre-eminence as port then refitting centre and finally submarine builder, even with the ascent of Portsmouth and Plymouth as rival naval bases, before becoming a forgotten corner of maritime England in the 1960s.
The tide is high and today a coaster emerges from the docks to wind round the Medway to the Thames. This was a river bristling with traffic but today a place of summer leisure and winter emptiness; old naval infrastructure is being replaced by neat lines of riverside housing; and small companies are transforming old brick warehouses into glass-fronted offices.