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Get to know Dickens on the Footsteps in Time tour in Rochester

If you're after a tour with a twist or an eccentric guide with a wealthy selection of interesting anecdotes, Footsteps in Time is a fine choice.

Founded in 2005 to keep the history of Charles Dickens alive in Rochester, the tour is both educational and entertaining.

Peter Digby and Steve Moriarty - two of the tour guides
Peter Digby and Steve Moriarty - two of the tour guides

Steve Moriarty, with the pseudonym of Mr Gamfield, is one of 11 guides who get right into the spirit of the stories, clad in authentic clothing, battered top hat and all.

He twirls into action from the offset, pulling animated faces, with a thick rope slung over his shoulder and grubby mop in hand, as he begins to tell the tales of one of the country's greatest writers.

Dickens was born in Portsmouth but moved to Rochester when he was five after his father, a naval officer, was posted to Chatham Dockyard.

He lived here until he was 11 and returned to the county during his later years. Many of his novels included references to Rochester and the surrounding areas.

The tour begins on the cobbled high street where you are first taken to a Swiss chalet, with peeling, mustard-coloured paint.

Dickens' writing chalet behind Eastgate House in Rochester
Dickens' writing chalet behind Eastgate House in Rochester

It was within these rickety, wooden walls that Dickens wrote some of his greatest works.

Arriving in 58 separate boxes, the chalet was first erected in Higham, where the talented author lived for a number of years, but now stands behind Eastgate House, opposite Rochester library.

During the tour, you are also taken to many buildings of which descriptions can be found in his books, including an E-shaped house which is said to be the basis of Miss Haversham's manor in Great Expectations and an old workhouse building in St Margaret's Street which is now part of King's School.

Outside the latter, Mr Moriarty announced: "Boys from the workhouse make perfect little chimney sweeps."

It's not clear how far the guide's gruff cockney accent is from his real voice but it suits the Victorian character perfectly.

This King's School building in St Margaret's Street used to be a workhouse
This King's School building in St Margaret's Street used to be a workhouse

And his knowledge doesn't stop at Dickens. Leading us through the winding streets, Mr Moriarty also pointed out an old, beamed house tucked away in Baker's Walk where Henry VIII snuck up on a potential wife he arranged to meet. But in response to her disgusted expression, exclaimed: "I'm not going to marry that horse!"

As the journey neared its end, we stood in the rain by the River Medway, the choppy waters below an ominous shade of dark grey, and our guide began using his mop stick to draw in the soil before suddenly jumping into a dramatic reanactment of a scene from Great Expectations, his mop now a makeshift little Pip, as he frantically scampered around us and turned the "child" upside down to shake the change out of his pockets.

Lasting around 90 minutes, the tour is incredibly informative and you will learn a great deal about Dickens' affinity with the town as well as his extraodinary life and work.

Footsteps in Time was started up by Sandi Digby spurred on by the closure of Rochester's Dickens museum.

With a background in tourism, Sandi was adamant the town did not lose its "unique selling point".

She now sells more than 5,000 tickets annually.

Tours are available in French, German and Italian alongside English, with 10 or more people needed per booking, at £5.50 per head. Pre-booking is a must.

Call 01634 818630 or book online at footstepsintimerochester.co.uk

Don't miss out on the Dickensian Christmas festival this weekend, also in Rochester.

To find out what’s going on in the county and for all the latest entertainment news click here

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