I’m not the most spontaneous person, I’m a planner; I love to write packings lists, to do lists and make plans. I like to know in advance what will happen tomorrow, in a week or in a month’s time. But you can’t plan everything in life! So it’s really nice to have a boyfriend who is much better at doing impulsive and spontaneous things than I am. It gives me experiences I wouldn’t otherwise get.
It was the same a couple of weekends ago. We had just finished eating lunch one Sunday afternoon, when the sun broke free from the clouds, making our living room nice and sunny. It made Daniel suddenly suggested we should go for a ride, as it was a shame to waste the day inside. So off we went on a little impromptu adventure to a secret location he wanted to surprise me with.
The location turned out to be the historic town of Rochester. Like many other places in Kent that I am still only slowly starting to discover, I hadn’t been to Rochester before. The name of the town did however ring a bell, as I remembered Daniel telling me something about Rochester and what is supposed to be England’s largest second hand bookshop. So when I realised that we had ended up there, you can imagine how excited I was!
The bookshop itself didn’t look very large from the front but once inside it turned out to extend on and on towards the back over several interweaving, maze-like floors. The shop was narrow and it was hard to get around; there were floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books along the walls, tables in the middle of the rooms weighing under the many stacks of worn hardbacks, glass cabinets with carefully placed, old cloth and leather bound editions from as early as the 18th Century with gilded pages and illustrations, and boxes on the floor with old, second hand maps of every imaginable place in England.
The smell of dusty pages and old ink in the shop could beat most libraries and the floor creaked with every footstep, especially up the steep, narrow staircases. There were signs to guide the visitor and there must have been a logic to how the shelves had been organised but the place with its narrow aisles, tall shelves looming over you and books coming at you from all sides was disorientating, overwhelming and claustrophobic. It was an incredible place and obviously well visited by people spending their Sunday relaxedly browsing the bookshelves, and I am sure there where many treasures to find there but in the end I was so overwhelmed by the gigantic amount of books that I didn’t end up taking one of them home with me. I simply didn’t know where to start looking.
It was a relief to get outside and walk along the high street, noticing all the little details that spoke of the history of the town; a heavy, low wooden door set in a limestone building, an angelic stone head next to a doorway worn by time, a gilded wrought iron gate in front of a serious looking building spelling out a motto in Latin and a secret door set deep into a thick stonewall on a backstreet behind the old crumbling stones of Rochester Castle. There were narrow alleyways lined with old lampposts to get lost in and cute houses with pretty doors that I could easily have imagined myself living in. In an old shop that said “City Books” but which was filled not so much with books as with curious objects like used postcards of places around Europe and old dusty bottles in green and blue in all kinds of sizes, I bought two Victorian pennies dated from 1897 and 1899. And in front of the green lawn facing the high street, I captured a shot of Rochester Cathedral looking grave and gloomy with my Polaroid camera.
The sun did not last that afternoon and we left just as the shops started to close down and the rain started to fall. I would like to come back another time, maybe in the summer when it’s warm and the trees are green with leaves again. Then we can explore the castle.