Whilst tiny in size, Rye is grand in stature, with history that cities 10 times its size would envy! Having been given the status of ‘Ancient Town & Cinque Port’ back in the 12th century, for many centuries Rye was considered the island’s major bastion against invasion on the Channel Coast and was one of the biggest trading ports in the country. Its status made it a hot spot for smugglers and Rye was particularly famed for a type of smuggler known as an ‘owler’ who smuggled wool. Today, every turn you make through the lanes & twittens (that’s the oﬃcial countryside term for a ‘small’ lane, FYI) conjure stories of piracy, smugglers, and highwaymen…
Arriving in Rye for the ﬁrst time feels like you’ve stepped oﬀ the train / out of your car into the 1950′s. There are no high street chains to speak of, no big supermarkets, just a quiet laid back market town that’s about as quintessentially English as any place can be.
Rye has a high street, with lots of little streets running off it, that is full of independent shops selling a combination of vintage, junk, antiques, clothes, jewellery, art, books, cosmetics, etc. With the exception of Boots the chemist, you won’t find any other chains in Rye – just lots of good people having a crack at something interesting. For that reason it’s eclectic, excentrique, amusing, entertaining… and well worth strolling around if you enjoy taking your time and being surprised by what you might find.
Rye manages to be heart-achingly charming but without being chocolate boxy or twee. Cosied up together in amongst the tudor charm of little leaded windows, impossibly small front doors and beams you bang your head on, are the grand Georgian mansion houses lived in by many a famous person (EF Benson, Radclyﬀe Hall, Henry James and a good few more) and dramatic views across the marshes towards the sea…
If you’re staying at The Ship you’ll ﬁnd lots of books on the town, plus maps and various guides to help you ﬁnd your way around.
A short drive or bike ride from the centre of town is the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, which is knee-deep in weasels, moles, badgers & toads – just think of the cast of Wind in the Willows and you’re in the right spot.
If beaches are your thing then you must visit Camber Sands, as it’s probably the best, most ‘beachy’ type of beach there is in England, with its vast expanse of proper holiday sand (as in the finely ground type, not shingle), heaps of sand dunes & a shop where you can buy 99 cones with flakes and all sorts of plastic you can use to fashion sand castles, forts, entire medieval towns….?
There are other beaches nearby at Winchelsea, Fairlight Cove & Pett Level which are much more rugged and cliff-like. Particularly fun if the weather’s choppy and on those days it may even be worth manufacturing a row when you get there as storming off against the backdrop of turbulent seas, lashing rain & giant waves beating against the cliffs will guarantee a memorable occasion.(NOTE: this is recommended for Winchelsea more so than the other two as it’s a bit of a long stomp all the way back to the Ship from Fairlight in particular…)