15 August 2016

East Sussex: a pocketful of Rye

At the end of our wonderful wander around Rye Harbour Nature Reserve I was feeling a little peckish – all that sea air and exercise, you know – so we headed to the nearby town of Rye, partly for a little exploration and partly to find somewhere to enjoy an early dinner.

Built on a hillock that was once surrounded by the sea, Rye is an ancient town. It was probably a shipping port in Roman times; it was gifted to a Norman Benedictine Abbey by King Aethelred and remained Norman property until 1247; and it was part of the Cinque Ports Federation, an important port in cross-Channel trade and commerce.

During the 18th and 19th centuries Rye was a strategic base for local smuggling operations – apparently the two pubs shown in the photo above, the Mermaid Inn (right) and the Old Bell Inn (left), had a secret passageway between them for use by the smugglers.

The steep and narrow streets are very photogenic, if a little tough on old leg muscles after a long day’s walking. However, as I might never go there again, I just had to walk up to the top of the hill, where sits St Mary’s Church, and back down the cobblestones to the quay alongside the River Brede. It was very lovely, awash with beautiful black-and-white buildings and with the type of charming old houses that look like they cost a fortune to own (I checked property prices later – a fortune, indeed!).

However, I do have one negative comment to make about Rye. In the middle of summer, at the height of the tourist season (and there were a lot of visitors about), the local cafe and restaurant proprietors should not be shutting up shop at 5pm! I’m quite sure we weren’t the only people looking for a riverside cafe to enjoy a bite in the late afternoon sunshine. Rye’s loss was Battle’s gain – we enjoyed a delicious cod-and-chips dinner at The King’s Head pub on the way home.