My sister thought it would be a great place to celebrate her birthday, her first in the UK and it was on my list of places to go in my quest to visit all the Cinque Ports; Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney and Sandwich and their ‘7 surviving limbs’: Deal, Faversham, Folkstone, Lydd, Margate, Ramsgate and Tenterden.
Rye, now classified as an ‘ancient town’ was once a Cinque Port as was the ancient town of Winchelsea (of those listed, I have yet to visit those not highlighted)…. Places to go 😉
As mentioned in an earlier post my sister’s initial plan had been to visit the Isle of Wight but after reading an article about Mermaid Street in Rye, the decision was made to spend a few days in this ancient of towns. The first thing we discovered is that the cobbles in Mermaid Street were laid in the 1600’s!!
imagine all the history these cobbles have seen….
History that’s right up my street, so to speak 😉 How could I not want to go there. And so our plans were laid.
Initially there were meant to be four of us, but my sister’s two friends pulled out and so it was just the two of us…that reminds me of a song….LOL But let me not digress, Rye awaits.
We decided to arrive the night before so as to be in the town on her birthday…great idea! I had the hotel tie balloons to her chair for breakfast and persuaded them to put candles onto her breakfast plate!
Happy birthday Sioux
Where will we put the candles they asked? Oh stick them in the sausage, I replied (as I crossed my fingers and hoped she ordered a full-English) – she did and to her surprise the breakfast arrived with 5 flaming candles!!! accompanied by a fantastic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, if I may say so myself 😉
So those were our reasons; here are the reasons you should go!
Ancient history: Rye’s history dates back to before the Norman Conquest at which time it was a small fishing village almost surrounded by water. Since then, the sea has retreated and although there is still a small harbour and a river, the town now lies 2 miles from the sea. Fascinatingly the river is affected by the tides, so it’s fun to watch the ships and boats moored alongside rise and fall on the incoming and outgoing tides. I know – it’s the little things that please me!
old fishing boat in Rye Harbour on the Rother
Mermaid Street: listed as one of the prettiest streets in Britain, this quintessentially English street is lined with amazing architecture; the Mermaid Inn, a Grade II* listed building – one of the oldest inns in Britain; restored in 1420 (hello!! note it was ‘restored‘ in 1420!!),
The Mermaid Inn, Rye – restored in 1420
sits comfortably alongside extraordinary Tudor Houses, gorgeous Georgian Houses and a mix in between, bearing some of the most quintessential house names you could imagine, in fact the house names in the whole town were just wonderful.
House names in Rye
We found the street utterly enchanting and spent ages photographing just about every house. The cobbles lend a charming aspect to the atmosphere of stepping back in time and you feel as if at any time a pilgrim could come slowly by, followed perhaps by a knight on his horse or maybe a royal entourage on it’s way to the inn….talking of which, you simply must step into this gem of a building. Oh the history!! It’s extraordinary and I would love to spend a few nights there!!
Mermaid Street in Rye
Rye Castle Museum and Ypres Tower: there is something quite spine-tingling when you turn a corner and discover a castle!! My jaw dropped…just wow!!
Rye Castle; Ypres Tower
Thought to have been built in the early 14th century, Ypres Tower (Rye Castle) was part of the town’s defences and the 2nd oldest building in Rye. Although not as big as some castles I have visited before, Ypres Castle is beautiful. Explore the building to discover the Tower’s role through 9 turbulent centuries. Climb to the battlements for a view of the salt marshes and the remains of what during the 16th century was one of the largest and 7th busiest port in England. The views are to die for!!
the view from the battlements of Rye Castle
Head below ground to the dungeons and try your hand at archery! It’s not as easy as it looks in the movies and the swords are rather heavy!! There are some helmets you can try on for fun 😉 We made ourselves look quite silly. while you are there be sure to visit The Women’s Tower; a 19th century prison (believed to be the only women’s prison to survive unaltered from the 1800’s to the present day), the Medieval Herb Garden and the gun garden. At 3 East Street in Rye and just a short walk from the castle is the Museum where you will find an eclectic and fascinating collection of relics from Rye’s past; costumes, toys, pottery, shipbuilding, an ancient fire-engine and so very much more.
St Mary’s Church; the oldest building in Rye; the Parish Church of Rye has, for 900 years, dominated the hill on which this ancient town stands. Sometimes called the ‘the Cathedral of East Sussex’ the building of the present church was started in the 12th century.
The fantastic 16th century clock at St Mary’s Rye
In 1377 the town was looted and set on fire, the church suffered extensive damage causing the roof to fall in and the looters carried the bells off to France – not taking this lying down, the following year, the men of Rye and Winchelsea set sail for Normandy, set fire to and raided two towns and thus recovered the bells. Today you can climb the battlements and be amazed at the fantastic views of the surrounding town and countryside and Romney Marshes from the tower.
view of Rye Castle and the River Rother from the battlements of St Mary’s
view across the roofs of Rye and the windmill in the distance
On your way up, beware the bells – they bong on the hour and could damage your ear drums (ask my sister who stuck her head above the parapet just as the bells gonged the hour for 2pm!! She nearly fell off the steps in shock. One of the oldest church turret towers in the country still functioning, the ‘new’ clock made by the Hugenot, Lewys Billiard, was installed in about 1561/2. You can see the pendulum swinging as you enter the church. Do note that the stairway leading to the tower’s viewing platform are VERY narrow!! LOL.
Sioux and The Bell!!
The Landgate Tower: What a startling discovery!! I had seen it listed on the town map the hotel gave us, but that didn’t prepare us for the reality. Again we stumbled upon this ancient treasure quite by accident whilst meandering the streets and couldn’t forsake a closer look. After the French attacked the town in 1339 burning 52 houses and a mill, the Mayor and town corporation decided to build town walls and gates. They received a grant from the King; Edward III and got busy building walls and 4 gates.
The Landgate dates from about 1340. Of the original 4 gates, this is the most complete remaining. Touching the stones that make up this amazing structure gives me goosebumps. Just think about the history and the people this gate has seen…as they say: if walls could talk. There’s a delightful antiques shop right next to the gate and just beyond the gate is ‘Crepes on the Corner’ – the best crepes in town..and they were. I had Nutella and banana…delicious!! There are glimpses of one of the other gates; Strandgate, incorporated into the Old Borough Arms Hotel at the bottom of Mermaid Street.
The Windmill: We had seen this marvellous structure the previous day and on our way to Mermaid Street we decided to ‘pop in’ and have a look. I adore windmills, they add such a sense of history and mystery to a place….you feel almost compelled to go have a look. The distinctive and famous Rye Mill is a Grade 2 listed building and has been the inspiration for artists and photographers throughout the centuries. It occupies an historic site in Gibbet’s Marsh where a windmill has stood, in one form or another, since at least the sixteenth century. The Symondons map of Rye created in 1594 shows an illustration of a windmill in the exact spot where today’s mill now stands. Now a B&B, we had a quick peek at one of the rooms. Located over the railway line and right next to the river, it’s charming and I can assure you that I am so going to stay there some day in the future.
The Rye Windmill
Rye Harbour: classified as a village, this tiny cluster of houses, jetty’s and buildings relative to a harbour are a delight to see. One of the most recognised images is an abandoned fisherman’s hut; black walls, a red tin roof with white painted windows and door that look like a face, stands almost halfway between the harbour and the river mouth.
the old fisherman’s hut in Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Rye reached the zenith of her power during the 16th century and at any one time there could be 200 ships anchored near the Strandgate – handling every kind of cargo from around the world. The largest and busiest port on the south coast during Tudor times due to it’s proximity to the continent, Rye’s harbour was more important than Portsmouth or Southampton. Although still a busy fishing harbour, today there are but just a few glimpses left of the original Rye Port, and to reach anything that resembles a harbour requires a short drive from the town to Rye Harbour – a drive well worth taking.
The harbour borders onto the nature reserve which is marvellous to walk through of an early morning. The decline of Rye’s harbour was ultimately caused by the silting up of the river. Silt carried by the incoming tides stayed and settled in the bottom of the river leaving a film of silt which finally made the river un-navigable for ships. Today you can walk along the gravel road that runs between the salt-marshes and the river to the pebbled beaches. Perfect at sunrise.
The River Rother flows down to the sea…
Rye Harbour Church: as you drive towards Rye Harbour and Nature Reserve, look to your right for a glimpse of this beautiful little church. Built in 1849 in the gothic style, the church of the Holy Spirit was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon and constructed of local blue stone and Caen stone. Support for the construction of the church came from local estate owners; Mr & Mrs William Lucas Shadwell. In the churchyard is a memorial commemorating the 1928 Mary Stanford Lifeboat tragedy when 17 crew members lost their lives.
Rye Harbour Church
Pubs: as with all towns like Rye there is always a church and those quintessential essential necessities of community life; the pub! 😉 We managed to eat at two and have drinks in one. On our first night in Rye, after exploring the lower reaches of Mermaid Street and surrounding area, we stopped at the Ship Inn for a yummy meal. A congenial location we enjoyed the atmosphere so much we tarried awhile and played a game of scrabble.
a game of scrabble at The Ship Inn
I love how you can do that. The pubs in the UK (and Ireland) are more like family gathering places than drinking houses. For our 3rd night in Rye we booked to eat at the Ypres Castle Inn, a 17th century pub nestled at the foot of the castle! Accessed down a steep flight of steps the lamps cast an inviting pool of light for a weary, hungry traveller. As you walk down the steps you will find an ancient set of ‘stocks’ used for the naughty people of Rye LOL. We enjoyed a most delicious meal there; for my sister it was the Lamb Hot Pot and for me Battered Cod (the biggest piece of fish I have ever been served), delicious chips and mushy peas. Although we didn’t tarry for long, it wasn’t due to the ambiance which was lovely. We had in fact both walked ourselves stupid that day exploring every corner and Lydd, and were exhausted by the time we had our meal. The staff were lovely.
the history of 4 inns in Rye
The streets of the medieval town: Rye is quite simply the picture perfect place to meander. We set off just after breakfast on Saturday to explore and photograph Mermaid Street more fully…..5 hours later and we were still meandering.
What an extraordinary array of cobbled streets, lanes and alleyways leading hither and thither, quaint houses line the cobbled streets up and down, each an enchanting delight. Every corner we turned opened up to more delights; with an “oh my gosh”, or “ooooo look there!” from me and a laugh of bemusement from my sister as my constant “okay, just one more corner” eventually turned out to envelope almost the whole town.
Rye, a gem of South East England
There are 15th century inns, Tudor houses, the Vicarage where John Fletcher, the Jacobean dramatist, was born in 1536, the Old Rye Grammar School erected in 1636, the old water tower next to the church and so very much more to see.
And last but not least: the three rivers – Rother, Brede and Tillingham.
Three rivers of Rye
The River Rother flows down to the sea….This is the river along which we meandered in the morning and the evening for photos. Used for navigation since Roman times, the river is navigable by small boats as far as Bodiam Castle. With it’s source near Rotherfield and it’s mouth in Rye Bay, the river flows for 35 miles through the English counties of East Sussex and Kent. Its mouth was further to the east at New Romney prior to 1287, but a great storm blocked its exit to the sea and changed its course to flow via Rye.
The River Tillingham rises from two springs near Staplecross, a small settlement in the Parish of Ewhurst in East Sussex and joins the Brede and Rother at Rye.
The River Brede takes its name from the Village of Brede which lies between Hastings and Tenterden. It flows into Rock Channel which is the tidal section of the River Tillingham and joins the River Rother at Rye.
With tales of sailors’, smugglers, storms, ships, seas and derring do, of pilgrims and kings, heroes, dramatists, writers, and a nursery rhyme, you simply must visit Rye!
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep! – According to legend, this well-known nursery rhyme derives from the deeds of smugglers in the town of St Leonard’s. West of Burtons St. Leonards is the area known as Bo-Peep which was once a tiny village renowned for smuggling in bygone days:
One of 4 Smuggler gangs that operated in the area of Rye
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them; leave them alone, And they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them
- Little Bo-peep fell fast asleep, and dreamt she heard them bleating;
- but when she awoke, she found it a joke, for they were still a-fleeting.
- Then up she took her little crook, determined for to find them; she found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed, for they’d left their tails behind them.
- It happened one day, as Bo-peep did stray into a meadow hard by,
- there she espied their tails side by side, all hung on a tree to dry.
- She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye, and over the hillocks went rambling,
- and tried what she could, as a shepherdess should, to tack each again to its lambkin.
Rye is a real gem of England; playing a very important role in the history of the country, remnants of which can still be seen today. It’s pictureque, charming and an absolute delight to explore. We loved it!
Originally, the Cinque Ports (pronounced ‘Sink’ Ports) were a confederation of five harbours, Sandwich, Romney, Dover, Hythe, and Hastings plus the two Ancient Towns of Rye & Winchelsea. Grouped together, for defence purposes, by Edward the Confessor, they supplied the Crown with ships and men.
What are Cinque Ports?
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