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Rye, East Sussex – A Day Out in 1066 Country:
I’ve been to Rye a couple of times but never really felt that I had enough time to explore properly, so it was great to be invited for a day out by the 1066 Country office, with my teenage son was coming along to give a slightly less adult perspective.
As the head port of the Cinque Port Federation, Rye was allowed near self-governance in exchange for providing ships and men to the Crown and the town is a living monument to its history with the central area being under a conservation order. In fact Rye has more historic buildings than any other town in Britain. By the 18th century it was a thriving centre for trade with wines and spirits, tobacco and tea being imported and wool going the other way. There was also a healthy fishing fleet with the catch being sent up to London.
But, our first stop was at Winchelsea, a really pretty village just outside of Rye. Winchelsea is dominated by its church, St. Thomas the Martyr which has a beautiful interior with striking stain glass windows. For comedy fans the churchyard is home to Spike Milligan’s gravestone. If you have the time, Winchelsea is worth taking an hour out of your schedule to visit.
Our next stop was Rye itself. The first thing we noticed was that are many well signed car parks in the town and that all the major attractions are within walking distance.
We started our visit by heading to the Rye Heritage Centre to learn about the town’s fascinating history. The highlight is a Sound & Light Show, featuring an amazing scale model of the town as it was in 1872, all built by a couple in the 1970s . The presentation starts in the 12th century when Rye was a small fishing community and goes right up to the present day. There are still twenty working fishing boats based in Rye, although the Channel coast is now two miles away.
Then, there are tales of smuggling and other dark deeds.
Did the citizens of Rye get their church bells back which had been stolen by the French in 1377? Well…you’ll have to go to the show to find out.
You can also have fun playing in the vintage Penny Arcade but be warned as some of the machines are quite spooky! My son loved them though…! The address is: Rye Heritage Centre, Strand Quay, Rye, East Sussex,TN31 7AY
Our next stop was the Ypres Tower Museum. Henry III had provided funds for a castle to be built in the 13th century. The Ypres tower is all that remains and apart from the great view of the town from the tower itself it’s worth seeing for the collection of artefacts dating back to its time as the local gaol.
The gibbet is particularly scary!
It also has a lovely medieval herb garden, a woman’s prison tower as well as a gun garden to scare off Les Francais. Find your way to the Ypres Tower Gun Garden Rye, East Sussex TN31 7HH to see for yourself.
The Rye Museum which is located in am old bottling factory is also worth a look with a range of exhibits from across the ages ranging from a Penny Farthing to a treasure hunt featuring Rye’sown Captain Pugwash. Entry here is free. You’ll find the museum at 3 East St, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7JY
Rye has long been a centre for the arts. We were fortunate that on the day we visited the Rye International Blues & Jazz Festival was in full swing. With artists of the calibre of Ian Shaw and Clare Teal appearing the whole town was buzzing with the sound of music filling every street.
Literary Rye is centred on the National Trust Property Lamb House and its beautiful walled garden. Sadly closed on the day we visited it is now filled with the possessions of American writer Henry James who lived in the house for many years. It was also the residence of E.F.Benson, author of TV hit Mapp and Lucia and there is an exhibit relating to the series which is filmed and set in the house. Joseph Conrad and H.G. Wells were also Rye residents.
Mermaid St is the most famous street in Rye.
Set on a steep hill it is incredibly evocative, with quaint cottages lining the street as well as The Mermaid Inn, haunt of smugglers and now a mix of tourists and locals knocking back a pint. It’s easy to imagine contraband being passed from attic to attic to escape the revenue inspectors.
However we went for lunch at Webbe’s at the Fish Café.
Webbe’s has the best seafood restaurant in the area and there’s a great deal with a glass of rosé Prosecco and three oysters for £10. I can personally recommend the razor clams, Dover Sole, Rye Bay Fish Stew and Fish and chips all of which were all delicious.
As well as historical, cultural and gastronomic destinations, Rye is one of those towns where you can just wander for hours. It has lots of scenic nooks and crannies as well as lots of shops to nose around ranging from high-end antiques dealers to the positively quirky. We had a lovely time and it has plenty to appeal to all ages so thank you to 1066 Country for inviting us!
For more about what is going on in and around Rye, please check the Visit 1066 Country website.