We’re spoilt for choice in our picturesque and interesting patch of the South Coast to have so many tourist attractions and areas of natural beauty, right on our doorstep.
As residents of an area, it is all too easy to neglect the opportunities to enjoy the experiences and places that are close at hand, and restrict our leisure forays to times that we are officially on holiday.
Why not make the most of your weekends and free time by exploring somewhere local that you’ve never looked at through a tourist’s eyes before?
With this in mind, we’ve created a collection of Google maps that pinpoint attractions in the 1066 country area, and are a good research tool to create some memorable days out.
For our first instalment in this local series, we look at different ideas for things to see and do in the medieval town of Rye. The small market town has a well-deserved spot on many a tourist itinerary, but it can also be a great location for a day out for people of all ages and interests.
The ancient town and seaport of Rye has inextricable links to the sea, both in the past and in the current day. Rye was one of the five Cinque Ports in medieval times, a bastion against invasion by marauding foreign forces. The town also provided ships for the service of the King in times of war. Ruthless smuggling gangs such as the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, would hold clandestine meetings in the Mermaid Inn and The Olde Bell Inn, which allegedly remain connected by secret passage ways. These days, there remains a small fishing fleet, and Rye Harbour has facilities for yachts and other vessels, but the smugglers have been replaced by tourists and locals in the aforementioned hostelries!
Rye’s historic links, interesting and historical buildings, and the range of antique shops, art galleries, gifts shops and restaurants that abound in Rye today, are all part of the town’s current charm to tourists and visitors.
One unexpected fact that I unearthed whilst researching the history of Rye, is that ancestors of Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley, reportedly hail from the town – his great-grandfather Frederick was born in the Rye in 1820.
If you already knew that, I congratulate you on your depth of local knowledge!
Treat yourselves to a visit to the cafe that is number one on the recommendations for cafes and restaurants in Rye. The small and unassuming Knoops, near the Landgate, punches above its weight in terms of positive customer feedback and the quality of their specialist offering – hot chocolate. Most adults and children are partial to a warming and sweet hot chocolate – especially on a bitterly cold or drab Winter’s day. The hot chocolate at Knoops transcends the everyday hot-chocolate experience, both in the variety of options available, and also the sheer taste and quality on offer.
Displayed on the wall behind the counter, is the range of strengths of chocolate, and also different flavour options available – and there are small chocolate chips available to try out what floats your particular boat. Friendly staff members are on hand to advise you about what might suit you. Create your very own bespoke beverage with your personal selection of flavours including chilli, salt, orange and black pepper. Children’s drinks are available in a smaller portion in a mug, and the standard drink is served in a generously proportioned bowl. I chose to have the white chocolate option, and it definitely surpassed previous experiences of hot chocolate in any form. You can watch your drink being whipped up in front of you, select a biscuit to complement your drink and then enjoy the heavenly taste of your chocolate of choice. My children enjoyed their drink, and the view out of the window where we sat.
A drawback is that there is very limited seating inside the cafe, but there is a bench outside, and you can opt for a takeaway drink to enjoy in the picturesque environs. The food options are limited, but it’s best to head there with the notion that it’s all about the luxurious liquid chocolate!
When you’re feeling peckish, a great choice is the quintessential English takeaway – fish and chips. This choice is particularly apt as you are so close to the sea, and you will need lots of fish-fuelled energy to climb the many hills in Rye! You are spoilt for choice for fish and chip shops in Rye, catering for both the tourist and local trade. Marino’s Fish Restaurant and Takeaway gets many great reviews, with many praising the generous portions and tasty food on offer. If you get a takeaway, there are lovely spots to eat along the quayside, or alongside the River Rother.
I would definitely recommend a trip to Rye Castle Museum at the Ypres Tower. This is one of the oldest buildings in Rye, and was built in 1249 as Baddings Tower to defend the town from the French, it was later named after its owner John de Ypres. It has had a colourful history, as it has been the town gaol, mortuary and a private home in the past. Today, it operates as a site for Rye Museum (there is an additional site in East Street) and although it is small, it is worth a visit for the views of the surrounding countryside from the balcony alone! It is reasonably priced as it is £3 entry for adults and it is free for children under 16.
The gungarden outside is fun for the children to explore, and my daughter had great fun (probably too much!) pretending to fire my son out of one of the cannons!
Highlights inside the Museum include a replica of the gibbet which the body of convicted murdered John Breads was displayed in on the marsh as a deterrent for other would-be neer do wells. This was a surprise hit with the kids, who didn’t seem to mind the macabre tale of mistaken identity, murder and the ensuing punishment.
Another area for children to enjoy are the interactive resources and photo opportunities in the basement, where they can try on some period costumes and have a go at pulling back a bow string. Not easy…
You can also venture out across a walled garden to the Women’s Tower, which was where female prisoners were housed when it was a prison. There is a new exhibit there with an audio story depicting the less-than- comfortable existence of a typical inmate.
In a nutshell, this is great place to see local historical artefacts in a highly atmospheric and authentic battlement of a bygone era.
It’s got to be the renowned Mermaid Inn, situated in Mermaid Street, which has many quaint and quirky buildings overlooking the picturesque cobbles. It is a Grade II historical listed half-timbered building, with lavish period furnishings, a cosy bar and a restaurant. The building itself has a great wow factor externally, and you can’t fail to be enchanted by the prospect of a relaxing drink next to a roaring real fire. You will be in fine company if you decide to stay at the hotel, there are many famous names of recent and yesteryear who have also stayed in the hotel – including Johnny Depp and Charlie Chaplin. If spirits of a more ephemeral nature than those stocked in the bar, are your bag, the Inn is reportedly home to many ghosts who are perhaps understandably, not keen to move on. The Mermaid featured in the very first series of Most Haunted, and has a reputation for ghostly happenings – some of them linked to the fact that the Inn used to be a meeting place for the notorious Hawkhurst gang of smugglers. Read more about some of the more famous ghostly happenings.
Pop in for a drink in the Giant’s Fireplace Bar and enjoy the ambience created by the huge open log fireplace. There is also a Priest Hole situated in the chimneybreast, to add to the historical feel, plus the knowledge that you are sitting in the old haunt of the merciless Hawkhurst Gang.
Rye hosts many annual festivals including
- The Rye Bay Scallops Festival – takes place each year in February. In 2015, it will be 21st February till the 1st March.
- Arts Festival – takes place in September every year. The dates in 2015 are the 11th till the 27th September 2015.
- Wild Boar Week is a celebration of game in Rye. Next year’s event is the 24th October till the 1st November 2015.
- Rye hosts its traditional Bonfire celebrations on the second Saturday after November 5th. Fireworks, a huge bonfire and the exploding effigy make sure the night goes with a bang.
- The popular weekly general market is held on a Thursday, near to the station.
Find out more about what Rye has to offer: