Rye is a medieval village on the south east of England, with cobbles streets, smugglers that were once prominent in the area, and ghost stories. It feels like being in a time warp, as the village hasn’t changed, all that has is the people that live and visit.
The town of Rye is located on the south east coast of England in the county of East Sussex. The oldest and only remaining medieval fortification in Rye is the Landgate, which dates back to about 1329. When the economy declined in 1301, smuggling became rife, and the Hawkhurst Gang capitalised on this by smuggling commodities such as wool through Kent and Sussex. The Mermaid Inn and The Olde Bell Inn were frequented by the Hawkhurst Gang, and it’s said there are tunnels leading from the inns and between the two Inns.
Things to do
This quintessential town of Rye is like no other, beautiful buildings, scenery and so peaceful for a town. Here are some things to do in Rye.
Cost: £4 per person
The Ypres Tower was built in about 1249, and has changed its uses over the years. It’s been used as a defence tower from the French, a private home, a mortuary, prison and museum.
This is one interesting tower, it has been used for so many different things. Tickets are purchased on the ground floor, and once I purchased my tickets I headed straight to the basement. The basement is small and compact and contains a medieval armoury. I experimented with some of the weapons on display in the window. For safety reasons the weapons are behind a glass with a hole to place the hands to feel the weapons. Various helmets from different years are on display, were the lower helmets can be worn. The basement is very interactive, and on the walls of the basement is information on the medieval period.
I proceeded back to the ground floor which I found very interesting, with the original prison cells, including the cell that John Beard would have been kept. These small brick square cells with no window or ventilation, must have been punishing enough once the door was shut behind you. One of the old cells have been converted in a still room with herbs and other plants grown from the tower’s garden. The second cell, is open to have a look inside, while the third cell on the ground floor has the Gibbet and skeleton suspended from the ceiling and on display. The murderer John Breads, was kept in the exact cell, before he was hanged. It is said his body was then displayed in the Gibbet on Gibbet March for over 50 years.
John Beards was a butcher, who intended to murder the mayor for fining him. Instead John murdered the mayors brother in law by accident. Johns punishment was imprisonment, before being hung and the dead body displayed in the Gibbet on Gibbet Marsh in Rye.
The first floor leads to a large model in the centre of the room, the model is of the development of the coast line over the thousands of years. The parameter of the room has exhibits of police uniform over the years. The balcony leading from the first floor gives amazing views of the surrounding land, with the medieval garden and women’s prison just below. A further balcony leading off to a separate view over the Rye marshes and rivers that lead to the sea. On a clear day, and with good eyesight, it is possible to see Camber Castle. The last section on this floor, is the interaction with the commodities smuggled into Rye such as real wool, tea, and many more. I had explored all I could in this section of the tower, and headed for the medieval garden and women’s prison.
This would have been the exercise yard for the inmates before a garden was grown with different types of herbs. I admired much of the garden before proceeding to the women’s prison. The conditions here are much better than the male prison, with more space, but only one room on display which is disappointing. The stairs to the top of the tower are roped off, and just as I walked in, an auto projector and sound came blaring out, frightening me . The story is ok, provides background information to what sort of women that would have been imprisoned here and the conditions they would have encounter. I found Ypres Tower informative, interactive and great value for money.
Church of St Mary the Virgin
Cost: £4.00 per person
Tickets are located on the ground floor of the church, at the base of the stairs. I climbed the first set of stairs before reaching a very narrow corridor, which felt like it was getting narrower and longer as I proceeded. I eventually reached the end of the corridor and came into a large room with the clock pendulum, and if quite enough the ticking of the clock can be heard. The mechanism is on display with a glass case around it, so watching the clock tick and the cogs is fascinating. To reach the top of the tower consists of narrow, small and steep stair cases and corridors. I reached the bell tower, and saw the large bells in all their glory. A little further, before finally I had reached the top, and the views are full 360 degree views of Rye for as far as the eye can see. It is easy to spend quite some time up here just admiring the views. I finally made the descent back down, which was just as difficult to go down as it is to come up but I slowly made it in the end. Whilst I was at the top of the church tower the bells rang out, chiming out the sound of the time.
We walked up this cobbled street with all the unusual house names such as a house with two doors, The First House, House with the Seat, and The House Next Door. Not sure where the names have come from, but make the street unique.
The Mermaid Inn
The cellars in the Mermaid Inn date back to about 1156 and is the oldest part of the Inn, but the remaining part of the building dates back to about the 1420s. The Hawkhurst gang are known to have frequented the Inn between the 1730s and 1740s, to discuss business and smuggle goods around the south east of England. In the cellar of the Mermaid Inn, are tunnels that would have been used by the Hawkhurst Gang to escape authorities and a way to smuggle the goods undetected. The Inn has been on Most Haunted, as it is well known for guests staying at the Inn, to wake and find strange things happening.
We walked from the Old Bell Inn to The Mermaid Inn through the old court yard which is now a car park for residence and guests. The first thing that stands out on the approach is the black and white Tudor exterior, it appears as popular today as it must have many hundreds of years ago. I walked into the bar, expecting a grand bar, but to my surprise the room was very small and very cramped, and the only grand part of the bar was the fire place along the adjacent wall. Although it doesn’t appear to have changed since it was built, it is a little disappointing the size of the room, how were the Hawkhurst gang to do their business in such a small space. I walked back out and down the side of the building to the front, and walked into the hotel. Now this does look grand, the interior still has the period features including the furniture, and I felt that I had really gone back in time. There is a dining room, and a small lounge room for guests to sit and relax after a long journey with a lovely fire place to keep the guests warm if the weather turns cold.
In the Rye area
There are some places that are around the Rye area to include in your visit.
This beach can become quite busy certainly through the summer months with it being the only sandy beach in East Sussex. We arrived quite late, but this meant parking was free and plenty of spaces, the only negative, is the restaurants and cafes are closing down. We walked out onto the sand, with the tide out for some distance, with a lovely feeling of not having to walk across the uneven pebbles. I have been here only a couple of times in my youth, yet this was Shams first visit, and how surprised she was to see a sandy beach in England, she thought our beaches were just pebbles until now.
The best modes of transport to Rye would be either driving or via train. We personally drove to Rye and found parking for the day but there are other means of getting to Rye.
Driving to Rye is the easiest and most convenient way. We travelled by car which took us approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to get there. There are a number of car parks around the Rye area with a short walk to many of the sights in the town. To get to Camber Sands it is ideal to drive, due to its rural location, but on a busy day the parking can be limited.
If you are unable to drive then catching a train to Rye would be the best option. To get to Rye though would mean changing trains at either Hastings Train station or Ashford International, and then taking a short walk into town. When I was a child and visited Rye a couple of times with family, we always caught the train.
There are regular bus services from Rye to Camber Sands, but very limited services elsewhere.
Places to eat
The first place we stopped at to have lunch was Fletchers House, a tearoom and restaurant in Rye. I chose the Chickpea & Lentil Patties with beetroot relish, roast sweet potato wedges and fresh salad, while Shams had a crab sandwich with salad and kettle crisps. The Pattie that I had was ok, a little bland and tasted floury but the beetroot relish was lovely and gave better flavour to the entire dish, and the sweet potatoes as always are delicious. Shams crab sandwich was full of flavour and was fantastic. We both agreed that Shams dish was more flavourful and much better than mine.
Simon the Pieman is well known for the delicious afternoon tea, so for our afternoon tea we had to stop here. There is limited seating inside the café, but we managed to get a spot and order tea and a scone while Shams had carrot cake. The scone arrived warm which is how it’s supposed to be, with jam and clotted cream. I don’t like jam, so my scone has a large dollop of cream and I have to say, it is a very good. Shams carrot cake was quite a large piece, with a sweet butter cream on the top. Shams wasn’t keen on the icing too much as it makes the cake far too sweet, but other than that, the taste was great. The café displays much of their cakes and goodies in the window, if we hadn’t heard of the café before, we would have been enticed by the window display. We would highly recommend having a cup of tea and a piece of cake at Simon the Pieman in Rye.
There are many other cafes and restaurants in Rye if the above doesn’t take your fancy. We have heard that Hayden’s is a great place for the views over Rye while you eat, but we didn’t think the menu had a lot on offer.
Places to stay
There are a few places to stay in Rye, the most interesting would have to be The Mermaid Inn, with all the period features throughout the property. This would be a ghost hunters paradise, but we would be far too scared to stay here, I don’t think we’d be able to sleep.
If you need any help or assistance with travelling to Rye, then please contact us.