Steeped in history and bursting with quintessential English charm, the cobbled streets of Rye, with its quirky building names such as ‘The House Opposite’ and ‘The House with Two Doors’ will entice you to explore further this beautiful medieval town. Nestled between green rolling hills and the English Channel, hundreds of years ago Rye was once surrounded by water and formed one of the Cinque Ports due to its hilltop vantage point; valuable in detecting and warding off invaders. Today, Rye retains much of its heritage from its beautiful Tudor and Georgian buildings to the reminder of its infamous smuggling past – it is said that there are a network of tunnels, secret passages, and hidden caves, and the Ypres Tower built to defend the town in 1249, designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, can be visited daily.
If you want to learn about historic Rye then a good starting point would be the Rye Heritage Centre, here you can experience the ‘Story of Rye’ in a 15 minute sound and light show and marvel at the famous Rye Town Model before stepping outside to walk along the real streets of Rye. Mermaid Street is perhaps the most famous street in Rye, noted for its picture-perfect, steep, cobbled lane straddled with half-timber framed houses, each with a fascinating story to tell. Whilst Rye, like most towns, has changed constantly over the centuries Mermaid Street has a magical untouched air about it. It is here that you’ll find the oldest pub in Rye, The Mermaid Inn, amongst other guest houses, The Confit Pot antique shop and the Mermaid Street Café. As you reach the top of Mermaid Street and turn into West Street you will find the National Trust owned former residence of the author Henry James, Lamb House. “Lamb House has been an inspirational environment for many authors, resulting in it also becoming a fictionalised setting for some of their most well-known books.” The Grade II* listed 18th-century writer’s house museum has been home to many authors over the years and was also once a place of refuge when King George I ship came ashore during a storm.
Whilst we talk of King George I and his ship, it seems timely to mention The Ship Inn and The George, both renowned establishments within the town and the perfect places to visit for a meal and or overnight stay. The Ship Inn dates back to 1592 when it was originally built as a warehouse to store contraband seized from smugglers. Today it is the perfect place to catch up with friends over lunch or dinner whilst sampling fabulous Balfour wine, from its sister winery on the Hush Heath Estate in Staplehurst. The George situated in the heart of the cobbled high street holds significant prominence within the town. The beautiful Grade II listed hotel has undergone significant transformation and reopened this year, following damage after a devastating fire in 2019. As cliché as it might sound, the hotel has emerged from catastrophe, rising like a phoenix, the elegantly designed 46-bedroom, wedding venue has been restored to create a splendid hotel. If you’re looking to stay just outside of Rye to explore its surrounds, then The New Inn in Winchelsea and The Bell Inn in nearby Iden offer delicious food and a comfortable place to rest your head at the end of a long day. Quest Cottages: Holiday Houses offer further options for accommodation, with a range of holiday homes throughout Rye and beach properties on Camber. With so much to see and do in Rye it is certainly worth staying for a weekend or even longer.
Along with its charm and history the vibrant town has a wealth of places to shop and is somewhat unique in the sparse amount of chain stores on offer. You could spend a day just trawling through the antique emporiums and interiors and lifestyle shops, including Puckhaber, specialists in French decorative antiques and Soap & Salvation situated in the former Salvation Army chapel. Rye also has a thriving arts community with several galleries like Ashbees 100 and the renowned Rye Pottery. This month sees the return of the annual Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary from the 25 – 29 August, with a line-up of world-renowned singers and musicians performing at St Mary’s Church. And be sure to return in September for East Sussex’s premier multi-arts festival, dedicated to music, literature and theatre, the Rye Arts Festival runs from the 9 – 25 September.
A trip to Rye wouldn’t be complete without exploring the diverse natural landscape of Rye Bay which also offers excellent sailing throughout the year and the rivers Rother and Tillingham are both popular with canoeists. The Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is the place to go to discover amazing wildlife and spot birds in their natural habitat. Back in July the Sussex Wildlife Trust was delighted to win a Public & Community Award by Sussex Heritage for the Discovery Centre. Opening in May 2021, the centre allows you to appreciate the amazing wildlife on the reserve, through the vast viewing windows, in all seasons and all weathers. Plus there is lots of information about local wildlife, history and habitats, as well as a great shop and café.