A Secret Beach, an Ancient Town
Being in Rye is like being enveloped in a world of time gone by. The fortified, fairytale town sits atop a grassy knoll overlooking England’s blustery south coast. You enter the town underneath an imposing fortress gate, blushing that you’re driving a car and not arriving in a horse and carriage. Narrow lanes slither quietly through ancient buildings, once the haunts of smugglers and highwaymen. Charming wooden inns topped with terracotta roofs lean perilously inwards, keeping watch over the goings-on in the passageways below. You know you have reached a medieval enclave where houses do not have numbers, but rather befitting names like ‘The Olde Surgery’ and ‘The one with the two doors’.
Rye, and the nearby Camber Sands beach, are some of The South’s best-kept secrets. At only an hour and twenty minutes from London, the officially ‘ancient’ town is a very do-able weekend break from London. Although the station is seated at the bottom of the hill of Rye, and thus in walking distance of any accommodation in the town, do not expect taxis to be readily available to take you further afield.
With family traveling from warmer climes to the rainy British isles for Christmas, we opted to spend the holidays in a lofty, converted barn a stone’s throw from the windswept Camber Sands beach. A five minute drive (or one hour amble) from the twinkling turrets of Rye, it was a wonderful sanctuary to spend a few days switching off. Simply named ‘The Barn’, the three bedroom dwelling sits at the end of a lane home to The Blue House (snapped below), The Farmhouse and other wonderfully named delights.
Opening the door into a cosy winter wonderland, complete with a log fire and two storey Christmas-tree, makes you giddy with gotcha excitement. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on choosing so well. I did. There are two double bedrooms and an airy loft bedroom which opens out onto the open-plan living area. We lugged in our suitcases, mine stuffed with a hodge-podge of tartan, sparkles, wooly knits and thick socks for padding round the house in.
On our first full day in Camber Sands we donned our wellies and set off for the dunes (which you can spy on tippy-toes from the loft room). The beach is one of England’s best-kept secrets, with all the delights of coastlines of much larger seas. One end of the beach is home to static caravans and a sprawling pontin; the other is home to grand holiday homes and recently opened The Gallivant. Declared by Vogue as a top spot to visit in their ‘How to be Cool in 2016’ list, and the backdrop for the photos that made Kate Moss, I’m sure Camber’s quieter days will fade this coming summer. We walked along the wind-blasted beach (complete with sand tornadoes!), weaving in between dogs and their walkers, before turning inland to follow the trail into Rye across the marshlands. It was a stunning beach, from morning till night.
Rye is most definitely a card-holding member of Britain’s most beautiful towns - an antiquated dream of secret passageways, picturesque houses and charming little shops wrapped up in a bow. We started our stroll at Knoop’s for the most velvety hot-chocolate we’ve ever had. A repatriated Belgian’s work of heart, the little café serves a variety of hot-chocolate graded by the percentage of cocoa. We topped ours with home-made Speculoos marshmallow, and were so content we almost called it a day.
The town is proudly stocked with independent retailers. Our favourites included Eddie Franks for the boys, and the many Aladdin’s cave-like antique shops. Lunch at The Standard served plenty of exquisite sea fare in an low-ceiling pub from centuries past. A spell in Rye is not complete without a trek up Mermaid Lane, home to the old swashbuckler’s haunt, Mermaid Inn. It was refurbished 600 years ago. The fireplace alone makes you feel like you're enjoying your tipple within the exhibits of the British Museum.
It was a treat to spend time in Rye and Camber Sands without the crowds of the summer, although we’ll surely be back when the mercury passes thirty degrees. We’ll miss the barn doors swaying in the wind and the heady sea air; thank you for such a wonderful Christmas!
With Love, Kate