A Blog for Modern Traditionalists

Ravishing Rye, East Sussex

I think life is about the search.

The search for meaning. The search for pleasure. And the search for places that inspire.

The year I lived in England, I made a habit of frequently jumping on the train to explore the communities around Lewes. Big cities…yeah, yeah…they’ve got lots going on. But I find it’s the smaller places, the little pockets of individuality, that have retained the most character.

(Translation: if it hasn’t been invaded by Pret a Manger, get thee there!)

Rye Graveyard Reb

It was the summer of 2007 when I made my first foray into Rye, East Sussex. Here I am, hiking shoes, red hair (what was I thinking???), etc, having a little rest amongst Rye’s laziest citizens.

Rye Landgate

What’s especially neat about Rye is its shape. Once upon a time it was virtually surrounded by the sea, and if you didn’t have a boat the only entrance was via the Landgate, above.

However, in the 15th century, the ocean receded and eventually came to rest 2 miles to the south. So what you see upon approaching Rye from the train is this amazing little town-mountain jutting up above the surrounding fields.

Rye Camber Castle

From atop The Parish Church of St. Mary’s, you can see said ocean playing hard to get in the distance. Oh, and, you know, a ruined castle. Typical British view.

Rye Collage

With tea shops aplenty (try The Apothecary Coffee House for some unique ambiance) and architecture that seems to have missed the memo that we’re in the 21st century, Rye is a no-brainer when it comes to day trips from London (and it takes just an hour to get there by train). I always pressure my friends to go there. Seriously, let me make this perfectly clear: I’m going to go crazy on your ass if you go to England and spend the entire time in London. 

Rye High Street

But a mere day trip to medieval Rye is like a single forkful of a euphorically delicious chocolate cake. And I, ever the hedonist, recommend stuffing the whole thing in your mouth and having an ecstatic paroxysm.

To achieve that, you have to spend the night at one of Rye‘s amazing historic hotels.

Rye Mermaid Back

So in 2008, I returned to Rye to do just that.

Rye Mermaid Night

It was The Mermaid Inn that drew me in with its siren song. In Canada, the only things dating to 1420 are excessively big trees. And rocks.

Over in Rye, that was the year The Mermaid was built in all its half-timbered glory.

Rye Memaid Beds

It’s not the cheapest hotel you’ll ever find, but it may just be the most memorable. I have yet to find another hotel that is both dangerous and beautiful (like Christian Slater before his head got so big).

Rye Memaid CorridorScary hallways: check.

Rye Memaid FireGigantic fireplace: check.

Rye Memaid StaircaseBig bust: check.

Rye Memaid HallGeneral cosiness: check.

Rye Mermaid Breakfast

Elegant breakfast, including black pudding and fried bread (an endangered species of late): check.

Rye Olly Allie

Whilst staying at The Mermaid, I was informed I might meet some strangers. Now, I believe the idea was that I’d be meeting sword-wielding ghosts at some dark, inconvenient hour. What actually ended up happening was that I met new friends.

I was dining at The Standard pub – alone, as usual – when a girl walked up and asked if I’d like to join her group. It’s ridiculous to ignore such an unbidden act of kindness. You HAVE to follow through. So I officially met Alison and Oliver, who would soon get married and pregnant and pose for the picture above on a subsequent visit (of course none of us knew this yet). I often think about how Ali’s simple gesture gave me a greater warmth for Rye, and if not for her, this post would end here.

Rye Reb Billy

But instead, we carry on to 2010. Now Billy and I are standing atop St. Mary’s and Oliver is taking the picture.

Inspired by Rye, Billy and I shot part of this original music video here (other locations include Battle, Lewes and The Cotswolds).

Rye Scallop Chain

I have to disclose that Oliver Campion turned out to be Rye‘s biggest cheerleader. He doesn’t wear a short little skirt and do backflips, but that’s probably because nobody’s asked him to yet. This guy is nuts about his town.

Hence, he is organizing an event called Rye Bay Scallop Week, which runs February 2 – 10 this year.

Rye Gallivant Exterior

Rye Bay is still abuzz with fishing activity, and the scallops here are so fresh they’re practically alive.

Last week, during my most recent foray into Sussex, Ali and I got to sample some of the treats offered during Scallop week at The Gallivant Hotel in nearby Camber.

Rye Gallivant Collage

The Gallivant has an elegant but beachy restaurant that seems like it was made for this event.

Rye Gallivant Scallop

Trevor Hambley, chef at The Gallivant, says: “scallops don’t get much fresher than this, literally hours from being plucked from the sea in front of us, eating them this fresh is a revelation.”

Rye Gallivant Starter

Apparently, they’re at their absolute best in February as well. But even in January, when I ate the yummy scallop appetizers pictured above, they were perfect. I only wished I could stuff a few in my pocket and bring them home for my dad, who is a major scallop enthusiast. But, somehow, I don’t think that would go down well at customs. Or, for that matter, on the plane.

Rye Town Sign

And so it is that I bid adieu to Rye once again. But I know I’ll be back. Back for the scallops, the mermaids and The Campions.

I hope, in the meantime, that some of you extend your search to this wonderful little town.

16 thoughts on “Ravishing Rye, East Sussex”

  • As a born and raised ‘Ryer’ now living outside of Winnipeg, Canada. I have to thank you for writing such a enthusiastic and almost resident like piece on our wonderful town.

      • I ended up in Manitoba because I started chatting online on a travel site to a wonderful woman who lived in Winnipeg, she loved travel as much as me from there we grow and fell in love – now I live outside of Winnipeg with her and our son. Happily ever after

  • I love you Reb, nearly as much as I love Rye. I was born and brought up there (in the 50s and 60s, not the most exciting town to live in as a child/teen, even today) and didn’t really appreciate it until I saw it through the eyes of my boyfriend/fiancé/husband. Now we get back there as often as possible, not often enough.

    • Mary, thanks for the kind words. I know what it’s like to turn your nose up at a small hometown – I couldn’t wait to get away from mine! Now I know it’s one of the nicest spots in Canada. Hope you can make it back to Rye for a scallop or two sometime soon. 🙂

  • Learning about Rye from your description I now know it’s a charming little town that I would love to visit. Strange, in a way, that I have never done so because a favourite series of books from my childhood are set in and around that area.

    • Karen, which books do you mean? Captain Pugwash? Winnie The Pooh, based on Ashdown Forrest not really that far from there. Have you ever read the book The Town that went South?

      • The series of books are by Monica Edwards. A few are set in the Devil’s Punchbowl area but the ones I love best are set around Rye. As a child Monica lived at Rye Harbour (her father was the vicar there). She married in 1933 and 13 years later she and her family bought a derelict farm, which they name Punchbowl Farm, hence the setting for some of her books.
        Over half the books are set in and around Rye and Rye Harbour, in the books named Dunsford and Westling. There are 15 books set there, beginning with Wish for a Pony (Collins 1947) and ending with A Wind is Blowing (Collins 1969).

  • As a ‘Ryer’ by marriage (therefore aunt to the infamous Oliver!) and now living in beautiful Western Canada (Calgary), your fabulous article has made me feel happy to be connected to such a beautiful town and also somewhat homesick…..sigh…..

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