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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So in 2008, I returned to Rye to do just that.
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.
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).
Elegant breakfast, including black pudding and fried bread (an endangered species of late): check.
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.
But instead, we carry on to 2010. Now Billy and I are standing atop St. Mary’s and Oliver is taking the picture.
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 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.
The Gallivant has an elegant but beachy restaurant that seems like it was made for this event.
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.”
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.
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.