Since my mother lives in Kent, in England, I fly over from Boston to visit her at least once a year. My mum doesn’t drive anymore and depends on mass transit or a helpful neighbor to get around. For a little excitement when I visit, we rent a car and I run us around the countryside sightseeing.
Three times we’ve been to Rye, a small town in East Sussex, near the coast in southern England. I love this place, so steeped in history and still retaining architecture from ages gone. You enter the town through one of the gates of the old wall, a very narrow opening that limits the size of vehicles in Rye. Pictured above is one of several towers from the old walls. Because Rye was once on the English Channel, it had to be fortified against attack, especially from the French.
We always eat at a sweet little tea shop called The Runcible Spoon where I have my obligatory fish and chips, always with lemon for the fish and salt and malt vinegar for the chips, and a few nice cups of tea. Thus fortified, my mum and I explore the old city.
Located on a chalky hill above the marshland and rivers, the town has stood since before Roman times. Once a sea port in a sheltered harbor, the town is now more than two miles from the Channel. The harbor silted in ages ago. Rye sits at the confluence of three rivers and has a river port now. Some of the best very old architecture is on Mermaid Street, including the Mermaid Inn. The streets in the old town are mostly cobbled and rather hard walking. Here’s a shot of my mum on the “sidewalk” of the street.
There are many interesting little shops and tea rooms in Rye and once we caught a flea market in one of the church halls where I found a lovely ring and a porcelain box. Here’s my mum checking out a tea shop. She’s an inveterate shopper as is her daughter! Some buildings have leaded windows or tunnels leading through the buildings to courtyards at the back. The Tudor construction is very evident.
The Mermaid Inn is particularly popular with tourists due to its age. The original building has been attributed to 1156. Today what remains of that building are the cellars. In 1379 the town was sacked and burned by the French and the Mermaid was rebuilt in 1420. Much of that building still stands. The inside has low ceilings, heavy beams and dark woodwork. An ancient vine grows by the front door. This inn is reputedly haunted by several ghosts and has been featured on television programs about famous hauntings. With 31 rooms for lodgers, there are ample places for specters to hide. The inn was used in the 1700s by smugglers, a rough and violent bunch with many untimely deaths among their members. The hauntings are mostly supposed to be of these smugglers.
I so enjoy visiting Rye that I wouldn’t mind going again. The situation in a sparsely populated area of narrow roads, farm land, marsh and woods makes for interesting driving. I even got into my only accident of my many years of driving on the “wrong side” of the road while going to Rye. I took my eyes off the road for an instant too long and rubbed up against a guard rail. No lasting damage was done to human or vehicle. I hope to enjoy another memorable meal at the Runcible and further explore the little shops with my mum.