A short guide to Rye and around when the weather is not marvellous.
In some ways Rye is better visited out of season, because in the summer months it is packed with tourists wandering up and down the very quaint, very narrow and very pebbly cobbled streets, and it can soon feel a little too full. This means that Lamb House will be shut, but it's still possible to walk where Henry James - and EF Benson, Radclyffe Hall, Joan Aiken and Rumer Godden - walked. If you are a Mapp and Lucia fan (I'm not, as I'm not fond of arch-bitchiness and gossip) there is masses to enjoy, and I will admit that there is some pleasure in looking through the novels for descriptions of Rye/Tilling then pointing out the locations and exclaiming that so little has changed. The place we stayed (below) also had the DVDs of the BBC adaptations so we watched a couple of episodes to see what Tilling/Rye looks like in good weather (lovely).
Rye is like a little, compact citadel with many very old buildings and lots of great old shop fascias (the butchers - now empty - still has hooks above the windows outside). It's most definitely not a place for high heels, though. There are many good cafes: we liked the Apothecary for tea and toasted teacakes.
This part of the coast is still bringing in plenty of fish, and a great place to eat it in Rye is Webbe's at the Fish Café. Alternatively, there are plenty of fresh fish stalls huddled round the tall, black huts at the bottom of the cliff in Hastings. I don't remember there being so many a few years ago, but they look to be thriving. Just-boiled lobster was delicious.
one of John Bratby's table tops (1955)
Rye has a delightful little railway station which makes getting to Hastings by train very easy, and there is a nice place in one end of the station where you can get a coffee and buy flowers. Seems to me to be the ideal way to get to the Jerwood Gallery with its black box architecture and iridescent tiles, fine permanent collection of C20 inside, Webbe's cafe with great views of the sea and, currently, and exhibition of 'kitchen sink' and table-top art by John Bratby which is why we went in the first place.
St Clement's, Hastings
St Mary's Church in Rye which is set at the top of the town and is packed with history and has a fine 1937 west window donated by EF Benson which includes his dog Taffy, plus a Morris/Burne-Jones window with pink-winged angels. It's also possible to climb the tower to get a view over the town and marshes and sea, but the cloud was so low when we were there than we would barely have been able to see the churchyard below.
St Thomas' in Winchelsea for the spectacular late Arts & Craft windows by Douglas Strachan (which don't please everyone but are masterpieces). Good pub opposite the church with open fires, good beer and huge pies: The New Inn.
St Clement's in Hastings which has two good post-war windows by local artist Philip Cole (1884-1964) which are full of glorious colour and include lots of ordinary people in ordinary clothes.
AG Hendy & Co
I am sure there are plenty of nice antiquey, vintagey shops in Rye but I'd go for modern stuff at Lion Street Store, patterns, haberdashery and fabric at the brilliant Merchant & Mills, and local fruit and veg at the several greengrocers in the town. In Hastings, the High Street and George Street are well-known for interesting, independent shops. Judges Bakery (51 High Street) sells fine baked goods, and at the back you can have one of the nicest, hottest cappuccinos and butteriest, currantiest Eccles cakes anywhere. Not to be missed is the utterly eccentric, strangely Dickensian, fabulously atmospheric AG Hendy & Co which is a homewares shop and, in other months, a weekend fish restaurant. It's all a bit Great Expectations but where everything is for sale; we never knew we needed a bristly corner brush and Sheffield-made kitchen scissors which also crack nuts and open bottles until we browsed the shelves here.
Living above the shop
We stayed in the Crow's Nest above Lion Street Store. The flat is lovely, beautifully and thoughtfully furnished and organised. And the shop below is very useful for buying Persephone books and a jar of Marmite, should you be requiring one. It's also a few doors down from the recently opened Kino, a wonderful little cinema in a Victorian Gothic Revival building. Comfy seats, nice coffee, great films - all you could ask for at the flicks.
What to read in Rye
The authors mentioned above are the obvious choices. Instead I read Agatha Christie's A Pocket Full of Rye which has nothing to do with Rye, but is an aptly titled Rye weekend read and a thoroughly good puzzle.