A few weeks ago, we meandered our way through the East Sussex countryside with its charming oast houses and rolling hills on the way to Rye. This formerly-strategic port town is now located 2 miles inland and is part of 1066 country and the lore of William the Conqueror. I had heard Rye was very charming and I was not disappointed. There are lots of cobbled lanes, half-timbered Tudor houses, art galleries, cafes, antique stores and pubs to provide entertainment for all the family.
So what are some of the attractions that caught our fancy?
There are antique and vintage shops galore!!! Most of them are incredibly friendly and didn’t mind our children (and dog) wandering through their store.
Glass Etc. is a massive store devoted to glass (surprise!!). The owner is famous for being the glass expert on the Antiques Road Show. He likes to source many of his glass pieces from Scandinavia. I was entranced by the collections of glass and apothecary bottles and bought several of them. I love the depth in colour and imperfections of old glass bottles!
The Old Grain Store and Strand Quay Antiques are near each other on Strand Quay which has a lot of interesting antique and vintage stores. They are a treasure trove of found objects such as glass balls from fishing nets, chests, crockery etc. The table ware selection includes some really pretty retro pieces.
My kids thought the Quay Antiques and Collectibles also on Strand Quay was a treasure trove. Mr. N has less patience for this sort of large store with a mish-mash of collectibles. They wound up buying some rocks to add to their rock and gem collection.
Mint Antiques, on Mint Street in the centre of Rye, is a quaint jumble of random objects including furniture, objets and prints. I bought some charming old herb markers here.
Tower Forge has a great collection crates, plaques and signs. I really liked the old Rugby School Rugby balls for my son’s room.
Arts & Crafts
We went to Rye Arts & Crafts Fair held in the Community Centre. These fairs seem to be regular events and we found the most amazing marshmallow treats in interesting flavours such as lemon meringue or chocolate chip.
One morning during our visit, the rain started lashing down. We took shelter at Craft Magic which has a craft room in the back of the store. You can buy whatever you want to make and, for a nominal amount, make it in the craft room. Our children were hugely entertained creating decoupage plaques for their rooms.
We didn’t make it to the two biggest attractions near this town, Camber Castle and the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, because it was too cold and windy for us townies to take a bracing walk. Camber Castle was built by Henry VIII to protect south coast of England from continental European attack. The castle is set in the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve which has several walks through the Reserve.
We did go into St. Mary’s Church which is over 900 years old. The stained glass was beautifully preserved. The Church tower has the oldest working clock in England which dates from 1562. Even if clocks aren’t your thing, the tower also provides great views over the countryside.
Near St. Mary’s Church is Lamb House, former home of American author Henry James and now a National Trust property. Henry James lived here from 1898-1916 during which he wrote several literary masterpieces, including The Turn of the Screw and The Wings of the Dove. No, I couldn’t get Mr. N or the children to go inside! Not even to see the largest walled garden in the centre of Rye. It was a literary museum too far. Heathens.
Foodies at Large
We absolutely loved Knoops which is a hot chocolate store in town which was just the ticket on a cold and windy day. They take their hot chocolate seriously here. You can pick from 6 varieties of chocolate from milk chocolate to 80% dark chocolate. They are served with charming homemade marshmallows (sense a micro-trend here?). We also bought shortbread and cookies which were equally delicious. A former art gallery, the interior is a study in calm with its whitewashed walls and windows overlooking the countryside.
For lunch we went to Edith’s House, which is a cute cafe run by a couple of ex-actors from London who relocated to Rye after a 2012 visit. Edith is the name of the grandmother of one of the owners. It is charmingly decorated like a grandmother’s living room BUT with a well-curated eye. So you get the nostalgia and the effect of old-lady homeliness without the actual clutter. Their little French bulldog, Roux, is busy maintaining order in the cafe. He can be bribed with scraps as our children found. Oh yes, our lunch was delicious and the cakes completely yummy.
What was our overall rating of Rye?
Definite two thumbs up. We really liked Rye and it is a good weekend away from London. I am sure we will return during better weather to go to the Rye Nature Reserve and Camber Sands, a sandy beach nearby. The kids still take about Craft Magic and I’d love another browse through the vintage stores!