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Rye, East Sussex

Rye is the most perfect, supremely English quaint medieval town I can think of. Steeped in history, over 900 years old and a benchmark for picturesque.

Crooked half-timbered houses line a muddle of steep cobbled lanes with borders of breathtaking flowers, grasses, and herbs. At its centre is the church of St Mary the Virgin as well as other historic buildings such as the Wipers Tower (more correctly called Ypres Tower - Rye was technically French until 1247) and the Mermaid Inn (rebuilt - in 1420!) to name just a couple.

Its location, just under 2 hours from London and 2 miles from the sea, made it a firm favourite for smugglers of yesteryear with hoards of booty stored in old vaulted cellars networked by secret tunnels and passages.

The town is closely linked with literary and artistic associations acting as both home and muse of many figures, including Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Paul Nash, Radclyffe Hall, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells - honestly the list just goes on and on.

The surrounding area is also lovely, so no wonder Sir Paul McCartney chose to move here to bring up his family in relative anonymity, free from all the celeb nonsense.

Definitely worth a visit. Great ice cream and afternoon teas.

Any self respecting medieval church should have a flying buttress or two and St Mary's is no exception.

Flying buttresses are the sticky out bits on the sides which gave additional support to the main walls of a building and meant that you could build higher and not have the inside full of supporting columns.

Even so, this church is pretty huge even for its time, and this is down to the strategic importance of Rye.

This is the Mermaid Inn, one of the most famous (and infamous) inns in the whole of Southeast England.

It was well known as a headquarters for the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, a particularly unpleasant group of smugglers during the 1740s & 50s who would exert their authority by violent means.

Smuggling, particularly of wool and luxury goods became widespread throughout Kent and Sussex during this time and many turned to murder and were subsequently hanged.

It has been widely reported that some of these smugglers, their mistresses and other characters continue to haunt the inn.

Although it was rebuilt in 1420s. the cellars date back to the original.

This is a hotel now, but during the 1930s it was home to Radclyffe Hall, the author or the ground breaking lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness.

By the time Hall moved here, the book had been just been published and was regarded as scandalous and obscene due to its content - same sex couples weren't really thing back then.

Mind you, the only reference in the entire book to being gay were the inclusion of the lines 'she kissed her full on the lips, as a lover' & 'and that night, they were not divided'.

Typical timbered buildings you find all over the place in Rye

A quintessentially English display of blooms adorning cottages. Smelt pretty amazing too.

Rye became known as a constituent town of the Cinq Ports Confederation. The Cinq Ports (pronounced 'Sink' Ports) were a series of coastal towns in Kent, Sussex and Essex and formed back in the days of Edward the Confessor (we're talking around about 1000 years ago) to supply the Crown with ships and men and in return, they received many privileges including freedom from tolls and customs duties, freedom to trade and to hold their own judicial courts. A series of storms and the passage of time have now radically changed the coastline and of the original 5 ports and subsequent 'ancient towns' that were added, only Dover retains its major port status.

The oldest fortification still standing in Rye, originally named Baddings Tower. In addition it has been a private house a prison and a morgue in its time, but nowadays is a museum. Sadly it was shut when I was here, but it contains all sorts of random things including, I believe, a gibbet with skeleton in the cell in the tower. Well, who doesn't like a bit of gruesome, 😉

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