Rye, Rye Harbour, and Winchelsea Beach
There is a good reason why East Sussex is not particularly known for good beaches. It is the same reason for which lesser known artists remain lesser known.
I swear this is the last time I fell for a Lonely Planet guidebook’s enthusiasm for a place. (Sadly, it is not the first time: the first time concerned the Berlin guidebook and a glowing description of two “small and picturesque” Spreewald towns, Lübben and Lübbenau, which turned out to be just small and unremarkable. And do not even get me started on traditional Spreewald crafts.) The LP guidebook section on Rye begins “Rye is almost impossibly beautiful.” and continues along the lines “desperately picturesque”. Desperately, maybe. On reflection, the word “picturesque” was used to describe Lübben and Lübbenau too, so I suppose that should have set the alarm bells ringing. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The three photos below are one of the very, very few sights that made a nice picture.
The day started cloudy and rainy, but the talk in town was that yesterday had been the same and it brightened up around 1 p.m. I had planned to walk to the beach in the morning, but, in the hope of better weather later, spent the morning exploring Rye, looking for places to photograph in the afternoon if the sun comes out, shivering and cursing the weather forecasters who had promised sunshine. The main attractions of Rye are its timber houses and cobbled narrow streets. All I can say is that timber houses look much the same in any town and cobblestones are very difficult to walk on even in hiking boots. And the fabled Mermaid Street? Hm.
Rye has three main kinds of shops: art gallery, teashop, and sweet shop. These are repeated over and over, with slight variations, probably learned from art textbooks, which say that repetition can be used to good effect in a painting, provided that the repeated objects vary slightly. Mind, I did like “Ye Olde Pette Shoppe”.
At half past twelve I set off for the beach, under still clouded skies. Another similarity to Spreewald swiftly became apparent: the landscape is very flat. To make it any flatter you would have to use sophisticated landscaping techniques, or, alternatively, flood it. The only saving grace, from my point of view, were the sheep and lambs.
The footpath lead through the sheep pasture to Camber Castle, a small ruin. By then I had spotted that the next pasture was occupied by cows. Although someone did tell me that farmers are obliged not to put any dangerous animals to pastures accessible to public, I did not feel very comfortable walking among cows, so I kept fairly close to the only other human around, a man walking his dog. Not too close, though, because he looked what the English would describe as eccentric (i.e., madman). Just as I managed to persuade myself that the cows must be harmless, the dog walker picked up a stout stick. Then one cow started to follow me and it cost me some effort not to break into a run. The main reason I did not was the mental image of what would happen if I did.
Eventually I came back to a road. To a sharp bend in a road, with both parts going almost in the same direction. The rough map I had was no help, so I chose the way which did not lead to fields and trees. As it turned out, it was a mistake. Instead to Winchelsea I came to Winchelsea Beach. I did not mind, because Winchelsea was touted as similar to Rye and I was much more interested in the sea. The downside was that it was now about 2 p.m. and I was going to miss lunch (actually by then I had already missed it).
I suppose they had to include the word “beach” in the name the village, otherwise no one would even think of visiting the area to go to beach. The East Sussex countryside is described in the LP guidebook as “lovely”. This is not an adjective I would use. Bleak, empty, and desolate is much nearer the mark and it also explains why I had not been able to find any photographs of Rye Harbour online. There is nothing to photograph.
The only other people there were dog walkers and bird watchers, that is, people with reason other than to look at the landscape. Dog-less and binoculars-less, I asked one dog walker whether I was going in the right direction to Rye Harbour. She confirmed I was, and took her leave quickly. Eccentric, I read in her eyes. I was inclined to agree. I should have stayed home and go and have a look at the kingfisher that I had seen on a riverbank few days ago and to archery practice later.
Walking back to Rye I spotted something that made me think I was perhaps even hungrier than I thought and was hallucinating – it was tall and feathery and had a very long neck. And there were more of them, moving around. Aha. It was an ostrich farm.
The sun appeared at a quarter to four, by which time I was back in Rye. It did look slightly more interesting and I briefly considered climbing up the church tower, but decided not to. After all I had already walked the countryside. I certainly did not need to be reminded of how it looked like. By then I was ravenous and the only thoughts going on in my head were symptoms of hypoglycaemia I had learned on a First Aid course the week before. I went in quest of food. Innkeepers clearly think four o’clock is no time for lunch. That left the tearooms. I did have excellent lunch in one of them, the only quibble being that I would expect a quiche to be larger than about 8 centimeters in diameter and if the menu says “potatoes”, I would sort of assume they mean more than four small ones. Oh well, the food was good.
Why do people come here? They must have been conned by the guidebooks too.