Thursday 11 March 2010

Rye, East Sussex

On the edge of the desolate Romney Marshes, the well-preserved medieval town of Rye has retreated inland over the centuries, undermining its historic status as one of the Cinque Ports. Built on a clump of high-ground and bordered by rivers on three sides, Rye still feels quite nautical - you can hear seagulls around the town and you can see the sea shimmering in the distance. At the heart of the town, is the substantial, but squat, Norman parish church of St. Mary's surrounded by its green graveyard and a large, peaceful cobbled square bordered by original timber-framed houses seemingly unchanged in hundreds of years. Cobbled streets, lined with period lampposts, lead down to Rye's main drag, which is home to an array of independent shops, tearooms, curry houses and pubs housed in a mismash of attractive buildings spanning several centuries. Rye's stationers, ironmongers and sweet shops feel like a throwback to the seventies, but they see plenty of trade on a February Saturday. You'll also stumble across medieval stone gatehouses, art galleries, white clapboard houses, small museums and an extraordinary record shop, awash with vinyl, housed in an ornate grammar school dating from the seventeenth century. Outside the medieval heart, both the archtiecture and atmosphere is much more mundane, but there is enough in Rye to easily sustain a weekend break. 8/10