My room at the George Hotel in Rye is bijou but pretty perfect. The furniture is painted in a soothing blue, the bed is high and comfortable and the shelves are full of vintage, orange Penguin novels. There is also a comfortable bath which was an unexpected, joyful surprise. Nothing beats a soak before bed! The building is on a corner of the Main Street, my window (beautiful curtains) faces a tiny side street, and I can see a menswear shop and in its window there are the most garish men shirts I’ve laid my eyes on. It is a strangely reassuring sight in a kind of old fashion way, a modern shop wouldn’t have jarred.
I slept well, and enjoy the unusual feeling of not having to rush. An hour is frittered away revisiting yesterday’s sights and planning/non planning the day ahead. Pure luxury. No dog to walk, nobody asking questions. Breakfast is an unusual scrambled tofu dish that tastes better than it sounds; the out of character choice reveals that I want these few days to be as different as possible from my normal routine, food included. The coffee is delicious. The pastry can wait for another day.
The sun is shining in Rye and I leave early and go for a walk. My plan is to reach the castle on the outskirts of town, but I take the wrong turn because I stumble across a too large to cross irrigation ditch/stream between me and the ruins. The sheep in the field look at me knowingly and roll their eyes at my mistake, most likely I’m not the the first walker to do this.
Can you spot the castle in the distance? Its name is Camber Castle, formerly as Winchelsea Castle, and it was a 16th-century Device Fort, built by King Henry VIII (not him personally, obviously) to protect the Sussex coast of England against a possible French attack. It looks impressive and I’m a little bummed I can’t quite reach it from where I am.
… But the sun is shining and the sky is boundless and full of my favourite fluffy clouds, I carry on walking.
Back in Rye, I meander through the small streets and lanes. I don’t look at the map, I have a vague idea of the direction I need to go and I let my inner compass do the work. It is a very charming place.
I am really fascinated by the old houses and for the firs times I understand why New England (in the United States, where I spent time as a nanny many, many, many, years ago,) is called so.
A word of advice: try not to be standing next to the bells when they strike… they’re LOUD. Guess how I know? The views from the top will compensate for your damaged eardrums! You can see for miles, and the sky is so big. 360 degree horizons are special.
After the history, I saunter about the town a little more and have a very disappointment visit to what might have once be a really nice used books store, but definitively isn’t anymore. Think grumpy store owner and many signs saying ‘no photos allowed’ – the irony was that there hardly any books inside and certainly what was there wasn’t worth a photo… Sad. I had high hopes of spending time mooching the shelves, without members of my family clock watching or saying irritating things like “don’t you have enough books?”… as if one could EVER have enough books. Pffish…
What isn’t at all a disappointment is Lamb’s House, once owned by none other than the American writer Henry James. What a stupendous property, no wonder he fell in love with it… the rooms have wonderful proportions and are kept and styled beautifully by the National Trust. You really feel like Mr James could walk in any minute and demand tea to be brought to him.
His many hats are on the display in the entrance hall. Virginia Woolf once said about the house “Truly, Lamb’s House was no sanctuary, but rather a small, crammed and wholly un-lucrative hotel. (Henry James was) a thought and even stoical man of the world, English in his humour, Johnsonian in his sanity, who lived every second with insatiable gusto“
Afternoon tea was traditionally served in the parlour, which is a most charming, oak panelled room…
… and while sitting at his desk he dictated his novels to his secretary as the arthritis in his hand stopped him from personally writing for too long at a time…
The dining room is set up for lunch and the garden is a secret oasis in the centre of town. Amazing.
I get directed for lunch to a local cafe called The Apocathery, and old… yes, you guessed it, pharmacy, where I sit with Henry James and a delicious toasted brie sandwich. There are cakes tempting me, but I’m strong.
The afternoon stretches in front of me in a luminous blue, and there’s only one choice I can make: I need to see sea.
I drive a short distance to Winchelsea Beach. It is vast. It is empty and pebbly, the sun and the wind fight for supremacy and I’m not sure who’s winning. I grew up on the Adriatic Coast and this to me feels a little desolate and not beachy enough for me. I don’t feel like sitting down and hang out.
A beach like this has its own beauty however and walking alongside it it is a real pleasure. In half an hour I reach the abandoned hut of the Mary Stanford, it’s a moving sight. On 15 November 1928 the Mary Stanford capsized, drowning the entire 17-man crew. The lifeboat was launched in a south-west gale with heavy rain squalls and heavy seas to the vessel Alice of Riga. News was received that the crew of the Alice had been rescued by another vessel and the recall signal was fired three times. Apparently, the lifeboat crew had not seen it. As the lifeboat finally came back into harbour she was seen to capsize and the whole of the crew perished. (from Wikipedia)
Back to the car I decide to try the famous Camber Sands beach. I am determined to get my feet wet this time.
It takes me ages to walk to the water and then walk back. The tide chasing my to the shore.