Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Rye & Camber Sands

My visit to East Sussex was not at all what I expected but I ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable day!

On Thursday I (as ever) messed up a train booking to Rye. Thankfully (as ever) customer services got me out of my one-way ticket shaped hole so on Monday morning, I was off!

I'd decided on travelling to the coast on that particular day because according to BBC weather it was going to be 26°C an brilliant sunshine all day. Interestingly, almost as if it knew it had made a fatal error, my app hasn't been working for the past few days. After a glorious weekend, one more day of good weather was clearly just too much for the British summer and so I awoke to cloud. Lots of it.

I had been worried that in this situation I would then be stuck in some equally grey, dingy town with not a lot to do and feeling very sorry for myself. However, following an incredibly reassuring phone conversation with my parents in which the words 'antiques', 'tea' and 'pretty' were used, I knew I'd be ok.

Fancy shmancy train!
Upon my arrival, I was met by the town's independent supermarket (celebrating 80 years of service to the community so the signs told me) and had to go in out of curiosity. I don't know what I was expecting but I was soon out again and heading up hill to where I hoped to find more signs of civilisation.

I soon found myself in Jempson's Café (this was beginning to feel a little 'Roy's of Wroxham' as Jempson's was also the name of the family supermarket) where I ordered a second breakfast of sausage roll, Swiss Bun and a pot of Earl Grey.

First impressions of Rye from here were that it was definitely somewhere people go to retire as every other table in the café was occupied either by groups of nattering ladies or lone gentlemen reading newspapers. Either way, they were all well over 60. I later established that my arrival had coincided with an OAP coach party and that younger generations were still in bed while I was being so keen to make a day of it.

While I sat, taking it all in and feeling rather like an animal at the zoo as so many people were looking puzzled in my direction as if to ask 'what are you doing here?', I took to the ever trusty Google Maps to ascertain where on earth I was... 1 hour walk to the beach. Good start.

I took this as a sign that I should explore the town until lunch then head to the beach after some food. So far, I was little worried that despite what Mum and Dad had told me, I might not find much to entertain, but I had to at least give it a chance.

So off I went uphill, following signs for the Town Centre and the High Street. Everything was 'Rye'; 'Rye Bookshop', 'Rye Stationers', 'Rye Bakery', it was certainly very cutesy. There was almost a Norwich feel as everything but the banks was independent which I loved. It made me want to buy everything just because I'd be supporting local shops and that combined with shopping in itself makes me incredibly happy!

Shop tops that almost rivalled those of Kings Lynn?

However, I figured it was still early and I didn't want to be potentially lugging purchases around so I figured I'd come back if I really needed or more likely wanted anything. When I reached the end of the high street there was a viewpoint looking towards the coast (although you couldn't see the sea) and a lady walking with purpose who I followed (not in a creepy way, I hope. She just looked like she knew where she was going). Turned out she was going to her house so I did look a little dodgy and had to carry on walking aimlessly along a row of pretty enough houses, now following the direction of a sign that was leading me back towards the last station the train had stopped at, Appledore.

Clearly having gone the wrong way, I headed back towards the high street, hoping this time to veer off in a different direction. Mum and Dad were right, antique stores were aplenty (although again in true Norwich style, many were closed on a Monday) and I went into one in particular that had a stack of free maps of the town. Google Maps may be able to show me streets but when I don't even know where I'm looking for, an actual map is definitely superior. It was really cute too and just proved how big on the independent marketplace the town is.

Finally (it felt like I'd been a lost sheep for ages but in reality it had probably been less than an hour), I had some idea of where I'd been going wrong and where I should be heading to. So I aimed for the quay area as at this point I was completely unconvinced that I was anywhere near water, let alone the coast!

Poking out between rooftops I spotted a windmill which took me off track rather but it was definitely worth it. It reminded me just how big windmills in Holland are and how much I'd love to stay or live in one in England one day! Even more quintessentially English, to get to this windmill, railway tracks had to be crossed and it was simply required that you 'stop, look and listen' before doing so.

The quay was a little like a mix between Wisbech and Blakeney or Wells. The tide was well out (as I was later reminded of in force on the beach) so the little boats were sitting on sand. Beyond the wall I noticed hustle and bustle which until this moment I'd managed to avoid. Unlike in London where I've been purposefully seeking out quiet spaces, this hustle and bustle was a welcome sight and I endeavoured to join it as soon as I could work out how to cross the surprisingly busy road.

The warehouses were all home to antiques barns. I was in actual antique heaven! Antiques browsed but shockingly nothing purchased, I sat down to lunch outside the Mermaid Café and watched the world go by. It only came to my attention while I was demolishing my tuna jacket potato that there were in fact fish & chip shops nearby, so I figured I'd have to stick around until tea time so I could indulge in those later.

Lunch consumed, it was time for more exploring. I’d noticed people up and down all sorts of streets so I knew I was now in the really historic part of Rye. Whilst eating I’d been sat opposite Rye Pottery which Mum and Dad had remembered as it’s where a jug at home had once come from. I thought I’d better see what was inside, so that’s where I made for first.

Rye Pottery is expensive and although very pretty, I didn’t feel I could justify spending more than £20 on a bowl only big enough for nibbles. Could have been one for the bottom drawer, but not this time. Opposite Rye Pottery was a very intriguing set of steps with what looked like a raised air raid shelter below. I crossed the road to take a photo before realising that I could actually ascend the steps to find antiques inside.

Exiting through a door on a different street, I spied cobbles ahead of me and who doesn't love a cobbled street? This was where the real history and beauty lay; I was in awe of each and every door, window, chimney and rooftop. Oh to live somewhere so idyllic (parking would be awful though)!

At the top of the cobbled street, the road took a right and a left. Pretty sure I'd already covered the right, I decided to follow the road to the left and it took me right past the home in which Henry James once lived. A little further on I was met by St Mary's Parish Church. Yet again like Norwich, Rye has a surprising number of churches for such a small town. Most of them are tucked away in small house-like buildings but St Mary's stood tall at the top of the town and is much bigger than the others.

Walking through the church square literally felt like walking straight through a film set.  

One final turn around the square and I figured I'd better tear myself away in order to find the beach. There was a huge part of me which was tempted not to go, but as it had initially been the sole purpose of my visit, I knew I'd regret it if I didn't and despite cloud, the air temperature wasn't so bad.

Although the old town map showed me the way to Camber Sands, I knew I didn't want to walk for an hour having walked all day around the town, so I took again to Google Maps which I hoped would show me the way via public transport. Apparently the bus would only take 20 minutes and that sounded far more appealing, so I headed to the rail station to catch one. 

Of course, when one is in a historic town, public transport is close to historic too. When I first reached the bus stop, there was no one else there and I feared that maybe catching a bus wasn't the thing to do in this town. However, the longer I stood there, the more people appeared. Eventually there was a whole rabble but still no bus. I think we may have waited for close to half an hour when it finally appeared. As I got on and paid for my return ticket, I figured if worst came to worst, it was 'only' an hour back after all...

Camber Sands was as close to Norfolk as you can get on the Southern coast and I loved it. The sand was white and soft and felt so good between my toes. The dunes were enormous (I tried to get a photo of them from the road side where they suddenly just rose about 50 metres into the sky out of nowhere but my phone camera just couldn't capture it properly) and the seagulls were out in force. Unfortunately the sea breeze was beyond vicious, so my towel did come in handy in acting as a shawl while I told myself it was totally warm enough to sit and read, but I soon had to move around to keep warm. 

I walked out to the sea, had a paddle in warm water which was a delight then as it was past 4 o'clock and knowing I might have an hour's journey back to Rye, headed back towards dry land hoping to find another bus. As is always the way, literally as I was leaving the beach, the sun decided to make a real appearance with blue sky suddenly everywhere and barely a cloud to be seen. It's evenings like those that make me wish I lived close to the coast so I could have impromptu trips of a warm, sunny evening. It was then incredibly hard to tear myself away but my practical (and hungry) self was sure it was the right thing to do.

Sitting on the floor at the bus stop (opposite Pontins. Dread, oh dread), I was thrown back to my summer of work experience at 14 years old when I never seemed to be able to time my arrival quite right and was then always waiting an age for the next bus getting stared at by every passing driver. When the bus did finally appear (I know I'd thought I might walk back but now the sun was shining I knew it would be hot work), the bus driver greeted me in a tone that suggested he was incredibly surprised to see me (always a good sign) and when I got on it was like stepping into a museum with the old fashioned chairs and poles between them; serious nostalgia (even Norfolk has caught up with modern day transport)!

Back in Rye, I was pleased to find that the fish and chip shop was open until 10pm! Not that I was planning to stay until then but I had been slightly concerned that it, like everything else, may have already closed by the time I returned. Now the sun was shining, the view from the Gun Garden looked far prettier so that is where I sat to eat my tea.

I was actually a little sad to be leaving at the end of the day but after so much fresh sea air, I knew I'd at least sleep well. Next time I want to visit a beach though, I'm going to make a spontaneous decision to avoid weather disappointment. All the same, an unexpected but very pleasant little journey out of London. 

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