A Pocketful of Rye (Rye and Dungeness, October 2021)

After 20 months of various Covid restrictions I finally managed to get over to London to see family. I had a week off so thought I would try and see somewhere else as well.  A bit of Googling came up with Rye, a very picturesque Medieval village just over an hour by train from London, in Sussex. I’d never heard of it but it looked absolutely lovely so I booked a house there for a few days over Halloween.

This is Flushing House, the place I was staying in, and which I had all to myself. It dates back to the 1520s and was full of period details, including an original Tudor turning staircase (I had no idea what that was  before I arrived,  but it sounded exciting).

The house was incredibly atmospheric, with satisfyingly creaky floorboards and doors, ideal for Halloween. I’d brought my book of M R James ghost stories, and it was the perfect time and place to be reading them.

The Tudor turning staircase - lots of fun negotiating this with a suitcase. It was hidden behind a quaint little door downstairs.

When I first saw these marks on timbers in the house I thought they were something rude but it seems they’re original carpenter’s marks showing how the pieces of wood should fit together. Quite spooky!

A hearty breakfast in the sun at The Old Grain Store cafe, before heading out to explore Rye.

The graveyard of St. Mary’s church had some interesting old gravestones. The church was just across the road from where I was staying, and was the scene of Rye’s most infamous murder (described further down this blog).

Negotiating the incredibly  narrow passage up to the tower of the church.

The view of Rye from the top of the tower was excellent, well worth the torturous climb.

This lovely little path ran along the side of the church.

This is the much-photographed and very quaint Mermaid Street in the heart of Rye. Usually there are crowds of tourists but at this time of the year it was fairly quiet. I loved the white building towards the bottom, which looked like it was about to keel over.

I had a quiet pint (the tourists hadn’t arrived yet) in the Mermaid Inn, at the top of Mermaid Street. It originally dates back to the twelfth century, and in the 18th century was the haunt of an infamous band of smugglers, the Hawkhurst gang. The barman told me there was a secret chamber hidden up the  chimney, and someone else mentioned there are witches’ marks (as protection against evil spirits) on the fireplace, but I couldn’t see them clearly.

There are medieval buildings everywhere in Rye.

A replica gibbet, and skeleton (not real...) of the infamous murderer John Breads, in Ypres tower. In the 18th Century he actually lived in the house I was staying in, when it was Flushing Inn.

From Ryenews.org.uk:

“In 1743 John Breads became the assassin in Rye’s most famous murder case, when he mistakenly stabbed ex-mayor Allen Grebbell to death in Rye churchyard, thinking he was the mayor, James Lamb. The most common versions of this story relate that Breads had fallen out with Lamb, who had previously fined him for selling meat under weight. 

On a dark night in March 1743, Allen Grebbell was returning home from the Fish Market. He was wearing a red cloak borrowed from the mayor, as it looked like rain. He made his way through Rye churchyard where Breads lay in wait, and at a certain spot Breads leaped out from behind a gravestone and stabbed him twice in the back. Because of the mayor’s red cloak, he had mistaken Grebbell for Lamb and had murdered the wrong man. 

A few hours into the early morning Breads was apprehended in the town as he staggered around drunk shouting “butchers should kill lambs”, and was arrested. The bloodstained, bone handled knife used on his victim was later retrieved from the churchyard. 

After his arrest, Breads was tried in a warehouse on the Strand by the very person, James Lamb, he had intended to kill. After being found guilty, he was incarcerated in the Ypres Castle tower, then in use as the town gaol, and was to remain there for many months. On his way from the gaol to the gibbet he was taken into the Flushing Inn, which he still owned, “for a last drink” before being hung on Gibbet Marsh. 

His body remained on the marsh for 50 years withering away. This gruesome legend relates that old women removed parts of his flesh as a cure for rheumatism! The skull of John Breads is all that remains.”

I was told his real skull is still kept in the attic of the town hall in Rye.

This is Lamb House, where the writer Henry James and later E F Benson both lived.

When I was in Rye (and Dungeness) one of the things I really noticed was how amazing the sky and clouds were. This was in the Rye harbour nature reserve - I bumped into another photographer and she said she’d spent the whole time just taking pictures of the clouds.

The Rye harbour nature reserve is a short bus journey from Rye itself (Rye at one point was on the coast but with land reclamation it’s now inland). This colourful little hut is near the entrance and could have been designed purely for Instagram.

This massive wall looked like the ruin of some ancient civilization, but I think it’s part of the old sea defences.

A much battered and weathered part of the sea defences along the coast. It was late afternoon as I walked along here and the autumnal light was just beautiful.

There’s just something about missing shoes on a beach; I always see one.

I didn’t know where this road went but I had some spare time before the bus home so decided to follow it for a bit.

The road ended up passing this building, the remains of the Mary Stanford lifeboat house. The history of this place is tragic :

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 (Wikipedia)

After the tragedy the lifeboat house was never used again. It still stands here as you see it in the photographs.

Now I know where he parked his boats.

(William the Conqueror is actually a pub in the harbour).

For years I’ve wanted to visit Dungeness, a vast area of shingle, stretching for miles. It’s one of the largest in Europe. I’d looked into visiting before but it was difficult to do as a day trip from London, but from Rye it was only a short bus journey.

Dungeness is sometimes described as the UK’s only desert (rainfall levels are very low) but it technically isn’t.

There are various little cottages at Dungeness and this is probably the most famous, Prospect Cottage, formerly owned by the film director Derek Jarmen.

The writing on the wall is from John Donne's poem The Sun Rising:

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?

Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?

Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide

Late school-boys and sour prentices,

Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,

Call country ants to harvest offices ;

Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

In that the world's contracted thus ;

Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be

To warm the world, that's done in warming us.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;

This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere

One of the most striking things about Dungeness is the variety of long-abandoned boats that litter it...

...and wrecks of abandoned trucks and machinery. It’s very surreal.

This corner of Dungeness looked a bit like something out of Mad Max. The nuclear power station is in the background.

The nuclear power station at Dungeness.  It dominates the landscape for miles.

It's not often you can have a pint with a lovely view of a nuclear power plant - that's it in the background.

Good drying weather at Dungeness. Though the clothes possibly glow in the dark, given the proximity of the nuclear power plant.

An amazing sunset as viewed from the bus back from Dungeness.

Back in Rye, keeping those lovely windows clean. My house is the white one at the end.

Inside the St. Anthony of Padua church; I’d always wondered where Holy Souls were kept.

A lovely souvenir from Rye! As I was walking around the village I noticed a man standing on a corner with a pile of cardboard boxes. As I walked by he asked me if I wanted a Covid test kit - in fact he wanted to give me a pile of them. I later spotted some other guys at the train station doing the same thing,  so it seemed there was a big push in Rye to hand out (or get rid of) the test kits.

It actually came in handy later in London, where I needed to use it.

This was my real souvenir from Rye - a lovely Russian miniature silver icon dating to the 1880s. I’d spotted it in the window of an antiques shop the day I arrived and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It looks like the maker's mark is GK, possibly Gustav Klingert, who used to work for Fabergé.

It‘s a lovely reminder of a fantastic few days in beautiful Rye. 

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