Open all year round
A medieval citadel huddled against invaders and the sea, Rye reveals its history gently.
Today it’s home to a myriad of art, curiosities and cosy pubs, as well as modern boutique hotels and contemporary restaurants serving the best Sussex has to offer, from land and sea. Built on smuggled secrets and timeless tales, Rye has nooks and crannies to explore and distant views across Romney Marsh to ponder.
Rye started life as a small fishing community, almost surrounded by water. The sea has since retreated and now lies two miles from the town, at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Today, the history of Rye can be explored at the Rye Heritage Centre.
Originally part of the Manor of Rameslie, Rye was promised to the Abbey of Fécamp by Ethelred the Unready after the Abbey gave him sanctuary in 1014. When Normandy was returned to the French in 1205, Rye went with it and wasn't reunited with the English Crown until 1247.
After this Rye's defences were boosted with the construction of four gates and a wall. Parts of these fortifications still exist, with the Landgate, castle and a small section of the wall in Cinque Port Street dating back to this time.
The Charter of the Cinque Ports consolidated the defence of the realm, with towns along the coast of Kent and Sussex providing safe harbour, ships and men. In return the 'Antient Towns', including Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea, were granted freedom from taxes and custom duties, trading concessions and rights to hold judicial courts.
The French attacked Rye regularly, testing the defences and raiding the port. In a devastating attack in 1377, Rye was almost completely destroyed by fire, and the bells of St Mary's Church were stolen. The following year a revenge voyage saw the bells returned, along with other previously stolen loot.
In the 18th century smuggling was rife in Rye, with hoards of booty stored in old vaulted cellars networked by secret tunnels and passages.
Rye has been the home and muse of many literary figures, including Henry James, Conrad Aiken, Joseph Conrad, EF Benson, HG Wells, and GK Chesterton. Lamb House, now a National Trust property, was home to Henry James then EF Benson, and was frequented by many other famous authors, including Rudyard Kipling. More recently it was the setting for the BBC adaptation of EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia.
Open all year round