Move To... Rye Bay

Illustration by Tom Jay

This coastal area in Sussex has pretty houses, historic buildings and lots of period charm. Words Lesley Gillilan

On a blip of a hill that rises from the salty wetlands of the Romney Marshes, the little town of Rye is a one-off. Climb to the top of St Mary’s Church tower and you can see it all: a jumble of red-tiled roofs, a patchwork of picture-perfect gardens, the Ypres Tower (a fourteenth-century mini castle), the cobblestones of Mermaid Street tumbling downhill to the Strand Quay. Below are the fishing boats and marinas on the River Rother and, in the distance, the beaches of Rye Bay.

An ancient Cinque Port, dating from the Norman Conquest, Rye is one of the best preserved medieval towns in England. Inside the gated Citadel – the teeny town centre – it’s a time warp of tipsy timber-framed houses. No wonder it’s so often used as a period film set: two year’s ago, for the filming of Hollywood’s The Monuments Men; and last year, as the fictional Tilling in BBC’s adaptation of Mapp and Lucia (a comic novel written in the 1930s by former Rye resident E F Benson). The latter has proved a magnet for visitors.

Sarah Benton, owner of the town’s arty Lion Street Store says she is constantly asked by customers: ‘Is this is a good place to live?’ The answer, she says, is an emphatic, yes. ‘Rye has been a safe haven for our children, it’s got a big creative community and the town is stunningly beautiful.’

Sarah grew up in Kent but was living in London when she and her husband (the actor Mark Benton) decided to move to Rye with their young son. ‘We didn’t think we’d stay here forever,’ she says. But 17 years later, with two more children, they are still happy in Rye. ‘A big plus is the location,’ says Sarah.

In ‘1066 Country’, where rural East Sussex meets the Kent border, Rye is two miles from Winchelsea, where more pretty houses are laid out on a medieval grid of wide streets arranged around a giant church square. Inland, there is forest and gentle Sussex farmland. By the sea, the dunes of Camber Sands or Winchelsea Beach are just a short drive away. ‘Rye is a gem,’ says Sarah. ‘And there are so many wonderful landscapes within easy reach.’

WHERE TO BUY
Head for the pretty streets inside Rye’s ancient Citadel. Mermaid Street, Church Square and Watchbell Street (the latter offers low-cost parking permits) are the most sought-after with prices starting at around £500,000. Villagey Winchelsea is quieter, greener and more spread out, though it’s a fraction more expensive. Both towns are big on weatherboarding, half-timbering and Sussex brick, and many of the houses are listed. For homes closer to the sea, look at bungalows and twentieth-century houses on Winchelsea Beach (a straggling seaside community, two miles from the town). Popular local villages include Peasmarsh, Iden and Udimore.

TIME OUT
On one side of town lies Camber Sands’ long stretch of yellow dunes, on the other, Winchelsea’s curve of shingle. Rye’s annual events include jazz and maritime festivals in August and an arts festival in September. A new Kino Digital Cinema opened in January. Other attractions include E F Benson’s former home, Lamb House in West Street (now owned by the National Trust). And the town is a honeypot of vintage and independent crafts shops: among them Rye Pottery, Strand House, Vintage Stockroom, Lion Street Store and The Shop Next Door. For eating out, try fish pie and great chips at The Ship Inn or fresh, local seafood at The Gallivant in Camber. For more information, see visit1066country.com

JOBS & COMMUTING
With its growing tourist population, Rye is a great place to begin a new career in catering, retailing or the creative industries, and it’s well connected, too. Trains from Rye or Winchelsea’s branch-line stations take 20 minutes to Ashford International, where you can board a high-speed service to London (Charing Cross or St Pancras in just under 40 minutes). Hastings is a 25-minute drive away (or 20 minutes by train). The nearest airport is Gatwick.

SCHOOLS
The town’s state-run comprehensive, Rye College, is rated Good by Ofsted. A recent-addition is Rye Studio school, a Crafts Council affiliation for sixth-formers specialising in creative enterprise.

REALITY CHECK
Living in a picture-perfect cottage on well-trodden heritage streets may not suit everyone. In the town centre, houses with parking are rare, damp cellars are common and shopping is limited (plenty of gifts and vintage kitchenware, a deli, greengrocer and butcher, but very few large supermarkets). Big-store shoppers need to head for Ashford or Hastings.

COMING UP
The cheaper option is Rye Harbour – a semi-industrial maritime community, strung out along the banks of the River Rother, a mile or so from Rye. It’s more gritty than pretty, but it’s got the local sailing club, access to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and it’s closer to the sea. Another beachy option is Camber, where New England-style homes are springing up alongside holiday chalets and post-war bungalows.

PAY A VISIT
The George in Rye thegeorgeinrye.com
George Clooney, Matt Damon and Kevin Costner are among the cast of illustrious guests who have stayed at this stylish hotel – a mix of Georgian architecture, antiques, art and contemporary design. The luxury rooms and suites are all different, some featuring copper and zinc bathtubs and sleeping pods for children. Downstairs, The Tap bar and The Grill restaurant serve modern British dishes, Rye Bay seafood and real ale. From £100 a night.

Click here to explore other coastal towns.

 


Privacy Policy