As promised I visited the ancient city of Rye today, located in East Sussex, England. Rye is perched on a hill with beautiful panoramas of the countryside that surrounds it. The city offers visitors a look at one of the most preserved towns in England, much of it exactly the same as it was in the 1400’s. The cobble stone streets and fairytale buildings make it feel like you have walked back in time. It is a truly special place.
The bus ride was around an hour and a half each way from Folkestone, and luckily the scenery of the Romney Marsh took away most of the pain of the journey. When I arrived in Rye (with my adventurous 4 year old in tow) we hit up the Rye Tourist Information Centre first as I heard they had a pretty cool show on the history of the town. Admission for the Rye Town Model and Light show cost £3.50 a pop, which was very reasonable for what you got. The show is centered on a scale model of the town from the 1800’s, done entirely by hand by a retired teacher and her husband in their attic. The details were incredible, and the show went through 700 years of Rye history. It was a terrific start to the day, and gave me a great grasp of the history behind everything I would be seeing.
On the second floor of the Information Centre, they have a selection of penny arcades from seaside piers of the 1900’s-1950’s. We had a lot of fun playing with them, and I would definitely recommend a pop up if you are around. Most of them were very creepy- but in a nostalgic, fun way of course.
We moved on to Mermaid Street, the quintessential cobbled street that has remained the same for centuries. The Mermaid Inn is located here, built in the 1420’s and one of the oldest inns in England. Mermaid Street is very picturesque, and the buildings offer that typical English experience that I think many tourists hope to find when they are over.
At this point, things started getting a little weird. Security guys were blocking forgotten alleys and bright orange cones were beginning to ruin my photo-ops. I had read that George Clooney would be in the Rye area shooting a film throughout the week, but we had unintentionally stepped right into the set. A building I had taken a picture of earlier, apparently was nothing of importance at all. Rather, it was simply a stage prop for the latest World War II era Hollywood Blockbuster. I guess kudos to them for making a set that was so authentic it fit right into a charming medieval English town. But, more on that later.
Our next stop was the Lamb House, a National Trust site. The house has been the home of important and wealthy people living in Rye for hundreds of years, and even took in King George I after his ship was stranded in the town after a storm. Sadly, I am not much of a planner and failed to realize that Lamb House is not open on Thursdays, so we had to skip it. We were still able to see it from the outside.
We finally made our way to St. Mary’s Church, which I was most excited about. I absolutely love visiting town churches, and it is always one of the first things I do no matter where I am in the world. St.Mary’s was built in the 12th Century, but is most famous for the clock that was installed in the church tower in 1561. The clock is considered by many to be the oldest working church clock in England. For £1.50 you can climb to the top of the church, where you will be able to see the mechanisms of the clock, the 8 church bells in the tower, and breathtaking views of the city and surrounding countryside. Half of the climb is more-or-less up ladders, so I would only recommend the trek to able-bodied people. The four year old did well, but it may have been a bad parenting decision.
So, back to the movie set. We decided to go have a picnic and watch the crazies get all riled up with the prospect of laying eyes on a celebrity. (Okay, my idea.) The most amazing marvel on my visit to Rye was watching all of the semi trucks make their way down through the tiny streets of Rye with the stage decorations and equipment. I have seen parcel trucks and the occasional bus try their hand at England’s miniature roadways, but this was something else. I was in awe. It was neat to see the old time Ford trucks and World War II vehicles sitting around the centre as well. It really added to the nostalgia factor that Rye already protrudes in bucketfuls. (We even spotted a few horse buggies on some side streets carrying miscellaneous old-time farm equipment and hay). Eventually George Clooney himself showed up with his Director hat on, ordering people to do this or that and setting the stage for filming later that evening. I must admit I had a moment of pure joy hearing all the American accents in the most unlikely of places. I wasn’t as impressed as the middle-aged British gals swinging their cameras like wild monkeys, but it was still a new experience to check off the list.
Rye was a great start to my new Travel Thursday, where I will be visiting towns and attractions around England. I would love to hear any tips or places you would like to see me go!