I didn’t grow up in Kent, but as a large part of my family lives ‘down south’ I’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the years, visiting historic towns such as Canterbury and Hastings, building sandcastles on the beach at Westgate and deer-spotting at Knole Park. Of all the places I’ve seen in this corner of the UK, the picturesque town of Rye has always stuck in my mind – and not just because twelve year old me was partial to a quarter of sherbet lemons from the old-fashioned sweet shop. With sunny weather on the cards for the bank holiday weekend, a trip to the coast was in order. Destination: Rye, with a beach-fix in the form of Camber Sands.
We were somewhat inept at navigating the labyrinth that is St. Pancras International, but fortunately caught the high-speed train to Ashford International with moments to spare. (Southeastern’s fleet of Javelin trains, which hit speeds of 140mph, is basically England’s answer to the TGV.) From there, it was all aboard a local train to Brighton, with Rye just a few stops into the journey. We were mightily grateful that Southern were operating as normal, given their service is questionable at best and often up the spout.
If you’re looking for a slice of quintessential England, look no further. Rye has it all: winding, cobbled lanes, multi-coloured bunting flapping in the breeze and street upon street of characterful buildings. Rye’s High Street is peppered with tea rooms and gift shops, alongside the usual high street chains (including a Waterstones disguised as The Rye Bookshop). Beyond the main street, there’s a warren of cobbled streets, housing half-timbered houses with leaded windows and quaint little cottages covered in climbing ivy.
We were happy to simply amble around and go as the fancy took us: up towards Church Square, along Watchbell Street, down Traders Passage. Lanterns hung above front doors; flowerpots spilled over with the last of the summer blooms.
Our meandering took us up Mermaid Street, home to a number of amusingly-named houses, including The House With Two Front Doors, House With The Seat and The House Opposite. Rye’s charming streets look like they’ve come straight out of a period drama: delightfully higgledy-piggledy and cloaked in history.
Once upon a time, Rye was a citadel which played an important part in the defence of the southern coast as part of the Cinque Ports confederation. When the river and harbour silted up and larger ships turned to other ports for trade, smugglers moved in, giving Rye a colourful history. Centuries later, Rye is no longer surrounded by open waters, yet still retains all the charm of a typical seaside town.
Content that we’d explored all of Rye’s nooks and crannies, we tootled off to Camber Sands. It’s a four mile (or so) walk from Rye, through farmland and fields of sheep. The hedgerows were bursting with plump, juicy blackberries, which I couldn’t resist munching on as we walked. An hour or so later, we were on the fringes of Camber approaching Camber Beach Car Park, the starting point for my family’s brisk walk along the beach on Boxing Day last year.
Camber Sands is remarkably unspoilt, perhaps because it just doesn’t attract anywhere near the number of visitors as its coastal neighbour, Brighton. At high tide, a ribbon of golden sand hugs the dunes; come low tide, there’s a vast expanse of wet sand, ideal for aspiring sandcastle builders. (We weren’t armed with a bucket and spade, nor did we visit during low tide, so we couldn’t put our skills to the test on this occasion.)
Instead of paying a visit to the Kit Kat Café, a long-standing tradition in my family, we opted to share a portion of fish and chips from Oasis Beach Shop and take it up to the dunes to eat. Clumps of marram grass covered the dunes, which a few kids were whizzing down on sledges and surfboards. We spent the best part of the afternoon atop the dunes, soaking up the sunshine and watching the kites that were being flown overhead.
With the afternoon drawing to a close, we reluctantly packed up our things and began to walk back to Rye. Along the way, we stopped to pick blackberries from the hedgerows and cooking apples from a tree by the path. (Out of curiosity, I weighed the fruit when we got home and discovered we had almost a kilo of blackberries and two kilos of apples. No wonder my bag weighed a ton . . .)
Back in Rye, we popped in The Old Bell for a drink, before catching the train back up to London.
- There are several car parks in Camber, and a number of entrepreneurial locals open up their fields to day-trippers for a small charge. If you don’t have a car, allow about an hour to walk from Rye to Camber along the cycle route, or catch the 711 bus.
- Camber Sands has hit the headlines in recent years, due to swimmers being caught out by the tides. Lifeguards are now stationed along the beach during the summer months, and safety information is displayed at entrances to the beach. More useful information can be found on this website.