Wednesday started as a quiet, do nothing kind of day. By the time we’d had our lunch though we were getting restless, so we decided to go for a cycle ride around Rye Harbour.
This was, sort of, a success… We lost each other when Calv went off ahead and I couldn’t see what way he’d gone! Never mind we found each other eventually and I still did 8 miles (and took the photo above – we spent the ride trying to stay ahead of the black raincloud!)
Before getting back in the car we popped into the bar of the Rye Harbour Holiday Park for a cuppa (coffee for Calv and hot chocolate for me), where we chatted with the bar manager who gave us some local snippets about Winchelsea Beach and Winchelsea itself. Winchelsea is often referred to as the smallest town in England, as it has a school, shop, church, town hall and mayor (although it seems this is purely a ceremonial post).
Armed with this new information we headed for Winchelsea to explore further. The 1st sight we encountered was the towngate at the top of Strand Hill; a steep hill and a narrow gate at the top followed by a sharp bend. As this road seems to be used as a rat-run by quite a number of people (such a shame) it gets quite busy here.
Directly opposite is the look-out, built so people could look out over where the sea used to be. Then, just a short way up the High Street we found the church, St Thomas’s – trust me you can’t miss it! It really is an amazing spectacle for such a small town, and is testament to the importance of the town in previous times. Spike Milligan is buried in the churchyard, his grave engraved (in Gaelic) with the epitaph “I told you I was ill”! (A lady showed us where it was and we, in turn, showed a foreign couple, I think they were Dutch (there are a lot of Dutch people visiting this area) where to find it).
We visited the church, St Thomas the Martyr, which was a bit special I have to say. We then wandered a little more around the town. There are some beautiful buildings, one of which houses the museum, which hasn’t re-opened for the season yet. It opens on Bank Holiday Monday though and we also saw a poster telling us about tours of the ancient wine cellars – I’m waiting to hear if we can join Saturday morning’s tour 🙂 (Update – we’re on it!)
Today, Thursday, we headed towards Tunbridge Wells. We decided, however, not to actually visit the city as we couldn’t see that there was an awful lot of interest located there. So we decided on Bewl Water (just to look at what was there), Scotney Castle and Bayham Old Abbey.
I jumped in the driver seat (which, at the end of the day, prompted Calv to say that I’d given him a rough ride… I pointed out that’s simply what it’s like to be a passenger in the C1..!) and we headed off towards Bewl Water.
We only wanted to see what was available for us to do there another time (eg. walks, cycling, kayaking), but it cost £2 to park which was collected as you entered so we couldn’t just have a look. So we headed straight to Scotney Castle (National Trust), literally 2 mins further up the road.
This place was a revelation! I knew there was a ruined moated castle but I didn’t know about the ‘new’ house built in it’s grounds, and for which the castle was ruined. Some of the old castle’s bricks were actually used in the new building, along with stone quarried from the grounds (now planted with wonderful shrubs and flowers).
The house has been presented as it was lived it by the last occupant, Betty Hussey. Betty died 2 weeks short of her 100th birthday which I initially thought was quite sad, until the guide told us that this was exactly what Betty wanted, as otherwise ‘she would have been old’! She seems to have been quite a character 🙂
Walking down to the old castle we headed through the quarry, now beautifully planted, and on through the idyllic gardens. On the way we also spotted the boathouse (with a boat still in situ!)
The ‘castle’ itself is an enchanting sight, and on stepping inside you can clearly see that it was a proper family residence. There was also a priesthole, from which a priest did once manage to make his escape.
Wandering around the paths surrounding the moat I came across the ice house, a rather impressive structure 🙂
And then the view back up to the new house…
We did also have a spot of lunch in the tea-room before exploring, and then a cuppa after exploring.
Next up was Bayham Old Abbey. We, of course, have English Heritage membership and therefore didn’t have to pay. However, we felt that the charge of £5.80 was rather steep for what was there to see. In addition to the abbey ruins you also had access to 2 of the rooms of the Dower House later built in the grounds. They were, however, both pretty empty and with little of interest to commend them.
We haven’t done too much today, Friday. We visited Hastings again (to get another wash done) and discovered St Mary in the Castle & Pelham Place.
This was originally a church (and you can visit the crypt where there are often exhibitions showing – free to enter). I think you can also normally visit the auditorium (as it’s now a theatre), but they were setting up for a performance when we were there. The shops at the front used to be part of a grand arcade, and there are 3 blue plaques on the crescent of buildings behind. It’s a real shame that more isn’t made of this as it’s real history in the town.
Unfortunately we made the mistake of venturing further into town. It’s not something we would recommend or do again. However, heading back to the Old Town – which is a must visit – we could see all the signs of preparations for the bank holiday weekend festivities of Jack in The Green, which looks like a lot of fun!
We were also thinking of visiting the castle and, knowing that it’s pretty much a complete ruin I assumed it would be cheap, if not free… Having ascended the cliff via the West Cliff Railway, actually older than the East Cliff and ascending through a tunnel, we made our way to the castle entrance to find that it would cost £4.75 each. We decided not to bother, which is a shame (and it might have been the wrong decision, but from what we could see we didn’t think so..) Please let us know if you know different.
We’re now relaxing and looking forward to our cellar tour in Winchelsea in the morning 🙂