The world shutting down due to Covid has, for obvious reasons, somewhat curtailed this summer’s activities. Not a lot has been happening while this pandemic is brought more under control. We finally reached a point (at least for now) where restrictions were lifted enough, and Heather and I felt comfortable enough, that we could tentatively take up with the trip we had planned for Easter, just delayed by several months.
First stop was a return to Rye, the town once on the coast but now stranded inland. The journey there was relatively relaxed; trains tended to be pretty empty and sensibly distanced. It wasn’t until the final short leg that idiots going to the nearby holiday camp decided that crowding and not wearing a mask was acceptable. We were happy to finally arrive in pretty Rye and be away from them.
We headed downhill away from the town centre but were a bit early to be checking in, so ended up looping around Rye in search of somewhere for lunch. We heaved bags up passed the disappointingly closed Ypres Castle until we eventually lucked into the Old Apothecary which did us a perfectly decent lunch.
By the time we’d finished that we could check into our place of shelter for the first night (booking complications meaning we were to move for our second night in Rye). The Old Borough Arms was welcoming enough even if the steep stone steps up to reception were a bit of a challenge—especially when we discovered our room was easily accessible on the ground floor. It wasn’t an overly impressive room, and a window directly onto the street outside is always a little strange, but it was perfectly adequate, and there’s a bit of old town wall in the corridor outside which is nice. We hid in the room until an absolute downpour had passed before heading back out around Rye.
The shops were surprisingly busy, as we’d found out at lunchtime. We did however manage to find space in the corner of The Old Bell, snuggling away from the rain beneath a lovely wisteria tree—even if it did keep on dripping on us. There was a bit of concern over finding dinner though, so we were happy enough to fall into the outside pizza restaurant at Rye Lodge Hotel. We ended up wishing we hadn’t though; it took over an hour for a pizza (!) to arrive, which was greasy and unappetising (we weren’t the only ones—a couple nearby were delivered only one of their two pizzas, and another guy didn’t much like his). When we mentioned all this to the staff (while paying them) they were dismissive and unfriendly. Would certainly not recommend.
What I would recommend is where we found ourselves for the evening, the wonderful Giant’s Fireplace Bar at the Mermaid Inn. Perhaps not as cosy as last time, when winter hounded the door outside, but still a lovely haven from the night—complete with guide dogs in training. And then it was off back down the pretty Mermaid Street to our bed.
The next day, once Heather had breakfast, the Old Borough Arms were kind enough to hold our bags even in these Covid times while we set out on a lovely countryside walk. It would have been more lovely if not for the wind driven rain which soon set in. Undeterred we made our way in a fairly straight line further towards the coast and Rye Harbour, which grew up about 200 years ago when Rye itself was cut off from the sea (the harbour itself is now no longer on the coastline, the sea having retreated further again). The route took us through Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, which stretches out from the route we took along one edge down towards Winchelsea Beach. The only real wildlife we saw though were the large number of sheep much of the route passed through, though there were some (not very exciting) birds near the far end and some geese flew over.
Rye Harbour itself is announced, once one emerges from behind the adjoining industrial estate, by a pretty little church, notable for its memorial to the Mary Stanford lifeboat tragedy. Beyond that a short main street (with closed pub) leads to the harbour area. There’s a car park and holiday village but the most notable sight is the Martello Tower sitting on its hill above the holiday chalets. We’d actually seen another on our way towards the harbour, but that was hidden on private ground. This one we could get to, climbing the hill despite the increasing wind trying to blow us off the top. We got a rainy view of the tower, sitting in a little dip in the hill, before the wind forced us back down and seeking shelter.
The only real place that seemed worth visiting was the one open pub, The William The Conqueror. It was well Covid separated, but a bit poncy in its food offerings. Still, it served us for lunch, and amused me when Google Maps decided to ask if I know William The Conqueror (no, he died several centuries ago).
After the pub we admired the watch tower (there to look out for smuggling) and headed a little way towards the now distant sea, getting as far as an under construction “discovery centre” before heading back away from the windswept flats. The walk back to Rye proper wasn’t as rainy as earlier and the sun had come out by the time we finished passing through the sheep. Having handed off our printed maps to a couple looking to head to Camber Castle we found our familiar corner seat beneath the wisteria in the Old Bell.
There we stayed until it was time to collect the bags and drag them up cobbled Mermaid Street to the Mermaid Inn, and our bed for the night. That bed was impressive—the Mermaid is a higgledy-piggedly collection of rooms through the old building, and ours contained a four poster bed, and (now blocked) secret passage next to its fireplace.
Established in the room (and having established that the strange owl ornament on the roof outside the bathroom window would turn its head in the wind to disconcertingly appear to be staring in), I left Heather to rest while I went for a late afternoon stroll around town. I found a book shop to sell me a locally relevant book—The Turn Of The Screw is a classic Henry James ghost story written in 1898 in Rye. Book in hand I wondered right around through the Landgate and back along past the busy Rye Waterworks (slightly disappointingly busy really, as it meant I couldn’t stop for a drink there).
Back to the hotel we had dinner booked in their restaurant, which at least prevented anxiety from having to find somewhere to eat. Apparently the restaurant holds two AA rosettes, though I didn’t think the food was that overly impressive. We relaxed afterwards in one of the comfortable guest lounges, with company of random but friendly strangers.
Wednesday morning was time to move on. After breakfast we stopped to relax for one more drink in the hotel bar. However, we ended up staying a bit longer than planned as our (one an hour) train got cancelled. So we ended up having lunch before leaving—I also ended up banging my head hard off the low door to the bar, distracted by a dog. Finally though a train took us just along the coast to Hastings.
That all did mean that by the time we reached Hastings we could just check into The White Rock Hotel, and our lovely sea view with Juliet balcony room. Having taken in the view of sea and pier we headed out for a stroll along the shore and up the Old Town. The Old Town was a bit crowded to be honest, a few too many people in close proximity for these worrying times, but the Hastings Arms was surprisingly sparsely populated and as welcoming as we remembered. Still, we were a bit out of sorts and so headed back to the hotel for dinner and to take drinks in our room (the phones had been removed from rooms as part of Covid measures, so there was a fair bit of running down to the bar. It would also have been nice if all the staff had been aware of this!)
While relaxing for the evening Heather went for a quick pre-bed stroll down to the beach. From there she returned with what will only be referred to as the “Headless Goddess”. On its arrival a glass completely shattered, as coke was spilled on the bed. It was quickly returned to whence it came!
morning started out bright and clear as we set out with a plan to head for Hastings Country Park Local Nature Reserve, which is quite a long name for quite a large area. That did mean we had to get up high onto the East Hill, and with the lift up being closed we had to do it the hard way. We dodged the steps and instead headed up the pretty parts of town climbing the hill from Old Town, taking a sort of rambling loop slowly up the hill. We ended up climbing some steps anyway, but eventually made the summit and could sit for a rest, looking over the town below.
On the flat top of East Hill we noted the beacon and the view back down along the coast where we could see our now distant hotel, and the far off land where Eastbourne juts into the sea. We walked along the clifftop, following the coast the other way, with the sea shining beautifully on our right. It’s a bit difficult to see the sea until one gets a bit further along and the paths gave way to spectacular views down and across the next bay. Unfortunately, the paths also become sloped with uninhibited views across drops, which actually makes me a little queasy (it’s a very specific combination of things; heights in general are fine). Heather was kind enough to let us go the other way around, heading away from the sea and looping up the top of the park.
There were still some lovely views to be had, as we made our way around and down into the woods. The trails are fairly well marked, even if it wasn’t clear if some of them were open or not (landslides have been an issue in the area). It was getting well past lunch though, and we’d foolishly not brought provisions, so we started to head back. It was a wise decision, as the weather began to turn, becoming windier and begin to drip rain (which was maybe good news for whatever was on fire in the valley below). We made it back down the steps by the lift and found some refuge from the weather, and some lunch, in the The Crown. The food offering was slightly peculiar, but I actually enjoyed my smoked mackerel on a crumpet.
We headed back to Old Town and managed to get in and out of a few, not too crowded, shops before the promised downpour arrived. We dived into The Albion which was surprisingly spacey and empty. It’s just a shame that once they’d directed us to a table they seemed to forget about us, someone eventually having to be tracked down to take a drinks order. Still, it was dry and we could wait for the rain to pass before making a break for the hotel.
There we sat and watched the weather coming in until it was time for dinner. We’d actually had the foresight to book the previous evening, but things were not to go to plan. Waiting for our turn at reception (just outside the doors, for social distance reasons) at The Old Market a couple of obviously drunk arrived and badly attempted to charm their way past us. Sadly they seemed to have no concept of the sort of personal space which should be maintained under normal circumstances never mind during a global pandemic with a disease spread by people in close proximity. Note: If, after asking you politely to step back, I scream at you to get the fuck away, I’m not threatening though had they not actually backed off I may have taken reasonable recourse to make them, I’m just trying to get through to your dumb little brain which isn’t listening. Sadly it became apparent those girls were going to attempt to eat at that venue, and we really didn’t want to be near them, so with reluctance we abandoned what we’d been looking forward to trying out (no reflection on the venue—I hope to get there next time). Fortunately for us old faithful The Italian Way wasn’t as madly busy as it had been and we could enjoy ourselves there. Still, it meant we wanted nothing afterwards then a quick drink in the hotel bar and nightcaps in the room.
The pier had been calling to us from just across the road since we arrived, and so on Friday morning we headed there to have a look around. There’s a bit more on it than last time, but still nothing to really draw us in. We walked to the end and back and headed for a stroll through Bottle Alley, a favourite of Heather, getting about half way before turning round, kicking a stone along the way.
From there we had a further mooch around shops, notably a gift shop near the hotel where the owner seemed to be selling off the contents of her own flat (an owl found a new home—not surprising with Heather around). We’d made our way through the shops of Old Town, popping in and out, and headed again for a rest in the Hastings Arms’ little courtyard. There we would be witness to a bottle of ketchup exploding over the family near us!
We’d one thing left to do on our Hastings list, one of our favourite activities. It turns out crazy golf may be the perfect socially distanced activity. One can easily wait for the group ahead to move to the next hole, while the group behind waits for you. We were glad we’d only went for a single round though, because by the time we were finishing off the heavens had well and truly opened up to downpour rain. We’re hardy souls though, especially as far as crazy golf is concerned, and we didn’t abandon things but finished that round before rushing for the shelter of the hotel.
One other thing we’d not done yet was have fish and chips, so come Friday night Heather made a fish & chip and beer run to bring such things back to the hotel. Sadly the Blue Dolphin wasn’t up to usual standards but it’s still nice to have fish and chips by the sea. There is a regular Zoom WAY Friday night quiz that we weren’t going to miss; so it’s a good job the hotel has decent wifi, and that was our night sorted.
Saturday was our final day, and it turned out to be honest we just wanted to spend it sitting in the hotel admiring the lovely view through our Juliet balcony doors. It seems the stress of Covid was getting to us. So sit we did, reading and sipping coffee, until time to head back through the (thankfully) calm trains. Once home we didn’t do the usual going out to dinner, we’d still had too much of that, so settled for pizza indoors to recover.