First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Rye Harbour is a strange old place. The ivy-strangled Martello tower and the grim Second World War bunkers tells you that this is a coast that has lain under constant threat of invasion. And the enormous expanse of flint pebbles, spreading inland for more than a mile, betokens the incursions of thousands of tons of shingle, dumped here by the restless sea.
This is moody country on a cold morning. A whistling east wind drove us along the beach. Lesser black-backed gulls sulked on the sandbanks, and redshank foraged fastidiously with jerky steps in the pools of Rye Harbour nature reserve on the inland side of the sea bank.
A pair of human figures patrolled the tideline, probing the beach with long rods as they sucked out lugworms for fishing bait. I set off to find out what they were doing, and sank without warning up to my knees in glutinous mud that I had mistaken for sand. I struggled out, mud-splattered all over. ‘See you found a mud hole!’ grinned a passing man in a van. ‘Lucky you didn’t go in over your head, eh!’
King Henry VIII built Camber Castle as a coastal stronghold to keep the French at bay. Now, five centuries later, the stark grey fortress stands more than a mile inland among wide fields where a thin skin of grass overlies a wilderness of pebbles. We walked a circuit of the eroded bastion walls, then made for a hide on the shores of Castle Water where green-headed shoveller drakes swept the water with heavy spatulate bills. Elegant terns hung over the water on crooked wings, and the big black outline of a marsh harrier ghosted quietly across the reed beds.
Back on the shore we found the gaunt blocky shed from which a crew of Rye Harbour men launched the lifeboat Mary Stanford on a bitter November morning in 1928. She was lost with all hands; 17 men from one tiny village. The lifeboat house has remained locked and unused ever since – a downbeat memorial to bravery and death on an unforgiving shore.
Start: Rye Harbour car park, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7TU (OS ref TQ 942190)
Getting there: Bus 313 (Northiam-Rye Harbour)
Road – Rye Harbour is signed off A259 between Rye and Winchelsea.
Walk (8¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 125): From car park follow sea wall past Lime Kiln Cottage info centre (946186) to river mouth (949181). Right along beach or coast road. In 1 mile pass old lifeboat shed (932172); in another 650m, right inland on path past info board (928168) over 2 crossings (925171 and 921173) for ¾ of a mile to road (917175). Right; just past Castle Farm, fork left (920176) to Camber Castle (922185). Clockwise round castle; on east side, path along fence to wooden gate (924185) leading to bird hide. Return to gate; left through metal gate; field edge south. Left across end of Castle Water to junction (925179); right; in 400m, left through gate no. 9 (923177). On past Camber Cottage (921174); through gate, then left for ½ a mile to shore road (928168). Left to lifeboat house; in 300m, left on gravel track (934174). In 300m, through left-hand of two gates (934176); ahead to junction (931178); right on gravel track for 1 mile to road (939191); right to car park.
Lunch: Inkerman Arms (01797-222464) or William the Conqueror PH (01797-223315), Rye Harbour
Accommodation: Ship Inn, Rye TN31 7DB (01797-222233, theshipinnrye.co.uk) – friendly, fun atmosphere.
Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122