First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The little hilltop town of Rye oozes charm, from its red roofs and cobbled laneways to its ancient timber-framed smuggler’s pub, the Mermaid Inn. Weatherboarded brick houses line the steep streets, their window-frames picked out in black and white, roses and hollyhocks blooming along their walls and round their dimity doors. On a pin-sharp summer’s morning I climbed the tower of St Mary’s Church (steps of stone and brick, treads of wood, wobbly ladders, hold-your-breath squeezes) to gaze over the town, and further on out across the flat green apron of Romney Marsh where East Sussex gives way to Kent. No wonder Henry James came to live and write here. Who wouldn’t be inspired by all that time-suspended, fabulously evocative beauty at their doorstep every day?
Out on the flatlands I went upstream against the seaward-sliding tides of the River Rother. Across the river rose a wooded cliff, the old line of the coast before the marshes were drained in medieval times. Soon I was across the river and up on top of the rampart, walking through fields of fat sheep with greenfinches darting through the hedges. The fortified manor house of Iden Mote has long gone, but the big horseshoe-shaped moat remains alongside the farm among orchards and oast-houses, symbols of the traditional husbandry of this fruitful region.
The church of St Peter and St Paul lay well beyond its parent village of Peasmarsh, a lovely small Norman building set with several strange animal carvings. Carved leopards playfully swallowed their own tails on the chancel arch. Outside in a drain at the south-east corner I discovered the stone likeness of a running beast – a horned stag, or perhaps a hare – tucked into the church foundations by a medieval mason with pagan sympathies.
From Peasmarsh I followed a path through broad open grazing meadows among more flocks of stout white sheep. Overshot willows with bushy crowns lined the drainage channels. Beyond them Rye rode its hilltop, the red-roofed houses rising in a wave to the church on the crest, like some fabled city in a painting, or an augury of what might happen should the sea rise to reclaim the long-drained marshes of this coast and reach that stranded cliff once more.
Start & finish: Tourist Information Centre, Strand Quay, Rye TN31 7AY (Tel 01797-226696)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com) to Rye
Road: M20 to Jct 9/10; A2070, A259
Walk (10 miles, easy/moderate grade, OS Explorer 125):
Leaving Rye Tourist Information Centre (918203), left up Mermaid Street to top; right along West Street past Lamb House to St Mary’s Church. Up Lion Street; right along Market Street; left down East Street; right along East Cliff, bending left to pass through Landgate (912205). Continue down to A268; right to roundabout; left on A259 to cross River Rother. Turn left along right (east) bank for 2¼ miles to Boonshill Bridge (936237). Cross river; follow lane past Cliff Farm, steeply up cliff, on for 600 yards to cross road (926237). Continue along right-hand field edge. At far end, field narrows like bottle neck; through hedge in top right corner; on to far end of next field where yellow arrow points forward through gateway (922237).
To visit Bell Inn, Iden, right through gap in hedge before gateway; diagonally left across field to cross stile in far hedge; over next field to cross stile; right to road; left to Bell Inn (918238). Return same way to gateway.
Through gateway; beside hedge for 400 yards/metres to Playden Lane. Ahead to cross B2082 (918233); on up gravelled lane opposite. In 400 yards, right at fork (914232); on past Iden Park for ⅓ mile to road (910236). Right for 75 yards, then left (fingerpost) into orchard. Bear left down nearest ‘ride’ to pass pylon; follow hedge on right, curving left to reach lane (907238). Right; at following right bend, ahead along gravelled lane to pass Iden Moat .
In front of twin oasts, left (899240); in 50 yards fork right through gateway. In another 50 yards ignore FP pointing right; keep ahead (bridleway arrow) on track through orchard. At far side, right through gate (897237); forward down field edge for 300 yards, then left on gravelled track past Old House Farm; on through Cock Wood to A268 in Peasmarsh (886230). Cross road; right for 50 yards; before Cock Horse Inn, left through gates into caravan field. Follow left-hand hedge; in top left corner cross stile, then stile opposite; diagonally across field to bottom left corner; cross stile; continue to road (885225). Right for 50 yards; left over stile. Keep right up hedge; in 75 yards fork left on path across field, keeping parallel with electric cables. Cross stile in far hedge; cross footbridge and another stile; ahead, following direction of waymark arrow on stile footboard, to reach Peasmarsh church (887218).
From church, left along road for 150 yards; on left bend, right (fingerpost; ‘Clayton Farm’) on gravelled track past Clayton Farm (893216); on for 600 yards to pass derelict building on left (897212). Shortly after, ignore right fork and keep ahead at waymark arrow post with hedge on left, through gate (‘High Weald Landscape Trail’/HWLT waymark) and on. Cross stile and plank footbridge (HWLT); on with hedge on left. Through gateway into open field. Continue, keeping to left of line of willows, towards gate on its own diagonally left ahead; go through (HWLT). Aim for right end of line of trees ahead; continue, soon between watercourses, to Rolvendene Farm (916210). Follow yellow HWLT arrows; bear right to River Tillingham on right. Follow it on tarmac path, to cross B2089 near railway level crossing.
For Rye station, left over crossing and first left.
Continue down lane, passing to left of windmill. Just before river, left through gate to cross railway (please take care!); on to road and Rye Tourist Information Centre.
NB – Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Bell Inn, Iden (see below); Cock Horse, Peasmarsh (01797-230281)
Accommodation: Bell Inn, Iden (01797-280242; www.idenbell.co.uk)
Rye church tower: open daily. 85 steps including steep ladders; some narrow squeezes!
More info: Rye TIC (01797-226696; www.visitrye.co.uk)