The sands of time have left Rye high and dry
Walk of the Month: The Sussex shoreline has altered dramatically in the past 500 years. Mark Rowe takes in its ever-changing views
Sunday 01 February 2009
Rye may be one of England's prettiest towns, but its surrounding countryside, which can be viewed from Rye's medieval fortifications, repays a visit too. Elsewhere in Britain, coastal erosion is a source of disquiet, but in this part of east Sussex, nature has taken a different course. Rye was once one of the Cinque Ports, designed to fight off invading forces that might sail up to its walls. But thanks to a process of sea retreat and siltation, Rye, has been left – in a literal sense – high and dry.
The walk begins by the tourist information centre by Strand Quay. Cross at the zebra and bear right, following the wall round as the road turns back in a U-bend over the River Tillingham, past the petrol station, along the A259. After 400 yards, turn left, signposted for Rye Harbour and a nature reserve. As you do, look right and you will see a Martello tower, built to fortify the coast against invasion by Napoleon. Cross the locks over the River Brede and then, just after the road bends left, take the waymarked path through a gate on the right, on to a grassy track, once a railway line. The path is hedged in by brambles but soon opens up to give fine views over the marshes and grazing land to your right, as well as Camber Castle. From this distance, the castle can appear almost amorphous. Rye is now high to your left, with features such as the Ypres Castle (a medieval castle, then a prison, now a town museum) and the tower of St Mary's church clearly visible. Out across the marshes, you can make out faint shingle ridges, remnants of the shifting sands that have altered this landscape so dramatically over the past 500 years.
Go through a metal gate and continue ahead along the green track, with ditches to your right. The land has a spartan, mournful feel, the line of sight interrupted by reedbeds and solitary trees. Up to your right is the small town of Winchelsea. Built at sea level, it was washed away by storms, and rebuilt on higher ground, only for the sea to retreat. Pass through a gate in the fence by the reedbeds and continue ahead to another gate and over a small wooden footbridge. Take the right-hand path here, with the fence on the left and reedbeds on your right. You'll soon pass a bench dedicated "in memory of three doughty women, Joan, Ann and Angela". The path then turns right with the fence still on your left. When you reach a wooden gate, continue ahead on the main grassy track with the fence on your right. Camber Castle comes clearly into view, the village of Camber lies some four miles east. The name is thought to reflect the fact that when the castle was fortified by Henry VIII in 1539, the sea lapped around the castle walls.
Pass through a gate with the fence on your left and through another gate by a willow tree and keep straight ahead to Camber Castle. You can see the wind turbines built on Romney Marsh last summer. To the west, the view is framed by the Brede valley.
From the castle, follow the path half-left to the fence and turn right along the grassy track. At the corner of the field, go straight ahead through a metal gate and follow the path as it bears right back towards Rye. On your left is the River Brede, which is here canalised into the Royal Military Canal.
Continue ahead with the canal on your left, and pass through a gate. Here, bear right to follow the path to another gate, where you reach a stony track that leads back to the locks of the River Brede. Follow the A259 back to Rye.
How to get there
Distance: Four-and-a-half miles.
Time: Two to three hours.
OS Map: Explorer 125.
Mark Rowe travelled to Rye courtesy of the Trainline (thetrainline.com) and stayed at Jeake's House in Rye ( www.jeakeshouse.com), which offers B&B from £45 per person per night.
For more details on walking in and around Rye, go to www.visitsoutheastengland.com
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