The Ancient Town of Rye, East Sussex

In Counties, Days Out, East Sussex, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by Janis2 Comments

A Pocket Full of Rye.

If you have never been to Rye, you are missing an historical treat.

Rye is a really pretty town in the South East of the UK and still has its ancient past flowing through its cobbled streets.

Looking down Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Cinque Ports

During the 12th Century Rye became a Cinque Ports Ancient Town. Members of the Cinque Ports were responsible in providing ships and men, to meet the naval and transportation requirements of the English Crown. In return for this, the towns and ports were granted certain privileges and status.

The sign to the Ancient Town of Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The town sign from 1866, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK


In essence, a blind eye was turned to misbehavior and this led to a high level of smuggling through the centuries. Which has all added to Rye’s rich history.

Smuggling was practically abolished during the early 1800’s, but by which time the likes of the Hawkhurst Gang had already left their mark.

They were known to have frequented the Mermaid Inn and Ye Olde Bell Inn, moving their wares along a connecting secret tunnel.

The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

There are tales of the gang sitting around tables with tankards of ale, smoking pipes and loaded flintlock pistols on the tables ready for action.

Ye Old Bell, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Rye Castle

Rye which dates from the Medieval times, sits on what was once a rocky outcrop. Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower, is one of the oldest buildings in Rye built in 1249.

The Ypres Tower, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The castle was originally built to defend the town from the French

When built, it would have overlooked a natural harbour. As time & tide wait for no man the persistent silting reduced this to saltwater marshland. The tower now overlooks this marshland and the River Rother which joins the coast a further 2 miles to the south east.

The view of the River Rother, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

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One of four

In 1329 Edward III required Rye to be fortified further. Four gates were built around the town, only one stands today - ‘Landgate’.

This gate which has a chamber across the top and two towers, also but once had a portcullis and a drawbridge.

The Landgate, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The Landgate plaque, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Strandgate plaque, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK


Wandering through Rye is like stepping back in time, it has that ‘old world charm’ about it. The delightful cobbled lanes and streets, are lined with lovely timber framed curiosity shops, welcoming tea rooms and traditional old pubs with open fireplaces.

View down the mint, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKAdams Stationers, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKThe Apothecary coffee house, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
East Street, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Some of the shopfronts have still retained their old signs and are kept in character with town.

H Horrell Chemist, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKChatter's House Clock, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Ashbee and Son, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The Townhall at Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Within the heart of the town is the Old Grammar School, which was built in 1636 and was still used as a school up until 1908.

The Grammar School, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Quarter Boys

Meandering up towards the 900 year old parish church of St Mary the Virgin, you are greeted with the Quarter Boys clock tower, which strikes on the quarter rather than the hour.

The churchtower of St Mary's the Virgin, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Over the graveyard to the church, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

This is a lovely old church with a cute pink vicarage just adjacent to it. We strolled through the church yard (as I tend to do), and we noticed a little grave stone poking through the roots of a tree.

Hidden headstone, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
St Mary the Virgin Church, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Around Church Square

Historical charm surrounds you in the peaceful Church Square, with Rye castle just a few steps away.

A Victorian letterbox, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKWatchbell Street, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Church Square, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKHucksteps Row, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Lamb House

Branching off down West Street you are greeted with Lamb House which was once the home of Henry James the American novelist.

The plaque to Henry James, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

E.F. Benson, the English novelist who wrote Mapp and Lucia also lived at Lamb House (during 1918 to 1940), which is now owned by The National Trust.

Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The adaption of Mapp and Lucia was filmed prominently in Rye and Lamb House, in the mid 1980s and again in 2014.

From Lamb House to the Church, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

E.F. Benson became the Mayor of Rye in 1934 and dedicated a lookout to the town.

The lookout plaque, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The view from the lookout, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Mermaid Street

You are inquisitively led around the corner into Mermaid Street, these well trodden cobbles that lead you past the haunted smugglers tavern of the Mermaid Inn, could tell many a tale.

The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The top of Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The Mermaid Inn was rebuilt in 1420 and has a very rich interesting past, dating back to 1156, which you may like to read about.

This charming street winds down to the River Brede, all the time you are passing so many eye catching little doors and windows.

With their unusual names, such as ‘The House Opposite’ or ‘The House with the Seat’ and even ‘The House with Two Front Doors’.

The House Oppostie, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Along Mermaid Street (formerly Middle Street), you can still see the Old Hospital and Quakers House, many of the homes along here were rebuilt during the 15th & 16th Century.

Hartshorn House, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The House with Two Doors, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKOak Corner, Rye, East Sussex, England, UKLooking up Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK


From the 12th century and many centuries following, Rye was considered a very significant port on the south coast of England. During the mid 1400’s the harbour could anchor over one hundred ships.

The black buildings, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The severe storms of the late 1700’s, caused further drainage and silting damage and navigation along the River Rother, leading to Rye harbour was becoming more and more difficult. Particularly as local landowners were also reclaiming marshland from the sea.

Black buildings at the quay, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Today the quay is approximately 2 miles from the open sea, and is now only used for smaller boats.

The River Brede, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Along from the quayside on the River Tillingham you can see the Grade II listed building of Rye Windmill.

There have been many guises of this windmill over the years, but a windmill has stood on the same site since 1594.

Rye Heritage Centre, East Sussex, England, UK
The Windmill, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Down by the quayside is the Rye Heritage centre and the Information centre.

Travel tips

By rail

By Public Transport (train) from London, depart from London St Pancras International, change at Ashford International and onto Rye (East Sussex). The Journey time is around 1 hour 17 minutes.

By road

If possible you may want to consider incorporating Rye as part of a Road Trip. The surrounding countryside, towns and villages of East Sussex and Kent are extremely beautiful and quite diverse in places.

Inspired to visit Rye, East Sussex?

Make sure you pop into the Mermaid Inn, and refresh yourselves at the Giants' bar. Does taking a little bit of time travel appeal to you?

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About the Author


Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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  1. Absolutely beautiful pictures. What a place Rye is! Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    1. Author

      Ahh, thank you very much, yes Rye is a beautiful town and it has so much history. I love hearing all the smuggling tales and strolling around the cobbled lanes, you feel like you have stepped back in time.

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