... a UK Staycation in Rye, East Sussex
The Norman Conquest of Sicily lasted from 999 to 1139 AD, this was accomplished through a long and bloody warfare and the reign of the Norman King Roger was a long succession of battles. The Norman Kingdom only lasted for 100 years but it left its mark on the island and the monuments that remain are some of the most beautiful in the world. At the end of their reign the Normans left the island endowed with splendid buildings and an exotic culture.
During the conquest of sunny Sicily the Normans were also invading a rainy England.
Last week we had to make the heart breaking decision to cancel our Autumn road trip home to Sicily. It was the second time this year we had cancelled going home, however the first decision was taken out of our hands in March when the UK was put into lockdown. It was a hard decision for us not to travel this month as we were fully packed and ready to go, but rumours started to circulate that Italy may go onto the UK list and vice versa. We already had to change our usual route through France, cancelling our overnight stay in Dijon, after seven French regions went onto Italy's list and so therefore we decided we would drive through Germany and Switzerland with an overnight stay in the Bavarian spa town of Baden Baden. We were all ready to swap Dijon mustard and Burgundy wine for German sausages and huge pints of German beer but then the UK and the Italian region of Liguria, where we take the ferry to Palermo, went onto Switzerland's list and then the governor of Sicily announced that all arrivals from abroad must take a Covid test on arrival in Sicily. There was just too many stumbling blocks and risks and travelling with our dog Daisy we did not want to get stuck at any borders and be put into quarantine.
Therefore we decided to book a mini getaway to celebrate my husbands birthday, somewhere where Daisy could have a good run and dig holes on a sandy beach. This is her favourite thing to do in Sicily, apart from socialising in the local bars. Daisy loves the sand dunes at Camber Sands and so we booked to stay in the nearby medieval town of Rye in East Sussex, also known as 1066 country. This county is famous for one of the most fierce battles in English history, the Battle of Hastings.
The Norman Conquest of England, led by William the Conqueror, was carried out between 1066 and 1071. The conquest saw the death of the English King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings and thereafter the replacement began of the Anglo-Saxons as William redistributed land to his fellow Normans. The Battle of Hastings was fought on the 14th October 1066 between the Norman French army and the English army who were under the Anglo Saxon King on a hilltop seven miles from the coastal town of Hastings and close to the present day town of Battle.
At school in England I learned in history classes about the Norman Conquest and as a little girl with my family we would head down to the south coast for our summer holidays where we would explore the castles, forts and coastline. It is probably for this reason that it was easy for me to learn the history of Norman rule in Sicily. I can remember on one occasion going to Battle and visiting the site of the battlefield where we followed in the footsteps of the Norman and Saxon soldiers. The field has an eerie quietness to it, no birds singing and not even leaves rustling in the trees in the breeze. It was surreal to think that we were standing in the location where such a significant part of English history was changed. The bloody battle lasted for nine hours from dusk to dawn.
But enough of bloody battles, this is what we got up to on our staycation ...
Leaving London behind we set off for the sea and wooded hills of East Sussex down towards the south coast which is set deep in history, boasting castles and forts, marshes, headlands and dramatic shorelines.
Passing fields full of pumpkins we headed first for one of Daisy's favourite places in England, Camber Sands.
Camber Sands is a beautiful long sandy beach in the village of Camber and has the only sand dune system in East Sussex. The dunes were used for military exercises in the Second World War as they resembled those seen in parts of Normandy in France. In the summer months the beach is very crowded and due to its expanse the beach is popular for kitesurfing and kite buggying. It was once very popular for its holiday parks but now it has seen a turnaround with trendy beachside houses and Air B&B's decorated with coastal and nautical themes. The dunes have been used in several films including 'Carry On Follow That Camel' when they were used to represent the Sahara desert. I just adore Carry On films.
Dogs are only allowed on the beach between October to April and Daisy just loves to bound up and down the dunes digging holes. She prefers not to dip her paws in the sea though, I think the Autumn temperatures of the English Channel does not match those she is used to in Giardini Naxos.
We were blessed with great weather and after the beach we headed to another of Daisy's favourite places 'The Owl Pub' in Camber. This lovely coastal pub is super dog friendly and over looks the dunes. They serve delicious food and the ingredients are all locally sourced and you always receive a warm welcome.
A few hours later after a yummy fish and chip lunch we set off for our overnight stay in nearby Rye.
Rye's history can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest when, as a small fishing village, it was almost surrounded by water. The sea retreated and now lies two miles in from the town. Thereafter Rye grew in stature as a trading port. By the 13th century the town became a Cinque Port, part of a historic series of coastal towns in Kent, Sussex and Essex.
Rye's most exciting part of history was in the 18th century when its prosperity depended as much on smuggling as any other trade. Smuggler's hoards were stored in old vaulted cellars and they crept around Rye through secret tunnels and passages.
For over 100 years Rye has been famous for its bohemian lifestyle and art scene which still thrives today and with only 5000 inhabitants it retains a village like atmosphere.
On arrival in Rye we parked our car and headed for our hotel 'The Hope Anchor' which is set on a hill overlooking the thatched roofs of Rye and Rye Harbour. To reach our hotel we made our way up the historic Mermaid Street.
Much of the roads and lanes in Rye are made from cobbled stones. Mermaid Street has been named as one of the prettiest streets in the UK with typical Tudor style architecture. Throughout Rye you will notice ornate front doors with curious door knobs and door knockers and if you love calligraphy and lettering then the house signs will be a feast for your eyes.
The highlight of Mermaid Street is the 'Mermaid Inn'.
The 'Mermaid Inn' is a Grade II listed historical inn and is one of the best known inns in southeast England. It was established in the 12th century and has a long turbulent history. The current building dates from 1420 and has 16th century additions in Tudor style, but cellars built in 1156 still survive. The inn had a strong connection with the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers, who used it in the 1730's and 1740's as one of their strongholds. Rye was a thriving port during this period. Some of the smugglers along with their mistresses and other characters are reported to haunt the inn making it one of the most haunted pubs in the United Kingdom. It was featured in the popular TV series 'Most Haunted'. If you want a real spooky experience then apparently Room 17 is the one to check in to where one ghost supposedly sits in a rocking chair.
After checking into our lovely and welcoming hotel 'The Hope and Anchor', a mid century former inn, we discovered our deluxe room fragranced with delightful handmade lavender soaps. After a quick change we set off to explore Rye.
The town is full of tempting gift shops welcoming pubs and cafes and art galleries. Rye is postcard perfect with half timber houses adorned with flowers and overgrown vines. Wandering around the small streets and cobbled alleyways, as darkness set in for the night it was easy to envisage the smugglers creeping around town with their precious booty. I have always had a fascination with the stories and legends of smugglers since I was a little girl.
One of the most notable buildings in the town is the 'Land Gate' which was built in 1329 and is the last of two gates that were built to protect Rye from invading forces.
After our little jaunt around the town it was time for a well deserved birthday drink. Most pubs are dog friendly so we chose 'The Olde Bell' also known as 'Ye Olde Bell Inn'. This is another Grade II historical listed building with smuggling history that is connected by a secret tunnel with the nearby Mermaid Inn. It once boasted a revolving cupboard for a quick getaway. By this time Daisy was very tired from all her digging and she settled down for a nap.
After a glass of wine or two or three, we set off back to our hotel, but not before stopping for a takeaway bag of typical chunky seaside chips from 'Marino's Fish Restaurant' to eat on our way home and then we got lost.
After finding our way we decided to have a cheeky night cap in the hotel bar, before it closed at 10pm due to Covid restrictions, we then headed up to our room and our comfortable bed to sleep aided by the aroma of lavender.
Breakfast the next morning was delivered to our room due to social distancing, in the form of a hamper and we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in bed of warmed croissants, warm bread rolls with jam and cheese and ham, locally made yogurt and a carafe of fresh orange juice and coffee.
After breakfast we took a short drive to the seaside town of Hastings for a walk along the promenade. Here you can find an aquarium, a fishermen's museum, a smugglers adventure experience and there is a cable car that sweeps you up some cliffs to Hastings Castle. The beach at Hastings consists of pebbles.
After our seaside walk we headed back to Camber Sands so that Daisy could have another run on the beach and the sand dunes which then, of course, gave us the perfect excuse to visit 'The Owl Pub' once more and this time I ordered a delicious bowl of squid seasoned with five peppers, certainly a taste bud explosion.
At the end of another delicious lunch we went back to our car ready to return to London but not before, yes you guessed it, Daisy dragged us for one more adventure on the sand dunes.
We headed home to London with a very sleepy Daisy.
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I would highly recommend an Autumn/Winter staycation in Rye and the East Sussex area.
Camber Sands is less crowded at this time of year and dogs are allowed on site.
You will enjoy fine hospitality in the welcoming pubs and devour delicious pub grub.
It is not Sicily but this postcard perfect town definitely filled that hole in our heart.
A BIG thank you to the staff at The Hope Anchor Hotel for looking after us.
The Hope Anchor Hotel https://www.thehopeanchor.co.uk/
The Owl Camber http://theowlcamber.co.uk/
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If you enjoyed this Blog post then you might enjoy these English inspired ones from my Blog archive ↓
Locked Down in London https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/03/locked-down-in-london.html
Lockdown in London ... a day at Painshill Park https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/07/lockdown-in-london-afternoon-at.html
Eastern Sicily ... The Legacy of Invading Powers https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2018/03/eastern-sicily-legacy-of-invading-powers.html
Mount Etna & The Legend of King Arthur https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2019/01/mount-etna-legend-of-king-arthur.html
Joan of England, Queen of Sicily https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/01/joan-of-england-queen-of-sicily.html
a NEW Bone Chilling Blog post is coming this Halloween ...Watch this Space
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