After a couple of hours driving down from leafy Buckinghamshire with two smalls in the car, heading straight for the sand dunes of Camber was a winning decision.
Parking up behind the towering dunes, the kids couldn’t have leapt out of the car any faster, their glee palpable. Even the husband immediately began reliving his youth (spent on the west coast of Ireland), challenging the kids to daredevil sand slides and commando-style manoevres. It took my daughter all of five minutes to go barefoot, filling her pockets with pretty shells and skipping across the seemingly endless miles of soft, wet sand and out towards the waves. Fast forward an hour (with the inevitable wet jeans/sand-in-sock tantrums behind us – my fault – I forgot to bring spares) and we re-grouped, brushed ourselves down and headed to a well-timed and relaxing lunch at The Gallivant – a welcoming, family-friendly restaurant-with-rooms just behind Camber Sands.
Smartly decorated but with a comfortable and homely vibe – my daughter and I were intrigued by the quirky, framed retro swimsuits and hats decorating the walls – The Gallivant offers up a variety of brunch/lunch options including seasonal local produce such as pulled Romney Marsh lamb, Kent blue cheese salad and Dungeness spider crab omelette – the latter of which I can entirely vouch for – it was delicious! A lovely touch was their English aperitifs menu – a wonderful selection of locally made drinks including wines from Kent vineyards Nyetimber and Chapel Down, as well as Anno Gin from a local distillery and a glorious sounding ‘Kent Bellini’ with locally grown Kentish pears. We sat in the airy, light & leafy conservatory (it was February after all!) but you can of course also eat al fresco in the summer months or retreat to one of the cosy and inviting dining areas, come suppertime. Energy restored and keen to explore Rye itself, we set off for the second part of our day – an interiors pilgrimage to see what the town had to offer vistors, by way of authentic, coastal style.
But first the town itself. Goodness me, what a glory. I have visited many times before – in fact I even spent my (fairly civilised) hen weekend here many moons ago, rather fortunately, frequenting the Aveda spa The Rye Retreat in the centre of town, in addition to the inevitable roster of restaurants, pubs, and bars. Anyway, I digress, it’s a beauty, albeit a fortified one. It’s like the quintessentially English version of a French hilltop-town in the South of France, but with a little less heat and a lot more buzz and drama. Tales of smuggling abound (go for a pint in The Mermaid – a hostelry dating from the Middle Ages – to picture the scene) and the town’s historical role in coastal defence is evident, particularly around Ypres Tower at Rye Castle Museum, with its multiple cannons and far-reaching views out across Romney Marsh to the sea. Steep, cobbled streets wind ever upwards to the high street and the picturesque churchyard, lined with a mix of Georgian, Edwardian and Tudor, half-timbered houses along with plenty of weather-beaten, clapboard buildings redolent of fisherman’s huts and quayside warehouses.
The best thing to do is pick up a free town map from almost anywhere – we found ours at The Gallivant – and start exploring. Down by the Strand quayside, charmingly housed in the old waterside warehouses, is a plethora of antiques & vintage stores. My daughter and I lingered for some time in a vintage kitchenalia store – a colour-coded homage to vintage pots, pans, utensils and utility wares through the ages showcasing a rainbow of retro pastels, French-inspired red, white and blue enamelware and, embroidered vintage household linens. In fact, there are myriad antique shops and centres dotted all over the town. Head up Mermaid Street and take a meandering route exploring the streets and inter-connecting lanes both north and south of the High Street. Don’t miss the wonderful Glass Etc. across town on Rope Walk if you’re a lover of mid-century modern colourful, vintage glassware – they have one of the best selections in the country and you’re sure to find that statement piece for your modern, floor-to-ceiling shelving.
Were I not ‘en famille’, I might have whiled away many an hour in the enticing array of antiques & upmarket junk shops. However, I wanted to focus on my mission (and the Telecope Style USP!) to uncover stylish, authentic art, craft or homewares that deliver the coastal vibe and provide an association with Rye and it’s surrounding landscapes.
Answering that brief was Shepherd Hut Studios, a bijou gallery on Lion Street in the centre of the town, showcasing atmospheric modern art prints and homewares in the artist’s signature style. Their winning ‘Coastal Collection’, a range of prints taken from original pen and ink drawings of local landmarks, townscapes and beach views caught my attention immediately. I love the assured style and monochrome detailing against a bold backdrop of block colour. Featured here above are, clockwise from left, Kingsdown beach, Rye town and Rye beach. Rather brilliantly you can go with the studio’s colour choices and purchase your framed print as shown online or select your own top and bottom colours for these ‘Coastal Collection’ prints from a set studio palette of over 60 colours to ensure your picture works in any existing room scheme. The studio is also happy to send out colour samples prior to purchase.
Next stop was Rye Pottery, one of a handful of production potteries still in existence that continue to produce everything by hand using 17th century decorating techniques. Located on Wish Ward down near the quayside, the family-run pottery is world famous for its signature ‘Cottage’ and ‘Candy’ stripes on bowls, jugs and cups – the nautical blue and white being particularly apt for our coastal theme. These are the kind of ceramics that will sit happily in a ‘modern rustic’ room scheme – I like the idea of buying a petite set of striped bowls from which to savour hot chocolate, as on the continent, which isn’t in fact so very far away from Rye.
The multi-level gallery, open to the public and housed in the same building as the working studio spaces, also showcases a number of fabulous ceramic lamp bases with a decidedly mid-century modern vibe, each one expertly hand-decorated with freehand brushwork in deep sea blues and greens. The Soho stripe, Cascade and Black Tracery were the winning lamp base designs for me, all re-worked designs from the 50s and 60s and with a decidedly hand-crafted vibe yet smart enough for chic, modern spaces. Bold, graphic monochrome tiles were another eye-catcher that would work brilliantly in both rural and urban spaces. They offer another way of bringing a bit of artisanal Rye history home if the coastal vibe just isn’t your thing.
Finally, after fresh banana milkshakes and wonderful homemade crêpes at The Apothecary coffee house on the High Street, we headed to the wonderful Rye Art Gallery a few doors down. The light, airy gallery space was created from two – now interlinked – domestic residences on two separate Rye streets, each bequeathed by former artist residents of the town. Despite the quirky, expansive layout, the space retains a ‘friendly, human scale’ very much conducive to viewing the carefully curated selection of contemporary local art, sculpture and ceramics. Amongst artworks for sale, Robert Greenhalf’s striking block prints and paintings of local landscapes and birds caught my eye (main picture and bottom right) – as did the wonderful linoprints by Annie Soudain (top right) with their mesmeric colours and clever use of light and shade. The gallery also has an impressive permanent collection on revolving display, including many works by artists of national and international importance as well as regional favourites. The breadth of artworks available to buy make it an interiors shopping trip must see. The gallery publishes a bi-annual programme of supporting events, exhibitions and courses, often in conjunction with other local art organisations and foundations, so check out the website or ring ahead before you visit.
At this point we headed for home, the kids weary from bracing, fresh air, sensory overload and a sugar rush abating into utter exhaustion. Had we been ‘à deux’ though, we might have booked a room at centrally-located style stalwart and ever-lively The George in Rye , perhaps dining later at The Ship Inn down by the quayside or The Landgate Bistro on Landgate for delicious, locally sourced eats. On which note Rye Bay Scallop Week starts today and runs until the 3rd of March. Rye’s many restaurants will be showcasing a wide variety of inventive and delicious and scallop dishes as well as cookery courses, live demonstrations and tasting events – check out the website for further helpful information about where to go, what to do and where to stay and eat. Some other useful websites for researching what the area has to offer are the Rye Sussex online guide, the Visit Rye Bay website, Visit 1066 Country and the Come To Rye website, the latter of which is in fact an accommodation website for booking a charming, holiday cottage but with a wealth of additional visitor information.
I’d love to hear what you brought back from Rye if you’ve a connection with the place or enjoyed a memorable visit and loved the scenery as much as we did. From my buyers/sourcing perspective my interest has been piqued by the discovery of Romney Tweed and an initiative to create textiles – and very lovely ones indeed – from the sheep of Romney Marsh. I am investigating and will report back soon with my ideas and more interior inspiration!