Monday, February 18, 2013
It’s winter in Rye. The streets are dark when I arrive. A black cat runs across the cobblestones, and I fear it is a bad omen. Then a second crosses my path and I start to worry. Looking up, I see white doves sleeping in the stone nooks of the church above the cemetery, and up ahead the mist obscures the narrow streets and timbered houses.
At the end of the road sits the Protector of Watchbell Street. He is not to be trifled with. He may be large and lethargic, but the tomcat serves his post with aplomb. You see, the French may invade at any moment, and he must ring the bell to warn the people of Sussex.
Down the road, the Ypres Tower at Rye Castle serves a similar purpose. Its canons stand ready, with pyramids of spherical ammunition in ample supply.
A few streets away, the ghosts are stirring. The Mermaid Inn, Rye’s famous Tudor-era hotel, is their favorite haunt, but the walls can’t keep their spirits from drifting. They glide up the street and into the churchyard, sifting through the souls among the gravestones.
In the recesses, the long shadows of smugglers can be seen in the lamplight. Sussex has been a favorite with the smuggling set for some time, and contraband thrives when the watchful eye of the law is otherwise detained.
In the morning, the mist breaks and I can see the town more clearly. It is not half so scary in the daylight, even with the tiny passageways leading to dark corridors and the medieval stone walls staring down from above.
The warm winter sun illuminates the facades, revealing a row of brick and timber buildings that harbor centuries of secrets.
And they’re not the only ones. The antique shops contain a plethora of history, with dueling pistols and sleek swords hidden among the glassware and wrought iron.
Up the street, there are pubs and restaurants, shops and cafes, all tucked neatly into cozy old buildings with tiny rooms. I stop at some with my travel companions. We are weary from the journey and seeking respite from the cold.
And we find comfort in ample supply. It comes in pints by the fire at The George, fish and chips on a road called The Mint, and dinner at The Ship Inn by the water. It’s scallop season, too, and we find no shortage of shellfish in town.
Back outside, we explore the cobbled streets, absorbing their history and sighing over their haunted beauty as the chill of the air—or is it a passing ghost?—hurries us on to our friend’s house.
We sit by the fire, comfortable and warm, safe from the centuries outside. And when our weekend in Rye is over, we ride off into the sunset, making our way home to London as the golden orb sinks in the sky, leaving night to take over the town again.