A hotchpotch of crooked cottages, half-timbered houses and with an inn that once served one of the most notorious and dangerous smuggling gangs in the country, Rye’s Mermaid Street is one of the prettiest and most photographed in Britain.

But it’s not just this picture-perfect cobbled lane that oozes so much charm and history that it makes a visit to the Cinq port more akin to time travelling. Rye is, quite simply, jaw-droppingly gorgeous and has literary, culinary and cultural connections galore to add to its allure.

From a bustling trading hub in the Middle Ages to one of the most important ports in the country – this was once a command centre against a potential invasion by Napoleon, after all ¬ Rye is now a magnet for tourists and locals who can’t get enough of the unique blend of hip and history that blankets this seaside town.

Great British Life: Elizabeth 1 loved her three-day visit to much she gave the town a royal title.Elizabeth 1 loved her three-day visit to much she gave the town a royal title. (Image: Getty)

Aside from its smuggling and maritime ancestry, Rye has an array of independent shop, cosy cafes, fine dining restaurants and stylish hotels. There’s a castle and golden beaches at Camber Sands are only a ten-minute drive away. It’s no wonder that everyone from Queen Elizabeth 1 to Henry James, HG Wells and Rudyard Kipling visited here. In fact, it was so appealing to the Portrait of A Lady author that he bought Lamb House here after falling in love with its walled garden. After his death EF Benson bought the Georgian Manor and made Rye the fictional Tilling setting for his popular Mapp and Lucia books.

Mermaid Street is only 100-or-so yards away from Lamb House. It was originally called Middle Street and it’s believed the name changed after the arrival of the Mermaid Inn. Back then this was the rough end of town. It’s hardly that now.

Built in 1420, the Mermaid Inn – supposedly one of the most haunted in Britain – was the watering hold of the Hawkhurst Gang, the most feared smugglers throughout the south coast in the 18th century, who sat with their loaded pistols in full view at the bar. There is still a warren of their old smuggler tunnels under the inn, while inside there are low-beamed ceilings, snugs, and even a secret passageway for catholic priests to escape through during the Reformation. Nowadays you can have a rum – or two – in the Giant’s Fireplace bar, and sleep (hopefully spook-free) in one of the stylish rooms upstairs from £170 per person per night. 




With a scallop festival every February, seafood was bound to be high on the menu in this town. Tuck into the catch of the day at Webbe’s at the Fish Café, or head to Globe Inn Marsh for mussels smoked mackerel and prawns served with local beer or cider, and a dog in front of a log fire. Arguably the best chippie in town, Marion’s Fish Bar has queues for cod, skate and scampi to go.

If it’s a stylish brunch you’re after, The Fig on the high street serves an array of fresh, vibrant dishes including avocado smash with coriander chutney and pickled pink onions along with cocktails. There are four boutique rooms upstairs if you have one too many, but there are plenty more boozy boltholes to explore in the town. Have a glass of Sussex – Chapel Down wine to be exact - at the Dragon Bar at The George Inn, a 16th century coaching inn, with Maldon Rock oysters, step back in time at The Mermaid Inn with a dinner at the 2AA Rosette restaurant. On the last Sunday of every month join owner Judith Blincow on a tour of the 600-year-old inn, where the cellars date back to 1156 and the building was rebuilt in 1420 after the inn and the town of Rye were burnt to the ground by French Raiders on June 22, 1377. Stay over at the inn, if you dare, where numerous guests have recounted being awoken by the sound of sword fighting, or seeing ghosts sitting at the end of their bed.


Great British Life: The rusty red roofs of Rye.The rusty red roofs of Rye. (Image: Getty)


Antique and bargain hunters will love exploring the quirky shops around Mermaid Street. First stop has to be Strand Quay Antiques where you’ll find a range of collectables, antique collections and vintage pieces.

There is more vintage memorabilia and ‘modern luxe industrial’ interiors collectables as well as Americana at The Vintage Stockroom – we liked the antique croquet set for £42 and maritime sketches and paintings – which has new stock arriving constantly.

For retro kitchenware and pottery from France the Confit Pot, on Mermaid Street, is the place to go while Alex MacArthur Interiors in the 14th century Austin Friar’s Monastry on Conduit Hill has everything from 1950s Italian sofas, sconces to skeletons.

Simply Rye seems to have it all – clothing, accessories, fragrance, jewellery, gorgeous gift cards and even a collection of socks. If it isn’t here among the coastal themed and stylish collections, then it probably isn’t worth buying!


Great British Life: The headstone of Spike Milligan which is engraved with: 'I told you I was ill' in Gaelic.The headstone of Spike Milligan which is engraved with: 'I told you I was ill' in Gaelic. (Image: Getty)


Rye, with its views over the Romney Marshes, has always been popular with celebrities – even royalty. In 1573 Queen Elizabeth 1 stayed there for three days and loved it so much she gave the town the title of ‘Rye Royale.’

Since then literary greats including gilded author Henry James, and creator of Mapp and Luca series EF Benson have lived here. More recently the godfather of British comedy, Goon Spike Milligan, famously lived in ‘the ugliest house in the world’ – a house called Carpenters Meadow in Dumb Woman’s Lane (yes, really), Udimore. He pretended to hate it so much he put up a new sign for his home: The Blind Architect.

The comedian fell in love with Rye while working on The Goon Show in the 1950s because the producer Peter Eton, lived at Winchelsea and Spike would often go down for the weekend. Spike would often drop in to the nearby Plough at Cock Marling to listen to jazz sessions and often held book signings at Rye’s Martello Books. His ugly house, which he bought for £360,000 in the 80s sold for £1.6 million after he died in 2002 aged 83. He is buried in the churchyard in Winchelsea where his headstone is engraved with his well quoted phrase: 'I told you I was ill’ in Gaelic.

Actor Tom Baker, the most popular Doctor Who - he was the fourth, playing the rold from 1974-1981 – lives in the town and is known to frequent The Mermaid Inn where he has been posted a video of himself reading a book in front of a roaring fire.


Great British Life: Stay in a 450-year-old windmill.Stay in a 450-year-old windmill. (Image: Getty)


Stay in a real-life windmill. The Grade II-listed Rye Windmill is a four-star bed and breakfast perched on the banks of the River Tillingham. It sits on an historic site in Gibbet’s Marsh where a windmill has stood since the 16th century. It became a bakery until one Friday 13th in 1930, the ovens of the bakery overheated and destroyed the wooden structure, leaving just the two story brick base. The mill was reconstructed in 1932 and became a bed and breakfast in 1984.

Book one of the ten bedrooms and have a drink at the honesty bar while gazing at the stunning scenery. For a special occasion, book the Windmill Suite, which has two floors linked by a spiral staircase. With a sleigh bed, standalone bath, and panoramic views of the medieval town, this is total luxury Rye style. From £110 per night. 


Great British Life: Ypres tower, the town castle in Rye. Ypres tower, the town castle in Rye. (Image: Getty)


With a town this steeped in history a visit to Rye Castle is a necessity. The The ancient Ypres Tower stands just over the road from St Mary’s Church. It was built in about the 13th century and once belonged to John de Iprys after who it was named. It later became the town prison and then the town morgue until the turn of the 20th century. Explore the castle before climbing the bell tower at St Mary’s Church, which dates back to the 12th century, and marvelling at Rye’s rust-coloured rooftops. Ypres Tower Admission £5 adults, children under 16 free.