Our wonderful Saturday did not end at Sissinghurst. No, we also had the added thrill of visiting Rye, a trip we had always wanted to make.
There are many many reasons to visit Rye. It has to be one of the most lovely English villages, and it is one with a past that includes centuries of defending England against those evil French, a major smuggling industry, and lots of royal connections. Queen Elizabeth I gave the town the right to use the title “Rye Royal” following a visit in 1573. King Charles I described Rye as “The cheapest sea-towne for the provision of fish for our house.” High praise, indeed. George I, while returning from visiting his continental possessions in 1726, was grounded on Camber Sands and spent the next four days in Rye, being accommodated at Lamb House.
And it is Lamb House that was at the center of our interest in Rye, for it figures prominently in the life and work of one of my favorite authors, E.F. Benson. Yes, Henry James lived there from 1898 to 1916, but we have followed him around in America and know many stories about him and Edith Wharton.
But for truly serious literature, who could beat the splendors of the Mapp and Lucia novels? To be in Lamb House, where Benson lived and wrote – and set his characters – was almost a religious experience. We know it as “Mallards,” the home of Miss Mapp—and subsequently Lucia. The house had a garden room overlooking the street, very important in the novels but unfortunately destroyed by a German bomb in World War II.
Having spent about an hour touring the house and grounds, it seemed that our author did not have to go far to create the drama of a small village where grande dames rule, but we loved it.
What we saw of the remainder of the village included a stop at Simon the Pieman for a cream tea (sigh…), and a look at the Ypres Tower, built in 1249 when Henry III gave permission to strengthen the defense against the frequent raids by the French. And then there was the church, the cemetery, and did I mention the cream tea?
The final part of our visit was pure voyeurism, walking down Mermaid Street and peering into ancient and quaint homes along the way. What delicious wars must still be fought between the owners of these properties, in the eternal struggle for domination and power, no matter how small the kingdom.
As the icing on the cake, so to say, and the bonus part of our wonderful day, we had to opportunity to see the sun set on Dungeness Nature Preserve.
Dungeness is unique. Although a desolate landscape of abandoned wooden huts and expansive gravel pits towered over by a nuclear power station might not sound like the ideal place to enjoy the great outdoors, this land is an ecological and natural treasure. We had never heard of a shingle beach, but now understand that it is formed with pebbles that allow for vegetation to share its unique ecosystem.
It is completely quiet, and its natural magic creeps up on you. What a perfect place to end a day otherwise filled with man-made beauty!