Sussex and a bit of Kent

A rather lengthy post covering nearly a week based in the small village of Brede in Sussex, exploring the heritage, gardens, and coastline of the surrounding area, mostly in Sussex but I also popped over the border into Kent on occasion. Visited many of the National Trust, English Heritage, and similar heritage sites in the area.

Bodiam Castle is probably what most people would imagine a castle to look like, imposing stonework surrounded by a wide moat. Over 700 years old, it has been an atmospheric ruin since the 1600s.

Battle is named after one of the most momentous battles in English history, when in 1066 William the Conquer defeated King Harold, and the Normans took over from the Anglo-Saxons. To commemorate this bloody battle, in which perhaps around seven thousand people died (when a large town at the time was home to around 2,500 people) William instructed the development of an abbey on the battle site, despite the lack of water and steep slope.

This became one of the most important monasteries in the country, with the extensive remains representing a small proportion of what was once here before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

The Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefield site run by English Heritage had certainly changed since I visited as a school boy thirty years, with an excellent visitor centre and audio guide that brings the battle to life, and impressively detailed wooden sculptures around the battlefield.

Around the abbey a small town developed, which has an attractive high street, and the interesting Battle Museum and Almonry Gardens, home to the perhaps oldest guy (for Guy Fawkes night) in the world, some two hundred years ago and a clear forerunner of V for Vendetta.

Herstmonceux Science Centre is the ideal place to take children, filled with hands on informative activities. It’s the perfect use for what was the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Herstmonceux, the largest in the UK, at one point home to half the astronomers in the country. It opened fully in 1958 and closed in 1990 after unreliable British weather affected its operations and flights to better locations overseas became more feasible.

An historic small town, Rye was a pleasant place to wander around, with a diverse variety of houses, churches, shops, and pubs.

There are many churches but St. Mary in the Castle was the standout.

The Ypres Tower Museum is a castle built in 1249. It’s not huge but is well presented and filled artefacts from the time. The extra tower in the garden was the woman’s prison, quite progressive for the time. The skeleton was a surprise!

Lamb House was once the grandest town house in the town, built in Georgian times and home to Henry James in his later years, and where his last three novels were written. There wasn’t a huge amount inside but the gardens were rather nice.

Rye is famous for it’s quirky pottery.

Rye Castle Museum was worth a quick explore, particularly for anyone who remembers watching Captain Pugwash.

Camber Sands is a rare stretch of sandy beach on this part of the coast (most is shingle or rocky) and has the only sand dunes in East Sussex. Unfortunately it, and the sands at Dymchurch, are highly affected by the tides. Arriving at high tide there was no beach, just sea walls, though this didn’t seem to put people off!

Just over the border into Kent, Dungeness is a strange place. A rather bleak landscape is scattered with houses, some designer, most not, with the backdrop of the nuclear Dungeness power station. It is also home to the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, which operates quarter sized miniature replicas of famous trains such as the Flying Dutchman on narrow gauge tracks.

Bayham Abbey are the remains of a 13th century monastery, free to visit, and looked like they were hosting what would have been an atmospheric jazz concert that evening.

Michelham Priory was another victim of Henry VIIIs reign, being dissolved in 1537 and given to the infamous Thomas Moore as part of a huge package of land. The property was remodelled over centuries to the current sizeable house, used as accommodation for Canadian troops during WW2 and county headquarters for the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Since 1959 it has been managed by the Sussex Archeological Society.

The site is on an island enclosed by England’s longest medieval water filled moat, filled with attractive gardens and sculptures.

Winchelsea was rather pleasant, home to some attractive old buildings and the sizeable St. Thomas’ Church. This had unusual medieval tombs, a huge organ, and what appeared to be half a church as the nave was never built, they probably ran out of money to do so. As it’s name suggests Winchelsea once was by the sea, until the River Rother started to silt up after an earthquake in the channel raised up the seabed. Also random fact that Winchelsea is the smallest town in England, subject to some dispute of course.

Winchelsea beach was my sort of beach, epic, windswept, photogenic and mostly devoid of people.

Just over the border in Kent, Smallhythe Place is a charming if very wonky early 16th century cottage once home to the Victorian actress Ellen Terry. The house is filled with memorabilia from her extensive career.

The neighbouring late 17th century barn was turned into a theatre in 1929 and is still used for performances today.

Amazingly Smallhythe used to be on the coast, and in the 15th century was home to the third largest shipyard in England and a population of 2,000, before fires and silting changed things.

Tenterden was another pleasant town in Kent, home to more wonderful stained glass in St. Mildred’s Church, dating in parts from, around 1200 though most of it is closer in age to the tower, built in the 1450s-1490s.

The Kent and East Sussex Railway ends in Tenterden, with frequent train services, including meals in Pullman carriages, manned by volunteers.

Tenterden Museum was worth a visit, in particular for the funky 1960s house interior, and the model of Smallhythe as it was in the 15th century.

The final stop on the trip was at Bexhill, home to the famous Art Deco De La Warr Pavilion, and thankfully the odd burst of sunshine and no wind.

Author: jontycrane

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