Friday, 13 July 2012

1066 Country Walk Section 4 Winchelsea and Rye

St Leonard's Church

Last week I finally managed to find a small window of opportunity to finish off the section of the 1066 Country Walk that I had had to abandon at the beginning of June on account of the torrential rain.  Given that there was only a three mile stretch left between Winchelsea and Rye I decided that it would be a good opportunity to do a loop and incorporate a section of the Saxon Shore Way
that had equally been spoiled by weather back in 2005, although on that occasion it was heavy snow.
Winchelsea Houses

I parked close to the bus stop where I had previously abandoned the walk and was pleased to see how much sunshine was around over Winchelsea.  With a fairly stiff wind and lots of puffy white clouds around I knew that the conditions may not last long, so I took the opportunity to take a good look around the town/ village (locals argue over the status!).

Strand Gate
As well as the half ruined church (apparently damaged in a French Raid in the 1300s and not fully repaired) the town is very much like a quieter and smaller version of Rye, the tourist honeypot that Winchelsea faces across what would have once been the sea.  I wandered down to the Strand Gate for a look at that entrance and then a looping route to pick up the official path heading off to Mill Hill.  This was once the home of a windmill that became a victim of the 1987 Great Storm.  Only remains of the mill can still be traced after the structure was almost completely destroyed in the storm.  Just along from the remains of the mill is also an old boundary post from Hastings, a reminder of the extent of that Borough before local government reorganisation.

Site of Winchelsea Windmill

The hill itself had a prominence that far outweighed its height.  In Roman times the low lying land was full of seawater, although I suspect that it actually resembled a bit of a salt marsh and was affected greatly by the tides.  Now it is pasture and arable farmland for the most part and the former appearance can only be guessed at.  I suspect that the hill on which I was stood had a modest cliff line.  The path wound around the hill to appear back on the main road that I had crossed only a couple of hundred metres away.  In order to climb the hill, the A259 takes a tortuous route around the foot and via an enormous turn of almost 270 degrees.  I would not like to meet a double decker bus headed towards me on the bend!

Daily Commute

After my brief dalliance with the main road I headed along a country lane towards Winchelsea Station, more than a mile from the place it is meant to serve.  Probably for this reason the station has been downgraded somewhat and now only gets a service of half a dozen trains per day, with lengthy periods between them.  Not a very convenient way of getting to Winchelsea – I guess this is a ‘Parliamentary Service’ put on only to prevent the closure of the station rather than be of any real benefit to the passengers wanting to use it.  The station itself has also been rationalised, with the old station house now a private residence and that platform no longer in use.  Only a concrete open platform remains, although the railway staff have done their best to prettify it by putting some planters with flowers along its length.

Winchelsea Station

I continued along the lane until reaching a junction at the foot of what would have been the old cliff line at the far side of the valley.  The took a right at the wonderfully named Dumb Woman’s Lane – I’d love to know the provenance of that one!  I also had to take evasive action to avoid a large number of cyclists that were coming up behind me – they were also taking advantage of the small amount of good weather being enjoyed that day.

Former Cliff Line

I left the tarmac road as it headed up the hill and continued my course along the foot of the old cliff line.  This turned out to be a most agreeable section of walk – full of bird and butterfly life.  I wasn’t good enough to be able to capture any on film alas.  The constant light and shadow from the clouds scudding across the sky made for constantly different views and in this rather flat landscape the sky looked very big indeed!

Spider Meal
I had a happy moment as I approached a gate for in the opposite direction was an old gentleman, who looked to be on a similar mission to me, with his binoculars ready and camera poised.  We reached the gate simultaneously and shared a moment as we speculated on how coincidental that was when we were probably the only two walkers within a mile radius!

Rye Windmill

A little further on and in between the frustration of trying to photograph Red Admiral butterflies and rabbits running away hell for leather as I approached, I caught sight of a spider eating a hapless looking bee.  It wasn’t a spider in a web though but one cunningly camouflaged on a wild carrot flower.  An amazing sight that I had never seen before!

Swan Family
As I approached Rye I passed by a very unusual water treatment works – in fact it looked surprisingly grand for such a modest sized building.  Sadly it had been made vandal proof which had rather spoiled its good looks.  Above me was worse news though when a very large black cloud came overhead and rather spoiled my picture taking for a few minutes as it became rather dark.  Any notion of taking some pictures in Rye were rather dashed therefore and while I did linger for a short while at Rye Windmill, I decided that I would push on back towards Winchelsea rather than hang around for some more blue sky that might never come.

Looking Back to Rye

This ended my walk along the 1066 Country Walk – I have only the Bexhill and Hastings links to do now for this most agreeable little project.  It really does cover most of the main points of interest in this part of East Sussex, although if I am just a little critical of the route it would be that the Saxon Shore Way and 1066 Country Walk should swap routes between Rye and Winchelsea to make both walks a little more authentic for what they are respectively trying to achieve.

Guarding Camber Castle

Anyhow, I took the Saxon Shore Way route out of Rye and headed through some very large sheep fields.  For most of the way to Camber Castle my ears were full of the sound of bleating sheep, with the call of the lapwings that live in these parts accompanying them every so often.  It was a most peaceful evening besides that and despite the pretty good weather there were very few people about.  Before I got to Camber Castle I also had an encounter with a swan family that were getting pestered by some black headed seagulls.  I gave them a wide berth as they didn’t look too good tempered!
Royal Military Canal

By the time I reached Camber Castle, the large black cloud above me had dissipated and the castle was periodically lit up once again.  Camber Castle was one of Henry VIII’s Device Forts, built to a similar design to others at Deal, Walmer, Southsea and Pendennis.  It was originally built to protect the Rye anchorage, but since the retreat of the sea in these parts it now looks rather incongruous.  I was rather bemused to see that it now charges an entrance fee, which seemed a bit much considering that it is a mile from the nearest road and consists of only a ruin.  I hope English Heritage raise enough £3 entrance fees to make opening worthwhile, let alone have any money left over for renovations.  Anyhow, I wandered all round this fairly complete and lonely structure, fascinated by the enormous pits that have appeared in the stonework through 500 years worth of erosion.
Canal Crossing

By now the wind seemed to have whipped up more and the trees were blowing inside out and the clouds racing along as I re-approached Winchelsea.  I decided to walk along the Old Military Canal to the west end of Winchelsea so that I could re-enter the town through the New Gate and take another look at that in the sunlight rather than the driving rain I experienced last time.

New Gate
Walking along the canal was quite an experience.  I initially passed a young family trying their best to have a picnic hunkered down in the long grass.  Every so often a big black cloud looking like it would be full of rain would pass by and the path wasn’t the most pleasant to follow as it was quite overgrown.  I was glad to regain the road back through the New Gate and was pleasantly surprised when the sun reappeared properly for my triumphant entrance back into Winchelsea.

Wickham Manor View
On the way back into Winchelsea I saw many of the same sights that I had on the last stretch, but with the added bonus of seeing them in sunshine!  I did get a better look this time though of the house called Greyfriars, a large house built on the site of a former priory that was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Reformation.  Not much of the original priory is left for much of the stone was hauled away to build Camber Castle.  Priorities eh?  Sadly the glimpse of the house, which looks a rather grand affair, is all too fleeting and as you get closer to the house it is mostly obscured by trees.
Road into Winchelsea

I soon got back to Winchelsea to conclude my evening walk & a rather more pleasant walk it was too than trying to fight through the rain as was my prospect last time here!  The walk I followed would make for an excellent family walk, with plenty to see and learn about on the way.  I must admit to being a huge fan of this little corner of Sussex.  Sadly there is only one long distance walk I haven’t tried around here, so my excuses for coming will be soon run out…

Back to St Leonard's Church


  1. Sounds a lovely walk. I've done parts of that walk but not all of it and although I've been to Winchelsea station, never the town itself and it sounds like I've missed out. Regarding the train service at Winchelsea it is actually better than it was! It used to be hourly but in 2005 Southern cut it to just a few trains very early in the morning and late at night but nothing in the day time. They have since restored the service to a once every two hours service which whilst not great is much better than it was before that.

    1. Thanks Jon, Winchelsea is definitely worth a wander round. I think it is a shame that it gets overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbour. The station is still not very convenient though - the bus is a better bet!