Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sussex Coast Walk Day 14 Rye - Camber

I only had time for a short outing today as the weather dictated that I would need to go on a Saturday rather than the Sunday I normally venture out.  However, I made the most of a sunny day and headed over to finally finish the last little section of the Sussex coast leftover from last month.  Having only a short time available didn’t mean that my walk was any less interesting, in fact quite the opposite as I had two walks for the price of one!  With such a short stretch of coast remaining I had decided to explore a long forgotten railway on the return leg and this will be described as a separate walk later.

I parked up in Rye near to the windmill and availed myself of the excellent Kettle o’Fish fish and chip shop for a spot of lunch before setting out (this has long been a favourite of mine).  As soon as I had got my walking boots on and set off I heard the unmistakable sound of a steam engine whistle.  I turned to see a Black Five about to cross the railway bridge over the River Tillingham and cursed my luck as I fumbled for my camera.  I just about managed to get a picture but was far from perfect!
River Rother

Before setting off for Camber I wanted to take the opportunity for a good look around Rye, since I have failed to really do the place justice on my previous visits as it has generally been at the end of the day when all I have wanted to do is head home.  Rye on a sunny winter’s day is an enjoyable place to explore – less so in summer when it is choked with crowds.
Heading Towards the Coast

I headed up the cobbled Mermaid Street, which hosts one of Sussex’s most celebrated watering holes, The Mermaid.  This old place was once the haunt of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers, who weren’t necessarily the romantic notion of smugglers you might expect, but a gang of thugs who weren’t shy about using violence when it suited them (see for their story).  Even over 250 years later, the air of smuggling days pervades the whole town giving it quite an atmosphere that even 21st century gentrification hasn’t entirely been able to quell.
Looking Back at Rye

At the top of Mermaid Street I turned left and headed down to the main shopping street which even on a quiet Saturday seemed to have plenty of activity.  There are so many great shops in Rye, of the kind that you don’t see elsewhere very much including loose sweet shops, a vinyl record shop, proper butchers and all manner of other independently owned places that could only really be sustained in a tourist trap like this.  I wandered along the street, resisting the temptation to dive into any of the shops and headed down towards Landgate, the fortified entrance to the town centre and a relic of the time when the town was encircled by a wall.
Old Hulk

Before I continued on my way I also took the opportunity to look out from the viewpoint just above the Landgate.  The view across Romney Marsh is a very surreal landscape compared with the rest of Sussex and has now changed considerably with the fairly recent addition of the windfarm near Camber.  I could see my route almost mapped out in front of me as my eye followed the route of the River Rother below me.
Rother Reflections

I negotiated the A259 and headed across the River Rother, passing a very busy stall by the water’s edge selling Rye Bay Scallops.  These were obviously in season as the town had advertised a special week devoted to this delicacy.  The stall was doing a fairly brisk trade, although couldn’t count on me being a customer – never understood the appeal of shellfish personally. 
Harbour Mouth

On the other side of the river I took the riverbank path rather than the more direct one across the fields.  What followed was a muddy riverbank walk for a mile or so, with little immediate interest.  The view of Rye receded into the distance, replaced by rather more gritty scenes of rotting boats on the river and a waste oil refinery on the opposite shore.  To my left was a reminder of the need to protect this coast in World War II, with a very prominent pillbox keeping guard over the marshy surroundings.  Eventually after a slippery mile or so I was pleased to reach Halfway House, a large house that would once have been a landmark for visitors on the adjacent railway line that once passed by.  I turned away from the riverbank here and followed the road to the Harbour Master’s building on Rye Harbour, which strangely seems to be on the opposite side of the river to the settlement of RyeHarbour that surely would have provided better access?
Camber Sands

As I reached the road I noticed that embedded in the concrete were rails from the erstwhile tramway – more about that in the next article.  I walked along the levee above the road to avoid the cars running backwards and forwards to the launching ramp.  When I got to the launching area, I got a strong suspicion that many of the cars parked up were actually dog walker’s cars rather than boating folk, as there was very little maritime activity.  I passed by the old station and left the old railway line, preferring instead to head straight for the coast down the long straight cut that now forms the mouth of the River Rother.  My side of the river was very quiet (in fact I was the only walker), while the other side was thronged with activity probably as a result of the easier access.  It was not just people either, I could hear the thunder of some very large vehicles.  As I looked over in the distance the reason for the rumble became clear when I saw a convoy of some pretty huge looking trucks lumbering across the shingle.  I guessed that they were probably engaged in the huge task of moving the beach around to make sure that it isn’t too badly scoured by the winter storms.
Ripple Effect

A little way ahead of me the beach began and I was finally at the coast proper after walking nearly two miles from Rye.  For a change the beach wasn’t shingle, like so much of the Sussex Coast, but a huge expanse of sand, with dunes rolled up at the back of the beach.  Of all the beaches in Sussex, probably only the beach at West Wittering even comes close to this one.  The downside if you are a bather is that at low tide, it is a very long way from facilities to sea!  As the tide was out when I arrived I got to see this first hand with the sea somewhere out in the distance.  The shore end of the beach consisted of some very loose sand, so I decided to head towards the water’s edge so that I could have some more solid ground under my feet, courtesy of wet sand.

While the beach couldn’t be said to be busy compared to a summer’s day, there was plenty of activity mostly in the shape of dog walkers, but far off in the distance I could also see a couple of horse riders taking advantage of the all weather surface for exercising their steeds.  As I reached the water’s edge, I suddenly became aware that the tide was coming in.  On such a flat beach, it was quite interesting to see how quickly the water came in and I soon got an appreciation of why people get into difficulties at other seaside locations.  Where longshore drift had created slight slopes in the beach, it was quite interesting to see how the sea created little peninsulas that then eventually got swamped.  At one point when I investigated some flotsam that was being washed in, I was soon paddling through the water as it engulfed the spit of sand I was standing on.
Closed Up Facilities

After half a mile or so of this type of walking I decided to head towards the settlement of Camber.  It’s not much of a place really, mostly given over to holiday activities and accommodation at the cheaper end of the market, such as caravan parks.  Mindful that it would be dark fairly soon, I had a quick look around at this last outpost of Sussex before the border with Kent and concluded that it was probably far more interesting to visit in the summer.  For now, the cafĂ© that I went for a cup of tea at looked like it was running only a skeleton service (and didn’t look all that good either) so I opted to give it a miss.  The official end of the Sussex coast at the eastern end is by the coastguard cottages at the edge of town, beyond the holiday camps and caravan parks.  I concluded that I had seen enough at this point and decided instead to head back to Rye along the old tramway path.  This enabled me to complete a circular route, although it would also be perfectly possible to return to Rye via the 100 bus that runs frequently from Camber.
End of the Route

Although only a short trip along the coast to the end for completeness, this was nevertheless a very enjoyable walk, perhaps more so on a mild winter day when there were few people about.  The highlight of the walk is undoubtedly Rye, although Camber Sands were a superb finishing point (as long as you forget about the settlement of Camber!).  Almost two years after I started my journey along this coast, it felt good to be done!  Now for different challenges….

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