In 1968, my late husband and I made our first trip to England, intending for it to be the beginning of our exploration of the world. Having been unable to choose where in the country we wanted to explore, we decided to take a coach tour, see a lot of places, and come back again, assuming that the tour would help us decide where we wanted to explore later in depth. Of course, it didn’t work that way.
We realized that we would want a few days on our own after the tour and we studied guide books to find a place we could reach easily by train from London for a few quiet days. Rye quickly emerged as the obvious choice, and we booked for two days at the Mermaid Inn at the end of our trip. We loved it so much that we decided to return on our next trip.
We came back in 1971 and one day while we were having tea at the old Fletchers Tea Shop, we heard sounds of excitement in Lion Street and saw a procession pass by, led by the Town Crier, the Mayor and Council and other dignitaries, and followed by a group of happy citizens It was the opening of the first Rye Festival of the Arts I don’t remember now what was on the schedule, other than that we attended a concert in the Gun Garden by the Silver Band from a nearby town. Players ranged in age from a boy of eight to a gentleman in his 80s. We were completely captivated and determined that the next time we were in England we would schedule around the festival to be sure to be in Rye for at least part of it.
Gradually we got into a pattern of touring a different part of the UK each year, ending up in Rye in time for a few days at the festival. For us, one of the highlights was usually the Romney Marsh Churches tour which we took several times. We also attended many wonderful concerts and literary events. As fans of EF Benson, we enjoyed the rare occasions when his contributions were featured, and I’m especially happy that this year’s festival paid tribute to his work in many ways.
On September 11, 2011 we arrived in Rye, unaware that while we were driving from Heathrow terrorists had attacked New York City and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and were headed to our hometown, Washington D.C. The staff at the Mermaid had the job of breaking the news to us. Many festival events were adapted to acknowledge the distress being felt by attendees. Although most victims were Americans, there were hundreds of British fatalities too, and the mourning was widespread. We had booked tickets for a ghost walk, and the gentleman leading the tour made an effort to eliminate the violent incidents from his talk in light of what had just happened. Everywhere we went, people were kind and sympathetic.
For five years, my husband’s illness prevented travel, but following his death, I returned, attending the Rye Festival in 2016 and every year since then, with the exception of 2020, when Covid kept us all at home. Each year the festival is more engaging. Although many events were canceled this year in tribute to Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth, the things I attended – a combination of music, literature, humor and religion – were, without exception, excellent.
Rye is blessed with a beautiful setting, a lively community, and the opportunity to host an annual event that has something for everyone’s interests.
The way it has grown over the decades is a tribute to the devotion of the people who work all year to provide two weeks of marvellous opportunities to enjoy, learn and grow.
Image Credits: kt bruce , Kt bruce .