Is TV’s view of us enough?


Like it or not, Rye and its surroundings depend to a great extent on its visitors. So I’m always interested in how others see Rye, and how the area is presented to the Great British Public.

So this week I settled down to watch BBC2’s “A Taste Of Britain” which, as a food programme, perhaps inevitably focussed on scallops and marsh lamb.

Our two annual Rye food festivals focus on scallops and wild boar rather than lamb – but the boar is boringly anti-social and hard to find, let alone film so I guess our salty lambs were the next best bet and one of my visitors was very eager to take some back with her.

However the scenery was not overlooked either and the opening view from the Gun Garden (by the medieval Ypres Tower) showed us the river, the reclaimed marshes (and wind farm) and the distant sea.

Indeed the scallops were cooked outdoors (suspiciously close to the William the Conqueror pub, now offering Greek/Cypriot food) to show off the tidal river and fishing boats in the background.

And, in turn, the sheep popped up near the ruined Tudor Camber Castle with Pett Level in the background, and sparkling local plonk from Chapel Down vineyard (near Smallhythe) also got a plug.

Other shots included Church Square’s ancient houses and a quick reference to The Mermaid Inn and smugglers’ tunnels, while there was a longish section in the dining car of a steam train chugging along Rother’s valley from Tenterden to Bodiam for (wait for it) a quick tour of Bodiam’s 14th century fairytale castle.

Local cider, Biddenden I suspect, also got a mention, along with how Tenterden’s East Sussex and Kent Railway line got to carry the hops to the breweries.

And maybe that was all there was time for in a short “foody” programme – but is that all Rye and its surroundings has to offer?

This area has been Britain’s frontier in the Napoleonic Wars and two World Wars – and it was in the middle of two major aerial battles in the past century, the 1940 Battle of Britain and the 1944 Battle of the Bugs when hundreds of Doodlebugs (an early version of the cruise missile) headed for London over the local coastline.

And it has been a place for many, many artists to visit (some of who stayed) over the years – as well as many literary figures (and a few musical ones) have stopped here too.

It is an antique town – with many, many listed buildings – and it also full of antiques (and I’m not referring to the people!).

Back in the Middle Ages it was one of the country’s biggest ports and in Tudor times the navy harboured here – until the Rother silted up.

But what do you think are Rye’s greatest attraction for the visitor? And does that depend on the age and nationality of the visitor?

Some may say (and have said to me) that it is a nice, quiet weekend retreat from London to “get to know a friend” while others fancy a sail or a round of golf. What do you think?

For visitor information see Visit Rye

Image Credits: Simon Kershaw .

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  1. Dear Simon,

    thank you for your article! You raised the question, what Rye`s greatest attractions for visitors are .

    In my opinion there are three:

    1. Rye offers English and British history in a nutshell. Are you speciffically interested in Tudor, Geogian, Elisabethian, 1066… trade, historic sites, military…farming, fishing, geological history, culture history? You will always discover a starting point for further findings in Rye.

    2. The folks of Rye, the residants, merchants, landlords, employees, clerks, officers…you will rarely find a place where you will feel so welcomed by everyone.

    3. Historical knowledge is important for learning and to develop the future; but a bubbly town life is also essential to feel good. Rye has both. And for those who like it calm: when the majority of our friends from the UK and abroad have left the town in the busses and cars, one can spent a relaxed evening in several recommendable places in Rye. Look at TripAdvisor: top scores all over.

    Greatest attractions? We should be wise and not always run after sensations. Have a deeper look inside. We and our visitors could find satisfaction in our lovely town as it is.

    Michael Bluemel

  2. Michael hits the substantive points, so I will only offer some general impressions. I’m in the States. About a month ago, on my long overdue and too brief first visit to England (not counting a fast plane change at LHR), we escaped London one day for a pilgrimage to Rye. It really was not on my radar when we booked our trip on 1 July, but I happened to notice that my most recent international relative, my great grandfather (who died well before my mother was old enough to contemplate sparkles in her eyes), was born and raised in Rye, before university and emigrating to the US. Some quick googling revealed that his family homes still stood, so it seemed a good excuse to visit and possibly connect with some roots.

    The train ride was pleasantly scenic and Rye was an easy place to get around by foot.

    The town was as charming and textbook England as envisioned by the American mind. Everyone encountered was unequivocally kind.

    We enjoyed the St. Mary’s belfry climb and view (which we reckon would not be allowed as-is in the States). The volunteers there were very kind, patient, and helpful as they explained where I could find my Stonham ancestors’ graves.

    Loved briefly meeting underground celebrity guitar great Boot Kingsman at his guitar shop (and discovering his should’ve been superstars band Straight Eight).

    A jovial pub manager’s friendly assurance that the Rye Cemetery was just up the hill turned into an unexpected long climb up Rye Hill…quite the challenge in the nearly 36-degree afternoon heat. But success in finally finding the final resting places of my great great grandparents (and my great uncles).

    Was also glad to find the homes of my greats, and pleasantly surprised to see that the High Street home was right next to that of Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge (although my remaining people had apparently moved to Watchbell Street by the time the literary couple took up residence next door on High).

    My only regret is not devoting enough time to explore Rye and the area more properly (well, and missing Joan Armatrading by a fortnight). So I hope to get back sooner than later for a stay of days, rather than as a day tripper.

    Yours is a lovely place where it seems you’ve struck a terrific balance of old(e) and current. Although I’m happy to entertain any enlightenments.

  3. Has there ever been a more shallow, cliche-ridden TV programme than this one? The answer is probably ‘yes’, but it didn’t offer the viewer one iota of original thought or observations relevant the area. It was just patronising flim-flam.


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