A newbie’s view of Rye

Tennis courts still frozen early on a winter morning
Part 2: Neighbours and Strangers

Welcome to the second in our monthly series of articles describing how one couple finds their new life in Rye.

First Christmas.

As seems to be the tradition, we had unpacked just enough to have a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and, hopefully, a restful night’s sleep. Thoroughly exhausted by the tortuous 15-month process of selling a property in London to buy our dream home in Rye, we didn’t have the energy to give much thought to Christmas. It was 10th December.

First surprise.

Over the next few days, a flurry of congratulations/Christmas cards dropped through the letterbox. So what? But… three of them were from our new neighbours. This was not a surprise. It was a SHOCK. These were people we hadn’t even met! OK, some context…

In the seven years that I lived in a block of eight flats in leafy Londinium suburbia, my haul of neighbourly Christmas cards per year was: one.

London is a notoriously tough town. Someone summed it up by saying that the city is so unforgiving even the water is harder than anywhere else. It is not that you won’t ever make close friends in the Metropolis – although it certainly helps to have children and/or a sociable workplace. Just don’t expect more than a nod of recognition from scores of people you see everyday. If that.

Fish out of water.

A favourite table in the Standard
A favourite table in the Standard

Recently, I was in a Rye pub with a friend (another ex-London resident) and a mutual acquaintance joined us, just off the train from ‘town’. He expressed his astonishment that no-one on an early morning train travelling into Waterloo wanted to chat. We just laughed.

“But surely it’s normal to have a bit of banter?” he protested. We laughed more.

“Look mate, they’re the normal ones. You strike up a conversation with a random person on their morning commute and it could turn into something like a scene from ’28 Days Later’.”

Our drinking buddy got the zombie film reference, but not our point. Which begs the question: How are we newbies finding our fellowship feet in Rye?

New kids on the block.

Not knowing a single soul in Rye when we moved here was always going to be part of the adventure. We had to wonder whether it was one of those small places where it takes years, or even decades, before the locals acknowledge “them strangers”. We were quite prepared to be enjoying our own company, exclusively, for some time!

Scallops at Olde Worlde Wines
Scallops at Olde Worlde Wines

We needn’t have worried. Perhaps because we’re treading in so many others’ footsteps, we found ourselves warmly welcomed – in shops, in eateries, and most of all, in the local hostelries, where we have the most relaxed opportunity to sit and chat. I don’t suppose we’ll ever count as “Ryers” (definitions on a postcard, please); but so far it doesn’t seem to matter.

Still strange to the strangers.

Of course, we’re grateful that forwardness, friendliness and hearty hospitality seem to be a common trait in these parts. However, that doesn’t mean we’re blasé about it yet.

Working in London not long after that first Christmas, a colleague asked how me how we were settling in to our new home.

“All good. Mind you, I was walking down the road the other day and a total stranger said ‘Good morning’ to me. I mean, is that even legal?”

It was a jest. Mostly.

Photos: Simon Kershaw

Image Credits: Simon Kershaw .


  1. Not long after I joined a legal practice in Rye a in 1967 as a newly qualified solicitor
    my parents who then lived in an outer London suburb came to visit. As I showed them round Rye they were amazed by the number of people who not only greeted me but did so by name.Plus ca change.
    Ivo Fowle


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