As time marches on and we edge ever closer to normality (whatever that may mean now) with the gradual removal of restrictions, it seems a good time to reflect on what it was like at the time of the first lockdown and how it felt.
In Rye, a town which thrives on the regular influx of outside visitors, and which is loved by locals for its independent and creative quirkiness, it was a shock to see its streets so suddenly quiet and lifeless, its vibrant bustle abruptly removed.
I half expected the town to lose some of its appeal, its essence, its heart. With shops and businesses closed – and with that the loss of people, chatter, laughter, life – what would that feel like? And certainly it felt different because those things were missing.
Yet, once you adjusted, it soon became clear to me that Rye’s soul had not been snatched away by the pandemic, rather it was alive and well, and very present.
Heavy with history, alive with stories
For the soul of Rye lies in the very things that remain. It is absorbed into every ancient timber, each weather-worn brick, every Sussex flint cobblestone lining its well-trodden streets that shines after rainfall, or glints in the sunshine. It lies in every crooked, quirky building imbued with the memories of families who once lived there. It is a place heavy with history, but alive with present day stories.
I walked the streets many times during lockdown, feeling its quiet grandeur, taking time to appreciate in more detail its mysterious alleyways, its quaint twittens, its surprising architecture. When you slow down, and have time to notice, you pick up on all the unexpected little details that make a place special, prompt your curiosity and make you smile.
Rye is full of surprising things, sometimes hidden, waiting to be discovered with fresh eyes. It never loses its appeal to me because I’m always finding something new to wonder at. It isn’t a big town but it packs so much into a compact area that you sometimes miss what’s in front of you.
And with empty streets, it gently revealed itself a little more. Without distraction or agenda, Rye sometimes felt more alive to me then, than it did when the streets were filled with people.
Watching the sun set and the water
Listening to birdsong at dusk whilst watching the sunset from the top of Watchbell Street, looking out over the river at Strand Quay when the tide is high, on a crisp, bright day and seeing the sparkle of sunlight on water, like a thousand stars glittering on the surface. All these things can, of course, be appreciated at any time, but there was something about the absence of distraction that heightened the senses and magnified the experience.
I must admit there’s a part of me that selfishly wants to cling on to that, to lose myself in quiet wanderings along silent streets, with nothing but the gulls for company. But I also know that when life fully returns to the town, it will be welcomed and Rye will become alive with a different kind of energy.
Besides, like any thing of beauty, it ought to be shared, and I look forward once again to sharing it with others.
Image Credits: V. Stenzhorn .