Sunday, June 04, 2000

Walk 13 -- Winchelsea Beach to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, including Camber Castle

Ages: Colin was 58 years and 27 days. Rosemary was 55 years and 154 days.
Weather: Sunny with a light breeze. Beautiful!
Location: From Winchelsea Beach to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
Distance: 1 mile.
Total distance: 94½ miles.
Terrain: A narrow sea wall next to the shingle of the beach.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None, but later that evening we visited ‘The Queen’s Head’ at nearby Icklesham where we drank ‘HSB’, ‘Exmoor Gold’, ‘Rother Valley Level Best’ and ‘Cuddles’ with our evening meal. (I drew the short straw and had to drive us back to the campsite!)
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.2 at Camber Castle, one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortifications which he did have built on the coast but now it is a mile inland!—–but it was closed!
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were already camping on the outskirts of Hastings. We drove to Winchelsea Beach and parked right next to the sea wall.
At the end, we walked over the fields for a mile to explore Camber Castle, only to find that it was closed. We walked back a more direct route to Winchelsea Beach, then drove to Winchelsea itself to have a look around this very interesting little town. Later on we had a meal in a pub in nearby Icklesham, then I drove us back to our campsite in Hastings.

We were very lucky (as we were yesterday) to find a parking space because the boys’ football tournament which was taking place on the field just there seemed to be going into its second day. We climbed up the steps on to the sea wall and carried on from where we left it yesterday. Almost immediately we came upon an information board—historical style. We read that the field, which was erupting to parents’ cheers and groans as the lads gave their all, was apparently Rye ‘New’ Harbour! The harbour at Rye itself had silted up so much by the end of the sixteenth century that the politicians of the day decided to build a brand new one on this spot at what is now Winchelsea Beach. It took over 60 years to build, due to political incompetence, and cost the taxpayers of the day the equivalent of millions of pounds. When it was eventually opened, with much razzmatazz, it silted up within three months and was abandoned!
So, what’s new in politics?
We carried on eastwards with the sea to our right and fields to our left, but we could see that the land to our left was nearly all shingle. It is reclaimed land, farmed on the silt which has built up over the last three hundred plus years, and the sea is successfully kept out by the wall we were walking on. Even the shingle to our right was being taken over by sea kale, yellow-horned poppies and red valentia, all in brilliant flower. We saw dozens of ‘painted ladies’ butterflies, we have never seen so many in one place!
We left the sea wall at the entrance to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and walked a mile inland to Camber Castle, an isolated ruin in the middle of fields. When it was built, on the orders of Henry VIII, it was a fort on the coast as part of his sea defences against the Spaniards and apparently waves were lapping against the walls! That just shows the extent of the silting up of this area of coast—crops and trees have grown up between the ruin and the sea and it has been left stranded in the middle of farmland.
On our way to it we observed a lot of wildlife, this is a very isolated area. Colin lifted a piece of corrugated iron and there was a beautiful slow-worm basking underneath it! It slithered away very quickly, we didn’t get a chance to pick it up or photograph it. Then we heard a cuckoo, and suddenly there it was flying overhead! Further on we watched a whitethroat in a hedgerow, and then a group of long-tailed tits. We seemed to have all this nature to ourselves, but then we came across a family who had brought a brightly painted ‘stock’ car, it was a mini, out here on a trailer and were letting their children drive it up and down the track. They were doing very well and having lots of harmless fun, but we gave them a wide berth!Our one disappointment today was that the castle was closed! I had especially planned this walk to be at a weekend, putting up with all the crowds in the pubs when we were trying to get an evening meal, because I had read in the ‘English Heritage’ guidebook that Camber Castle is only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (due to its isolated position, I should imagine). But what I had missed was the fact that it is only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in July and August! So we had to content ourselves with walking round it and peeping through the many holes in the walls. It was a typical ‘Ace of Clubs’ shape of these Tudor forts and low to withstand cannon-fire. I don’t think we missed much by not being able to get inside.

That ended Walk No. 13, we shall pick up Walk No. 14 next time at the entrance to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. We took a more direct route back to our car and drove off to have a look round the historical town of Winchelsea. Later we had a meal in Icklesham, then returned to our campsite.

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