I love London. Really, I do. However, there’s more to England than its capital and there are many great places that can be reached as an easy day trip from London.
Visiting Rye and Camber Sands by rail from London is super simple. And for the price of one return train ticket, you are rewarded with a postcard-perfect town that is bursting with history and a beach that rivals any in more exotic locations.
Things to do in Rye, East Sussex
Rye is the type of town that sets your imagination on fire. Perched on a hill above the river Rother and two miles from the sea, it has a rich history of smuggling and maritime conflict. A source of inspiration for writers and artists, it was once home to Henry James and Conrad Aitken. Other notable residents include Mapp and Lucia author E.F. Benson, John Ryan who created the Captain Pugwash stories and Spike Milligan.
Before you start exploring Rye, stop by the Rye Tourist Information Centre on Strand Quay, five minutes’ walk from the train station. Helpful staff, maps and lots of other local information.
Wander around Rye’s streets
Rye is straight out of casting central as ‘quaint English town’ with Georgian townhouses and timber-framed Tudor houses lining steep cobbled streets. Starting from the train station, slowly make your way uphill to Mermaid Street, keeping your eye out for the names on some of the buildings – The House with Two Front Doors’, ‘The House Opposite’ and ‘The House with the Seat’.
If you have time, take a break at the Mermaid Inn, which dates from 1156. A stronghold of the infamous 18th Century Hawkhurst gang of smugglers – it’s said that their ghosts haunt the inn – it is laced with secret tunnels.
Your Rye walk will eventually lead you to Landgate, the remaining one of two stone gates built in the 14th Century to (unsuccessfully) defend Rye from French invaders.
Visit St Mary’s Church
The spiritual centre of Rye for more than 900 years, St Mary’s Church has one of the oldest functioning church turret clocks in England. For a small fee, you can climb the tower to see the clock mechanism and the bells. But you also get a panoramic view of Rye and the East Sussex countryside.
The church is open every day from 9.15 am – 5.15 pm (4.15 pm in winter).
Go shopping in Rye
Now I’m not an enthusiastic shopper, but even I was drawn to Rye’s shops. In this age of globalisation and homogeneity, it’s a delight to wander around small independent stores.
Strand Quay is stuffed with antique shops, up-cycled furniture shops and vintage stores. Art galleries displaying work by local artists are a testament to the town’s thriving art scene.
Now that you have explored Rye, it’s time to make your way to Camber Sands.
Getting from Rye to Camber Sands
If you don’t have a car, you have three options for travelling between Rye and Camber Sands: cycle, walk or take a local bus. Following directions provided by Rye’s Tourist Information Office, I walked to Camber Sands and took the bus back to Rye
Walking from Rye to Camber Sands
Pick up National Cycle Network Route 2 from the centre of Rye, which will take you all the way to Camber Sands. It’s a three-mile walk and should take you around an hour.
It’s not the most picturesque walk I’ve ever taken but is nice enough with views of Northpoint Water and Rye Bay and lots of curious sheep.
Taking the bus from Camber Sands to Rye
Bus 102 will bring you to Rye from Camber Sands in 20 minutes. A one-way ticket will set you back £3.40 (2019 price). Buses run every 30 minutes.
What to do at Camber Sands
Camber Sands looks like it shouldn’t belong in Southern England. Boasting seven miles of unspoilt, golden beach and rolling fine sand dunes, it has been the setting for many films, including that British ‘classic’ Carry On Camel.
The sandiest, and therefore most popular, section of the beach is the western end, nearest to Rye. As you walk east along the beach it transitions into shingle.
What you do at Camber Sands is up to you. Stroll along its length, relax in the sun, build sandcastles, paddle in streams created at low tide. If you are feeling more adventurous, Camber Sands is one of the best places to learn how to kitesurf.
Tips for visiting Camber Sands
- Camber Sands can be very windy
There’s a very good reason why Camber Sands is a centre for kitesurfing. Even on a glorious day, it can be windy. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Check out the tide times
Buy a tide table or check Magic Seaweed for daily tide times to plan your day.
I visited at low tide and it was close on a mile to the water’s edge. However, this creates a wonderful open space laced with gently rippling pools and streams and perfect conditions for seashell collecting. But you don’t want to be caught unawares when the tide comes in, which it does at pace!
- Be aware of the dangers of the sea
Watch out for sandbanks under the water, resulting in sudden increases in water depth. Although there is a beach patrol on the beach, there are no lifeguards.
How to get to Rye from London by train
The journey time from London St Pancras International to Rye is just over one hour. Change trains at Ashford International. For timetables and ticket prices, check National Rail.