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September, 2021

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Whilst staying in Rye for a few days, we decided to walk to the neighbouring coastal town of Winchelsea, a cinque port, via the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Having got a little lost, we eventually found the path that took us to Winchelsea Beach and from there we turned inland to the town. Unfortunately, the road-side walk was not the most pleasant with heavy traffic thundering past.

Eventually we turned left and headed up Strand Hill into Winchelsea passing through the Strand Gate. Just through it was one of four viewpoints located at strategic places in the town. An engraved board pointed out Dungeness, Camber and Rye in the distance.
The small town is laid out in a grid, and a tourist information board provided details of the sights to look out for. Having taken a photo of the board, our first priority was a pit stop in the New Inn where we enjoyed cider and crisps.

Suitably refreshed, we passed the remains of Blackfriars, said to have been the home of the Dominicans Barn from the mid-1300s, and then “Wesley’s Chapel”: where John Wesley preached in 1789. When he returned the following year, so many people crowded to see him that an outdoor service was held under the shade of an old ash tree which became known as Wesley’s Tree. After it fell in 1927, a sapling was grown from a cutting and planted in the same spot. It is now a huge tree with a sign underneath.

The rather smart Millennium Town Sign stood outside the Parish Church of St Thomas the Martyr. The grounds were large and grassy and not overcrowded with graves and, although we couldn’t find the Commonwealth War Graves said to be in the churchyard, we easily found our target: the grave of Spike Milligan. He was an Irish passport holder and had always joked that he wanted his headstone to include the words “I told you I was ill”. After he died in 2002, he was buried in the churchyard, but the Diocese of Chichester refused to allow his chosen words on his headstone. For two years his grave was marked only by plants and a small statue, until a compromise was reached and the Gaelic translation “Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite” was inscribed.

The church’s closed wooden church door was surprisingly unlocked. The stained-glass windows were amazing with three in the south aisle dedicated to the themes of Land, Air and Fire, and Sea. Although a man putting books out, said they were modern (later found they were dedicated in 1933), he wasn’t very forthcoming.

The town well was next door to a magnificent looking building, the armoury. Whilst I was taking photographs, a couple of BT employees working opposite said they’d also been admiring the building with one remarking ‘it must be well listed, you couldn’t have double glazing fitted’.

Walking around town we noticed that many of the beautiful old houses, which were all immaculate, had what looked like pub cellars. A bit of Googling on return told us there are thirty-three accessible medieval cellars still in existence and that pre-Covid tours are
organised. More information can be found “here.”:

We left Winchelsea via the Pipewell Gate, having looked across the Brede Valley from another of the four viewpoints.

There is also a small Court Hall “Museum”: which was unfortunately closed on our visit.

If you ever visit Winchelsea, which I’d highly recommend, the town’s superb “website”:

Helen Jackson

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