Over the years, Britain’s southeast coast has been the site of numerous invasions and battles, home to powerful religious institutions and smuggling rings, and the setting for well-preened resorts and thriving agricultural communities. This cross-section of history makes it an intriguing place to visit, and this private half-day tour introduces you to the area and its past, as well as taking you through the rolling countryside, attractive villages and handsome buildings of this part of the country. You’ll explore it all in the company of a local expert, who can bring the sights to vivid life.
Your driver-guide will pick you up at your hotel in Rye on the day of your tour and drive you to Battle, about half an hour away. En route, you’ll travel through the hills and forests of the North Downs, past attractive villages and along ancient lanes, which forge their way through tunnels of trees and hedgerows.
Your guide will point out several distinctive oast houses on the way. You only see these conical buildings in the counties of Kent and Sussex, and they often have a white cowl sticking out of the top of the roof. They were traditionally used to dry hops, as part of the beer brewing process. Kent’s landscape and climate made it ideal for growing hops, which were introduced from the continent during the 16th century, along with several key skills such as weaving.
Once you arrive in the small market town of Battle, you’ll visit its abbey, built on the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Following the battle, the Pope ordered William the Conqueror to construct the abbey in penance for the loss of life during the conflict. You’ll explore the rooms in the gatehouse and climb to the rooftop for views of the town and battlefield. You also get a chance to see the 13th-century rib vaulting in the dormitories, and visit the Victorian walled garden and 19th-century thatched icehouse. There’s also time to walk on the battlefield itself or to a viewpoint above it.
Next, you drive back toward Rye through Hastings, a town ruled by tobacco, tea and wine smugglers in the 12th and 13th centuries. As you drive along its Regency-era seafront, you’ll hear how George IV made it a popular seaside resort. From here, you head to nearby Winchelsea, a tranquil town that was moved inland from the coast after a particularly vicious storm in 1287.
You’ll walk about with your guide, visiting the medieval wine cellars, 13th-century fortifications and the old jail. As well as this, you can admire the rows of historic houses that surround the grand church and green dedicated to Saint Thomas (Thomas Becket, who was murdered in nearby Canterbury Cathedral).
Once you’ve had some time to look around, you’ll return to the cobbled lanes and half-timbered houses of medieval Rye for a short guided walk through the town to orientate you and impart some local history.