Main Walk: 21½ km (13.4 miles). Five hours 10 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 11 hours.
Explorer 125. Tenterden, map reference TQ884333, is in Kent, 16 km SW of Ashford. Rye is in East Sussex.
5 out of 10.
The inspiration for this walk came from studying the High Weald Landscape Trail (HWLT). The final section of this long-distance path joins two interesting towns, both members of the historic Confederation of Cinque Ports. The landscape between them is nicely varied, with flat grazing marshland in wide river valleys interspersed with low hills containing steeply-sloping wooded valleys (gills), fields and orchards. Most of the walk follows this well-waymarked published trail, with detours to pubs or places of interest at Wittersham and Peasmarsh.
Before you set off from the picturesque town of Tenterden, which calls itself the “Jewel of the Weald”, it is worth taking a preliminary stroll along the wide tree-lined High Street with its many historic buildings. The first part of the walk proper features an attractive wooded valley on its way to the hamlet of Small Hythe, a major port in medieval times before the River Rother changed its course. Smallhythe Place was the harbourmaster's house; later it became a farmhouse and in the early 20thC was the home of the Victorian actress Ellen Terry. It is now owned by the National Trust and can be visited from March to October; admission (2015) is £7.40.
The route continues across Reading Sewer and climbs onto the Isle of Oxney, an area of high ground which at one time was surrounded by the sea and river channels. A detour off the HWLT through an attractive wood brings you to the village of Wittersham and lunch at the Swan Inn. In the afternoon the route crosses the Rother Levels, where the wide river is popular with anglers. It then climbs gently through pastures and a wood towards Peasmarsh and a possible mid-afternoon break. The walk concludes with a gradual descent past orchards into the open valley of the River Tillingham, one of three rivers flowing towards Rye.
Perched on its sandstone outcrop, Rye was an important port before its rivers silted up and the sea receded, and its cobbled streets are well worth exploring. One of its elegant historic buildings, Lamb House, is owned by the National Trust and can be visited on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons up to 6pm from the end of March to October; admission (2015) is £5.40. The town's Castle Museum in Ypres Tower is open from April to October, but last admission is at 4.30pm so you will probably arrive too late for a visit.
A disadvantage of starting from Tenterden is that you are heading towards the sun for much of the day. You could do the walk in the reverse direction, but the possible lunch pubs are less convenient this way round and there is a reduced bus service from Tenterden in the evening.
You could use local bus services to shorten the walk; see below.
Tenterden Town station (on the heritage Kent & East Sussex Railway) is sadly of no practical value. You need to complete your outward journey by bus, and as the services are at best hourly you need to check the train connections carefully. Two feasible routes are Arriva 12 from Headcorn (Mon–Sat) and Stagecoach 2/2A from Ashford International. Buy a day return to Rye, which is valid to both these stations.
Rye is on the Ashford–Hastings line, which has an hourly service. It is usually quicker to return to London via Ashford. Regular services go from there to Charing Cross and Victoria, or you could pay a small premium and take the High Speed Train to St Pancras.
If driving, consider parking in Rye and taking bus 312 to Tenterden; alight at Lloyd's Green (Wittersham) or Small Hythe if you want to do a shorter walk.
Aim to start the walk no later than 11.30am. On the current timetable you could do this by leaving London at around 09:40, travelling from Charing Cross to Headcorn (for Arriva 12), or St Pancras to Ashford International (for Stagecoach 2).
The suggested lunch stop (after 8 km) is the Swan Inn (01797-270913) in Wittersham, which serves a wide range of good home-cooked food. If you visit Smallhythe Place you could get a light lunch there, but there are no other refreshment stops on or near the walk route until you reach Peasmarsh, much further on.
If you need refreshment in mid-afternoon, the good-value café in Jempson's Peasmarsh superstore (01797-230214) is open until 8pm (Mon–Sat). Stronger fare is available nearby at the Cock Inn (01797-230281).
There are many more options at the end of the walk in Rye, although its enticing tearooms will probably have closed by the time you arrive. Freshly caught fish & chips from the shop on the quay would be a good choice, while for liquid refreshment the town boasts many historic pubs: the Mermaid Inn (01797-223065) in Mermaid Street is the most famous, while the Ypres Castle Inn (01797-223248) has fine views over Romney Marsh from its elevated position next to Gun Gardens, near the church.
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National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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- Main Walk (21½ km)
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- Tenterden to Small Hythe (5 km)
- Small Hythe to Wittersham (3 km)
- Wittersham to Blackwall Bridge (2½ km)
- Detour to Wittersham church (+200m)
- Blackwall Bridge to Flackley Ash (3½ km)
- Flackley Ash to Peasmarsh Church (2 km)
- Route through village
- Route via Jempson's café
- Route via the Cock Inn
- Route bypassing village
- Peasmarsh Church to Rye (4 km)
- Through the town to Rye Station (1½ or ½ km)
- Route via town centre (1½ km)
- Direct route (½ km)
Make your way to the pedestrian lights on the High Street by St Mildred's Church. Head south down the narrow passageway called Bells Lane and continue in this direction for 1 km. At the B2082, turn left onto the driveway to Belcot Manor Farm. Just before the farm, bear right across fields and down into Tilder Gill. Follow the path alongside the stream, then past a lake. Continue across fields, gradually curving round to the right to rejoin the B2082 at Small Hythe. Turn left onto the road and go past Chapel Down Winery and the church to Smallhythe Place.
The walk proper starts from the pedestrian traffic lights on Tenterden's High Street1 at its junction with Bells Lane, opposite St Mildred's church2. However, a preliminary stroll along the attractive High Street (and perhaps down Station Road to the Kent & East Sussex Railway3) is recommended.
The buses from Ashford and Headcorn stop opposite the Town Hall, next to the Lemon Tree restaurant and just before the pedestrian crossing; then opposite The Vine pub, 125m past the lights at the junction with Station Road. The bus from Rye arrives from the other direction and turns round at The Vine.
To start the walk, head S down Bells Lane from the High Street, signposted as the High Weald Landscape Trail4.
Most of the walk route follows this well-waymarked trail; these directions state when you leave and rejoin it.
After starting as a passageway Bells Lane opens out and goes past some charming old cottages. Continue in the same direction for 1 km past allotments, fields and finally a nursery. The path eventually comes out onto the B2082 where you turn left onto the second of two driveways, with a hedge on your left (the one on the left leads into the nursery).
After 300m along the drive, just before a sign for Belcot Manor Farm, go over a step-stile in the fence on the right. Turn half-left on the other side to head SE on a faint grassy path, passing close to a large pond on the left. In 200m go over a stile and bear left to go alongside a small projecting piece of woodland. At the end of the trees go round to the left into another large field and continue near its right-hand edge, with a wooded valley on your right.
At the corner of the field turn right and go down steps into Tilder Gill, an attractive steep-sided wooded valley. Head S and later SE alongside the stream on the woodland path, which soon crosses to the other side of the main stream. You eventually go through a wooden gate to continue in the same direction along the right-hand edge of a grassy area, staying close to the gill.
About 1 km after entering Tilder Gill you come to a lake on your left-hand side and continue alongside it, heading SE. At the end of the lake go down steps and keep ahead, still with the stream on your right. In 100m the path bends right to head S and you continue across several stiles and ditches.
In 400m, with farm buildings and two oast houses off to your right, go through a slightly overgrown area and bear left across the grass ahead. Go through a metal fieldgate to continue on the left-hand side of a tall hedge, heading SW. At the end of the hedge continue in the same direction (with no clear path) over a slight rise.
In 200m go over the right-hand of two footbridges in a hedge to cross a ditch and bear right on a grassy path; this gradually approaches a line of trees on the left which you continue alongside, now heading W. 300m from the footbridge, bear left through a gap in the trees into the corner of a rectangular field.
Go across this small field to a gap in the hedge near the middle of the far side, which leads into the bottom corner of another field. Bear left to go diagonally across this to the top corner. Go over a stile here and follow a fenced path heading W out to the B2082.
Turn left onto the road through the hamlet of Small Hythe5, passing Chapel Down Winery6, then the brick-built church of St John the Baptist7 and Priest's House. After 500m you reach the picturesque Smallhythe Place on your left.
Continue south along the road, crossing Reading Sewer. Where the road turns right, keep ahead on a footpath going across the marshland and then uphill along field edges to Kingsgate Farm. Turn right onto its driveway. Just after passing a house called Coom Bank, turn left into Comb Wood and follow a south-easterly route for about 500m. At the edge of the wood, turn right onto a public footpath and follow this out to the B2082 at Lloyd's Green, Wittersham. Turn left onto the road to reach the Swan Inn at the junction with Swan Street.
Continue S along the road for a further 250m, crossing a wide drainage ditch8. Where the road turns right, keep ahead on a footpath. Go over a metal fieldgate with a built-in wooden stile and continue across the marshland between two reed-filled drainage ditches. You are going to be climbing the low hill ahead, the Isle Of Oxney.
At the end of the ditches go through a fieldgate in the hedge ahead and bear right towards the top right-hand corner of a field (or simply go round its edge). Go through an old gate here and turn right for a short distance as indicated, then through another gate into the corner of a large field. Turn left and go up its left-hand edge, heading S again.
In the next corner turn right. Follow the top field edge for 100m and then turn left through a metal fieldgate into another field. Go uphill towards some houses on the horizon, with a hedge on your right. About 50m before the top of the field, ignore a fieldgate on the right, but just past this go through a squeeze gate onto an enclosed path. This curves round to the left between two properties and comes out onto a gravel driveway.
Turn right onto the driveway and follow it out past a gate, heading S again. Keep ahead on the main drive between hedges, later with a fine view back to your left. In 500m it bends left and then passes an isolated house, Coom Bank. Instead of following the drive as it turns right, turn left onto an earth track going past the house into Comb Wood, leaving the HWLT.
The paths through Comb Wood are not shown on the OS map but they are clearly well-used by locals and there are no signs indicating that the wood is private: in fact there is a well-maintained stile on the far side. In contrast, the 'map' route to the Swan Inn (not described here) involves crossing a large ploughed field on a public footpath which doesn't appear to be used at all.
The suggested route (not the shortest) through this attractive wood is to fork left downhill. The woodland path gradually curves round to the right to head SE, later climbing gently with a stream in the steep-sided valley below on your left. The path becomes less distinct but essentially you continue in the same direction to join a wider path coming in from the right. This leads to a stile in the fence at the edge of the wood.
You could go over this stile and turn right (onto an overgrown public footpath), but just before the stile an easier route is to follow the woodland path round to the right, to go between a line of trees and a wire fence. At this corner of the wood there is a gap between the trees on your left which takes you out onto a driveway, the continuation of the footpath.
Turn right and go along the fenced driveway between houses to the B2082 at Lloyd's Green. Turn left and follow the road round to the right to find the Swan Inn, Wittersham, on the other side of the junction with Swan Street.
Head south-west along Swan Street and take the first footpath on the left. Go across a field, Bate's Gill and then through an orchard onto a path leading towards Wittersham's church. Before reaching a road, turn right into the corner of another orchard and go diagonally across it back towards the gill. Head south-west alongside it, crossing to the other side at one point. Join a road and follow it to Blackwall Bridge.
Return to the road junction in front of the pub and turn left to head SW along Swan Street, passing the pub on your left. In 150m, shortly after passing a footpath going off to the right, turn left at a footpath sign to go along a short path into a field. Turn half-right to follow a grassy path heading S. On the far side of the field cross the wooded Bate's Gill via gates and a footbridge, emerging into a former orchard.
Turn half-right again to head S through this field. On the far side go through a kissing gate and turn left onto a fenced path (rejoining the HWLT), at first with a cemetery on your right and then a field (another former orchard). At the end of this field there is a kissing gate leading into it, which is the continuation of the route.
If you want to visit the church of St John the Baptist9, visible up ahead, simply keep ahead along the tarmac path and cross a lane to reach it. Afterwards, return to this kissing gate.
Go through the kissing gate and bear right to go diagonally across the field, heading SW. Eventually you need to go alongside the wooded Bate's Gill ahead on your right; the right of way goes through a gap in the hedge ahead into an orchard and continues towards it in much the same direction (it is better to veer too far to the right and then turn left at the edge of the orchard, rather than go past the exit).
If you have been walking along the edge of the orchard with Bate's Gill on your right, you will come to a stile. Go over this into the top corner of a large sloping field and make your way down to a stile in its bottom right-hand corner. Go over this and turn right to briefly join a track as it crosses a stream in a belt of trees, then immediately turn left onto a fenced path running alongside the trees.
Continue along the left-hand edge of several large fields for 750m, heading S and later SW until you reach a road at a bend. Turn right onto the road to continue in the same direction, taking care as there is no pavement. In 400m you cross the wide River Rother10 at Blackwall Bridge and for the next 2 km join the Sussex Border Path11.
Continue south along the road for a further 400m, then take a footpath on the right which heads south-west over some low hills. After about 1½ km turn left in a field and follow a path south-east around Decoypond Wood. Go across Kitchenour Lane (slightly to the right) and continue south-east on a path across a large field, then through Mill Wood. Go along a lane to its junction with the A268 at Flackley Ash.
Continue S along the road for a further 400m. Opposite a large house, cross a stile on the right to go through a small wood. After leaving the wood you head SW in a straight line for 800m across open fields: up and over a small hill, to the left of some farm buildings, then uphill again; aim for the corner of a wire fence which comes into view and keep ahead, with the fence on your right.
In the corner of this field go over a stile on the right onto a short fenced path. In 50m cross a drainage channel on a concrete slab and then turn left to cross a wooden footbridge. Go over a stile and head SW across another large field, gently uphill.
In 300m cross a stile to go along the short edge of a field. In the next corner go over yet another stile into a large area of pasture, with a lightly wooded area ahead. Continue in much the same direction for 75m, aiming for a footpath marker post in front of the trees.
There used to be fencing in this pasture and the routes of the footpaths here reflect older field boundaries; it's not clear why there was a rather fussy notice insisting on following them precisely.
Turn left at the marker post to go alongside the trees; as they thin out you will see a lake 100m away to your right. In 250m keep ahead through a potentially muddy area. Go through a metal fieldgate and turn half-right, alongside a wire fence on your right. At the end of the fence cross a track leading down to the lake and bear slightly left up a slope into a lightly wooded area. At the top go through a metal fieldgate into a small wood. Follow a faint path through the trees, then out past some houses to a narrow lane.
Turn right onto the lane, then almost immediately turn left at a footpath signpost to go through a belt of trees. Go over a stile and keep ahead across a large field with no clear path. As you go over a small rise in the middle of the field and start to go gently downhill you should be able to see a stile leading into the wood ahead, about 100m in from the left-hand corner.
Cross the stile and follow a clear woodland path in much the same direction for 600m, ignoring turnings off and at one point going across a wide gap in the trees with electricity pylons. The path eventually comes out onto a lane and you bear right onto it. The lane soon comes to a fork in front of a small triangular green containing a weeping willow, with the A268 up ahead.
For some mid-afternoon refreshment in a supermarket café or pub, turn left onto the A268 towards Peasmarsh. Jempson's superstore is on the right, just before the Cock Inn. Continue on footpaths behind the café or pub to a lane, turn right and take a footpath across fields to Peasmarsh church. For a quieter route bypassing the village, head south along country lanes and then a footpath heading south-east through an avenue of lime trees and across a field to the church.
Peasmarsh is strung out along the busy A268 but it is the only place where you can get refreshment before reaching Rye, 6 km away. A quieter route skirting the village is described in §5b; this involves a long stretch along country lanes, but an alternative bypass along footpaths turned out to be neglected and too awkward to follow.
To go through the village, bear left at the small green. Carefully cross over the A268 and turn left onto the main road, then immediately fork right down an unsurfaced driveway leading to several houses (this is just to avoid 200m alongside the main road). The driveway eventually curves back and rejoins the main road and you continue downhill for another 200m to a junction with Tanhouse Lane and a large sign for Jempson's superstore.
Turn right into Tanhouse Lane and then left into the store's car park. Bear right towards the main building; Jempson's café is at the front of the store.
Afterwards, unless you want to return to the main road to try the Cock Inn, bear left out of the store and go through a gap in the low wooden fence. Turn sharp left, go over a stile and up a fenced path on the left-hand edge of a field, heading S. At the end of the field go over a stile on the left and continue along the right-hand edge of two paddocks.
Continue on the A268 past Tanhouse Lane, now going gently uphill. The Cock Inn is on the right after 150m, set back from the road.
Afterwards, unless you want to return to Tanhouse Lane to try Jempson's café, leave the pub at the back (or from the road, go round its left-hand side). Go through the caravan site behind the pub to its far left-hand corner. Go over a stile and across a small field. Go over another stile into a paddock and make for its far left-hand corner.
In a potentially very muddy area go over a stile and continue on a track past stables and a house to a lane. Turn right onto the lane, leaving the HWLT. In 50m, as the lane bends right, go over a stile on the left and turn right alongside the hedge, climbing gently for a further 50m.
At the top of the slope turn left onto a path across the field towards some trees, heading S. On the far side take a path through the wooded gill, crossing the stream on a footbridge. Bear left to head SE for 400m across a large field, towards Peasmarsh church.
To bypass the village, bear right at the small green, leaving the HWLT. Carefully cross over the A268 to head S on Mill Lane. In 500m, turn right at a T-junction and follow the lane round to the left, heading S again.
In 500m the lane curves round to the left, climbing gently. After heading SE for 200m (with fine views off to the left) the lane comes to a Y-junction. Do not take either fork but go straight across the junction, through a metal fieldgate and along a wide grassy avenue between mature lime trees.
At the end of the avenue go down into a dip, over a stile, and up the other side (slightly to the right). Follow a faint grassy path for 400m across a large field, heading SE towards Peasmarsh church.
Go through a wooden kissing gate into the churchyard. The entrance to the isolated church of Ss Peter and Paul12 is on the far side. The large building across the field to the right is Peasmarsh Place13.
Head south out of the churchyard. Turn left onto a lane, then fork right onto a track leading to Clayton Farm. Continue through the farm, past orchards and out onto an open valley. Head down the valley towards Rye, later with the River Tillingham on your right. Follow the river as it curves round to the right in a wide loop. The footpath eventually joins a tarmac path leading to Tillingham Avenue on the outskirts of Rye.
Head south out of the churchyard on its driveway and turn left onto a lane. In 150m, where the lane bends left, fork right onto a track leading to Clayton Farm, signposted as a public bridleway. In 250m the HWLT rejoins from the left, on a path through an orchard.
Continue on the track, which goes through the farm and then winds its way downhill past orchards. Eventually you go through a metal fieldgate to emerge at the top of an open valley with Rye church visible ahead, 2½ km away. Keep ahead past a derelict brick barn and follow the track gently downhill, with a hedge on your left.
In 200m pass to the right-hand side of a ditch and aim for a metal fieldgate in the wire fence ahead. Go through this and down towards a new footbridge in the hedge at the bottom of the slope. After crossing this keep ahead towards a corrugated metal outbuilding. Go past this and through a metal gate, with the River Tillingham on your right.
On the other side of this gate the OS map shows the bridleway as heading slightly to the left across the low-lying ground, but there is no clear path and a simpler route is to keep ahead alongside a low embankment for about 350m. You pass two large willow trees and then follow a faint grassy path round to the left, away from the river. In 100m turn right through a metal fieldgate (the direct route should have led you to this point).
On the other side of the gate keep ahead across the grass, soon with a wide drainage ditch on your left. In 200m follow this round to the left, with a housing estate on the outskirts of Rye off to your right. Eventually the river rejoins from the right and you go through a metal fieldgate by a sluice gate to continue alongside it.
In 250m go across a wooden footbridge in a hedge and keep ahead (slightly to the left). This takes you between a prominent brick house and a drainage ditch, after which you veer right to rejoin the riverside embankment. Follow this up to a metal kissing gate and turn right onto a tree-lined tarmac path, still with the river on your right and now heading S. In 200m you reach some houses at the end of Tillingham Avenue, with the river curving away to the right.
To explore the town centre, bear right across a meadow to return to the riverside path. Cross the B2089, go past Rye Windmill and across the railway to the A259. Continue along Strand Quay and fork left up a side street into the town centre. If you go up Mermaid Street and West Street to the church, return down Lion Street and zig-zag left and right for the station. To bypass the town centre, take a path alongside Tillingham Avenue to the B2089, cross the railway and turn left to reach the station directly.
Rye's town centre is well worth exploring, but if you want to go directly to the station follow the directions in §7b.
For the suggested route through the historic town centre, fork right off the tarmac path onto a short track, staying close to the river. Go over a stile to the right of a fieldgate and straight across a meadow on a broad grassy path.
On the far side go past some flats, cross over the B2089 and continue on the riverside path. At Rye Windmill14 keep ahead through a gate and cross the railway to reach a main road at a roundabout, with a popular fish & chip shop on the left.
For the town centre15 cross the main road and keep ahead along Strand Quay, still with the river on your right. After passing Rye Heritage Centre fork left up a side street and then go straight across a road junction into the cobbled Mermaid Street, uphill. The Mermaid Inn is on the left near the top.
At a T-junction with West Street turn right and then left, passing Lamb House16, to come to St Mary's church17 (its entrance is on the left-hand side). For a fine view across the marsh, go through the churchyard to the right of the church and bear right past Ypres Tower18 into Gun Gardens; the Ypres Castle Inn is just off to the left.
The station is about 500m from the church. From its entrance, go down Lion Street and turn left at the bottom into High Street. Turn right into Market Road and go straight across the A268 into Station Approach.
To go directly to the station, keep ahead on the tarmac path, initially alongside Tillingham Avenue. After veering left to go round the back of some houses the path comes out onto the B2089 by a level crossing. Go over this and turn left to reach the station.
- William Cobbett's favourable impression of Tenterden is recorded in his Rural Rides, though his judgement may have been swayed by the presence of “a great many very, very pretty girls” emerging from church in their Sunday best.
- St Mildred, Tenterden dates from the 12thC. Its large size and prominent tower (added in the 15thC) reflects the town's prosperity in medieval times.
- The Kent & East Sussex Railway ran from Robertsbridge to Headcorn. It retained its independence until 1948 but was rarely profitable and closed in 1961. The restored heritage railway runs between Tenterden and Bodiam, often featuring in period films and TV programmes.
- The High Weald Landscape Trail runs for 145 km across the length of the High Weald, mostly near its northern edge, from Horsham in West Sussex to Rye.
- Small Hythe declined after the River Rother changed course in the 13thC and the remaining waterway gradually silted up. In 1514 a major fire destroyed the town's medieval buildings, apart from Priest's House and the harbourmaster's house, Smallhythe Place.
- Visitors are invited to wander around the grounds, vineyard and shop at Chapel Down Winery, although there is a fee for guided tours.
- St John the Baptist, Small Hythe was built a few years after the 1514 fire destroyed an earlier chapel. Brick-built churches are unusual and the gables suggest a Dutch influence.
- The drainage ditch known as Reading Sewer is all that remains of a wide tidal channel (the original course of the River Rother) which could once only be crossed by ferry.
- St John the Baptist, Wittersham dates from the 14thC, although the striking tower was still under construction in the early 16thC.
- After heavy rain and high tides the River Rother overflows its embankment and the area to the right of the road after Blackwall Bridge temporarily becomes Lake Wittersham.
- The Sussex Border Path runs for 240 km along the length of West & East Sussex, from Thorney Island on the Hampshire border to Rye.
- The oldest parts of Ss Peter & Paul, Peasmarsh, are Norman, dating from about 1070. The church is 1 km south of the present village, suggesting that the medieval population was struck down by the Black Death and the survivors re-settled away from the old village.
- Peasmarsh Place, the large Georgian house to the west of the church, was originally built as the rectory. It is now a residential care home.
- The white smock Rye Windmill was rebuilt in 1932 after a fire; there has been a windmill on this site since the 16thC. The building has been a B&B since 1984.
- Rye featured as “Sinkport” in John Ryan's final Captain Pugwash stories; the author lived in the town centre for 20 years until his death in 2009.
- The elegant Lamb House was built in 1723 for the town's mayor, James Lamb. It has been the home of writers Henry James and EF Benson.
- St Mary the Virgin, Rye dates from 1150 but suffered major damage in 1377 when its bells and other valuable items were looted to France (though later recovered). Its prominent tower has acted as a shipping beacon for centuries.
- Ypres Tower was probably built in the 14thC (not 1249 as previously thought). It was part of Rye's defences against French raids but was unable to prevent much of the town being destroyed in 1377.
» Last updated: September 18, 2015