6 January 2022 – a winter walk between Winchelsea and Rye, East Sussex
I knew Winchelsea when I was a girl because my granny lived there for a while. My family and I visited for special occasions and I went to stay with her, once on my own and once with my sister. It was the time I was there alone which has remained in my mind.
I was allowed, perhaps encouraged, explore without a grown up. I remember ranging down slopes, across dried cow pats and over little, soft hummocks. I walked and ran, then I lay down and I can recall the feeling of being there all these years later.
I have a visceral memory of the give of the land underneath me, the warm scent of rabbit and sheep pellets, my nose close-up to the goldening strands of springy turf, the upright threads of harebells level with my chin.
When I returned, some forty five years later with mum, the first thing I saw was a dead blackbird on the pavement in front of the church where Spike Milligan is buried.
I must go down to the sea again,Spike Milligan
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there –
I wonder if they’re dry?
It was such a fine-weather day to be walking out.
Mum and her friend asked, How will you get there? But I knew there would be a path, somehow, and there it was.
I walked from this small cliff-town – what is sometimes called New Winchelsea – to her sister Rye, larger and more cosmopolitan. Rye and Old Winchelsea used to be side-by-side until the terrible storms of the mid-13th century when the ocean drowned the Old Winchelsea, a vibrant Cinque Port trading in wine. Pilgrims once put out for St James of Compostelle in Spain from there.
There was ice in the ploughed ruts and water everywhere. I followed the designated way, but it was little more than a desire path.
I caught my foot on a plant and fell over, of course, arriving into the town to meet friends with mud all over my trousers. Then we walked some more, as the rain came on, along Camber Sands. My siblings and I used to make sand castles with dad there. I remember how the sea was so, so far out and we had to walk ‘miles and miles’ to get our feet wet. All those years ago.
There are holes in the skySpike Milligan
Where the rain gets in
But they’re ever so small
That’s why the rain is thin….
The history of Winchelsea
Radio 4 ‘Ramblings’ about Winchelsea