Last weekend, I spent two days with my daughter Raphaella in Rye, a medieval town in East Sussex. The night before our departure, I paced the flat feeling intimidated that I would be her sole “in charge parent” for the next two days. What if she threw a tantrum all day? What if she was suddenly sick in the night? How would I carry all our bags and her in the carrier? Would I be able to finish my meals?
In spite of this trepidation, I miraculously managed to leave the house to get to St Pancras in the morning. Fortunately, there were lifts and escalators taking us up each level from the underground to the Javelin bullet train speeding into Ashford International. All in just under 40 minutes.
A taxi took us to the Old Borough Arms in Rye, the 4-star Guest House that we were booked in for the night. As the taxi pulled up at the hotel, the sight of its romantic white and blue wooden exterior returned feelings of serenity to me. I may be in medieval Rye, but this beautiful hotel has already performed wizardry on me and not just because it sits at the foot of the enchanting Mermaid Street – this could be Europe, it really could.
I looked upwards to the steep uneven stone steps leading into the main entrance and the fairytale bubble momentarily popped.
I decided I could probably do it, if I had carried the equivalent amount in weight while I was pregnant, and proceeded to juggle a wheelie case, a changing bag, and all 9.8 kg of my lovely daughter up those steps to the hotel reception. A friendly lady popped her head around and introduced herself as Sarah. I noticed a panting small black terrier wagging its tail behind her.
“Look Raph, it’s Hairy Maclary (a character in her favourite book)!”
Raph was obviously fascinated by the familiar creature. Being an innocent 1 year old, it was likely that she had thought that her mummy had arranged this encounter for her.
Sarah showed us to room 6, which is the only one in the building with a four-poster bed. After she left us to take her terrier on a walk, I put Raph on the bed and did a little jiggle on the spot. My daughter finds this hilarious and decided to join in by rolling from side to side, squealing at the same time. She is lovely, that girl.
With the unfurling of the muslin, bottles of water, changes of clothes, bibs and snacks from my engorged changing bag came a sense of liberation from the tedious business of travelling solo with one’s child. The room is tastefully decorated – birds of paradise and butterflies graced the wall, a well-stocked courtesy tray, complimentary mineral water, toiletries made from watercress and sunflower seed oil, and the olive green shabby chic oak furniture gave the room a timeless feel. They also offered complimentary travel cot and highchair, which was always nice to know.
The town itself is quaint, Raph had walking practice on the pavement and squeaked at the shop window displays containing a variety of soft and wooden toys designed to lure unsuspecting little stompers. We walked past many specialist shops – a vintage furniture shop selling home and gardening furniture, a deli selling locally sourced food produce, pubs that don’t smell like the way old boozers in London do, and children’s curiosity shops.
As with any seaside town, fish and chips were the most sought after cuisine and Marino’s Fish Bar is centrally placed and has rightly earned its reputation as the best in town – and they didn’t disappoint when they welcomed us for an early dinner that evening and were even kind enough to warm my daughter’s Hipp Organic Spag Bol (a must when staying in a hotel room with no self-catering facilities). When I promised to clean up the colossal mess of red (tomatoes), orange (pasta) and green (mushy peas from my fish and chips) goo off the floor caused by Raph’s food gymnastics, the waiter told me to leave it as he completely understood (his girlfriend has a 2 year old). I almost wept, it’s so rare for someone to not only view the erratic behaviour of a toddler as normal but also offers to help.
With an enhanced respect for the locals and a refilled belly, it was still too early for bed and so I took R for a walk along the cobbled Mermaid Street just as the sun was about to set. The light was shining down the walkway at dusk and we jostled along merrily towards St Mary’s church. It was quiet and the world became just Raph and me. I held both her hands as she toddled along between the tombstones, spring in each steps.
Back at the hotel, Raph and I got ready for bed after a power shower. Sinking into soft pillows and what felt like an orthopedic mattress next to my sleeping daughter, I reflected on my unfounded fears of travelling solo with her. She’s had the time of her life today, where usually she would pass time by looking out of our living room’s window or tugging at my ankle while I cooked. As for me, I’m very happy to have this precious moments bonding with my daughter in a distinct part of a country that never fail to surprise me. I may have been bitten by a new kind of travel bug – the mum and baby kind.
It was still dark when I was jolted from my deep slumber by a ball of energy at 6 am, who repeatedly shouted “Momma” like her life depended on it. With some time to kill before my 8 am hotel breakfast, I made a bowl of porridge for us and ate it next to the window that displayed a world in stark contrast from yesterday’s blue skies. The streets were wet and somber underneath the grey clouds above but even that did not seem to dampen my spirits.
Safe under an umbrella and with Raph in the carrier, we ascended the Trader’s Passage from the foot of the Mermaid Street Café towards Rye Castle Museum, passing pretty little cottages with blooming gardens along the way. In spite of the rain, the air was crisp and my eyes welcomed miles and miles of open country fields, which reminded me of how much I miss being close to nature and how devoid of its wild beauty I am living in London. Even the rain couldn’t ruin it but instead added to the mystery of the Rye Castle Museum or Ypres Tower, which was the sole defence of Rye in the 13th century and subsequently used as a prison.
Walking onwards to the Gun Garden, I was undeniably misty eyed about the sweeping view of the estuary and River Rother. There was something about Rye that relaxed me, and I found myself wondering if I could live here and if the sights, which initially enchanted me, would seem timeworn overtime.
Until our next rendezvous, my heart remains in this mystical town, which has undeniably restored peace in my being.
The Javelin bullet train takes just 40 minutes from London St Pancras to Ashford International. A 30 minutes taxi would get you into Rye, and a further ten minutes drive along the farms filled with sheep that dot the country road would get you to Camber Sands Beach.