Small Village has Big Christmas Shopping

13 12 2009

MyMetropole focuses on London, my beloved mega-Metropolis. However, I do, on occassion, escape the Big Smoke and find solace out there in the small villages of England. Throughout the year I lived/studied in Brighton, I never made it further up the coast of East Sussex than Eastbourne. So when I was recently invited down fto ‘1066 Country’ (Hastings, Rye, Battle) for, I was very excited to visit the medieval town of Rye. It’s an antiquer’s paradise, a tea-taker’s heaven, and for someone from the suburbs of Chicago living in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, Rye is the very definition of a perfectly ‘quaint’ village.

If you are anything like me, then the thought of cramming yourself into some suburban mall under mass-invasion by holiday shoppers parked in endless queues for unoriginal, impersonal purchases is something you would rather avoid at all costs. Inevitably, at some point around the 12th of December you awake in the dark of night in a blind panic, jutting up out from the comfort of your cosy duvet at the shocking realisation that you have now officially waited until the border of ‘last minute’ Christmas shopping and you may never find all the gifts you need before C-Day.

I recently discovered a little village on the East Sussex coast where you can find original gifts, avoid hour-long queues, find parking for a pound, and even enjoy yourself by indulging in any number of cream teas to relax?

The well-preserved medieval town of Rye has gone through many transformations throughout its long history, with a particularly prosperous era  during the 18th century when strategic seaside location of the village across the Channel from mainland Europe meant it profited from Smuggling as much as any other honest trade at the time. Today, this walkable and chain-free town is a shopper’s paradise teeming with original artwork, photography and antiques available from small, independents where long queues are replaced by chit chat with insightful stop owners.

Whether officially an antique-lover or not, Rye’s multitude of antique shops carry possible gifts for everyone. There are over 30 antique shops laid out on the Rye Antiques Trail, maps of which are available in several shops and also at the Tourist Information Centre on Lion Street. One of the people behind the creation of the Antiques Trail, Andy McConnell, is the senior glass specialist on the Antiques Roadshow and owner of Glass Etc, offering ‘Antiques and High Class Junk’. With customers including Alexander McQueen and Tom Baker and over 30,000 pieces of ‘junk’, Glass Etc offers quality and quantity, as well as twinkling conversation with either Andy or one of his informed staff.  Round the back of Glass Etc is a parking lot where 24 hours of Christmas shopping parking costs one single London pound.

Rye is home to two book shops worth a mention for those bookworms in the family. Martello Bookshop is a small town bookstore with a strong selection of mainstream bestsellers and off the wall coffee table tomes.

Rye Old Books next to the TIC is the kind of shop that transports you to the mysterious and magical world of childlike imagination created by shelves and shelves of old hardcover books which collectively hold the accumulated sum of the world’s answers.  It is rightly so, then, that the owner, a jolly older Irish woman, might actually know everything there is to know.  On my visit she sprinkled the conversation so richly with history that one (very long) sentence began with the trail of the Brothers Grimm, drifted to the relationship of the English to the North Germans through the Hanseatic League and ended in an aside on pituitary glands and why there are no Giants anymore.

For music lovers, Grammar School Records is located in a converted grammar school building, and is home to a host of new and used records, CDs, DVDs and even 8-tracks for whatever eccentric music requests might be on the list.

Rye is home to several top art and photography galleries. The Purdie Gallery showcases local Rye resident David Purdie’s photography work capturing regional scenes of the sea and sand.  Nearby (as is everything in Rye) is Clive Sawyer’s photography shop. Having travelled the world several times over through his work as a guidebook photographer, Clive has amassed a marvellous collection of international photography which he has converted into small, medium and large prints, coasters and posters at very affordable prices.  200 meters from Clive is Turtle Fine Art, which stocks ceramics, bronzes, paintings and etchings at mid to high range prices.  Back on the high street, the nationally recognised Rye Art Gallery’s Easton Rooms display high calibre paintings, and prints, photography, glass, sculpture, and ceramics all for sale at affordable prices.

In the 16th century, Rye was at the pinnacle as a popular port, and Strand Quay was the hub of maritime activity with over 200 boats. Today this area of Rye is home to popular shops like the jam-packed two-floor treasure trove Strand Quay Antiques and Kitchenalia, run by Jane Wick. Jane’s shop spills over with collectable vintage kitchen equipment, crockery and textiles.

Indulge in a little me-time and rest your feet and fill your belly at one of Rye’s tearooms. Sneak back off the Mint to The Cobbles Tea Room, an as-classic-as-they come tea-taking experience.  Cranberries of Rye on the High Street next to the Rye Art Gallery does delightful cupcakes and offers a tea for two ( at an unbeatable £12.50) which includes coffee or tea, cucumber sandwiches and six luxurious desserts.  Just two houses away, rediscover your childhood and queue up at Britcher & Rivers old time sweet shop at an old time pace. Nibble on toffee and fudge, humbugs, sweet tobacco, aniseed twists and Catherine wheels, all served from jars into little paper bags.

For more information on all things Rye visit

Clive Sawyer, Gallery in Rye
Hilders Cliff (nr Landgate), Rye

Glass Etc.
18-22 Rope Walk, Rye

Rye Old Books
7 Lion Street, Rye

Martello Bookshop
26 High Street, Rye

Grammar School Records
High Street, Rye

Turtle Fine Art Gallery
26 Landgate, Rye

Purdie Gallery
106 High Street, Rye

Strand Quay, Rye

Strand Quay Antiques
1-2 The Strand, Rye

Britcher and Rivers
109 High Street, Rye

Cranberries of Rye
105a High Street, Rye

The Cobbles Tea Room
1 Hylands Yard (off the Mint), Rye

The Rye Art Gallery
107 High Street, Rye