Winchelsea Beach is a small village on England’s south coast in East Sussex – about seven miles east of Hastings.
It is a sort of ground floor offshoot of the beautiful hilltop village of Winchelsea, which I have often visited. However. the road between Winchelsea and Winchelsea Beach is not hugely accessible or appealing to a pedestrian. It is also at the bottom of a great big hill (which obviously you would have to walk back up if there was nothing to see at Winchelsea Beach). Because of this, I have never rambled on from Winchelsea in that direction – but instead followed the canals or the hills back to Hastings or along to Rye.
Winchelsea itself, by the way, is a lovely spot – famously built on a medieval grid pattern in 1288. It was a carefully planned new town and port built to replace an earlier harbour town of the same name which was lost in a great storm when the sea washed away hundreds of houses.
This same tempestuous sea retreated in later centuries, leaving the once important port of Winchelsea literally high and dry as its harbour on the River Brede silted up.
I never really thought of visiting Winchelsea Beach, though, although I have driven through it many times as it is on one route to the pretty small town of Rye, or can be passed on a return loop after visiting Pett Level or Winchelsea. Tourist.org.uk describes the village as looking “remarkably uninteresting from the road” (before giving it a favourable review). This is certainly true. The land, once under water, is flat and the houses along Sea Road are rather ordinary bungalows. There is a pub, The Ship, with an expanse of tarmac out front, there’s a Co Op, and there are several huge static caravan parks. And now the sea has disappeared from view. Yawn. Why would you stop?
So, when I visited Winchelsea Beach during an Open Gardens event, my expectations were pretty low. A few Derek Jarman inspired pebble and driftwood horticultural efforts, I thought … How wrong I was.
Winchelsea Beach turns out to be an amazing secret hideaway. It is only small. The suburban side roads peter out into unmetalled lanes with mostly wooden houses set back amongst gardens of poppies, lavender and hammocks. Now and again a Grand Design Modernist holiday home appears, but the more charming black or white wooden houses mostly survive. A few seem to be made out of railway carriages. There is a nature reserve here, streams full of fish, a great field of pebbles, horses, footpaths, and numerous secret-looking garden plots or wooded areas behind hedges and wooden gates. There is a great sense of space.
A huge village green goes down from the main road and church to the sea front. Here there is a raised walkway and a pebble beach, leading on towards the larger nature reserve at Rye Harbour.
Even the aforesaid unexciting pub is actually rather wonderful upon closer inspection. Not only does it also include an independent butcher, but it has a garden out the back for drinkers and diners to enjoy which is imaginatively laid out with palms, flowers, water features and succulents.
So impressed was I that I am planning a new linocut of Winchelsea Beach …
The heading photo is a holiday let house at Winchelsea Beach called Pebbles. I found this one online but very typical of Winchelsea Beach.