CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Three Rye Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - June 12, 2000

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Ypres Castle Inn, Gungarden, Rye, East Sussex

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Ye Olde Bell, High Street, Rye, East Sussex

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The Cock Horse Inn, Main Street, Peasmarsh, East Sussex

My first impression of the town of Rye was on a wintery afternoon in November of 1982, toward the end of the first leg of my very first trip to Europe and England. I recall being struck by all the cobblestone streets, and that's how I always remembered Rye until recently: as a quaint English coastal town which would be murder on spike heels. Mind you, I wasn't wearing spike heels at the time -- or have I at any time, for that matter. Unless it's been temporarily essential for a party image or a band performance I've always worn sensible chunky-heeled shoes, good walking footwear that even my great grandmother would have approved of.

But Rye isn't simply a place to inspire lengthy discourses on clothing; it's also an interesting town to visit, brimming with history and charm. Back in the twelfth century the port of Rye, along with Winchelsea, was added to the Cinque Ports confederation (which then included Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich). The two new members were called the "Two Ancient Towns", so as to not invalidate the "cinque", I suppose. I mean, why would they have renamed them the "Sept Ports" when "Cinque Ports" has a much nicer ring? Mind you, "Sept Ports" would be easier to pronounce, as the local Anglo pronunciation of Cinque Ports is Seenk Ports, not Sanque Ports. So the French turn in their collective grave once again, and the battle between the respective sensibilities of England and France continues. C'est la vie (and I don't mean "sest la vye").

Not far from the railway station and overlooking Rye Harbour sits a fine little pub, the Ypres Castle Inn. Situated halfway up a stairclimb which leads to Ypres Tower (part of Rye Castle), this pub is of the quiet sort, offering traditional pub games rather than noise -- although they do advertise live music on Sunday evenings. When five of us stopped in for a visit on a Sunday it was quite crowded, obviously a very popular spot for lunch. The menu did look inviting; but with the crowd and those six inviting hand pumps we decided at that moment a pint was more essential than a meal. Just across the stair steps from the pub is a pleasant beer garden nestled in the shadow of the Tower. We sat out here and the three of us who were adults enjoyed our nice, refreshingly different pints of Young's Ordinary Bitter (3.7% ABV, Young & Co. Brewery, Wandsworth, London) while the two 13-year-old girls with us made necklaces out of daisies. Does this sound like an idyllic scene or what?

Actually there were quite a few family groups in the garden, probably because it was Sunday. What is it about Sundays that brings so many English people out to lunch with their families? Why do so many pubs feature special Sunday roast lunches? Is it the Christian tradition of lunch after church? Why should going to church and listening to a sermon pique one's appetite for lunch?

I suppose, having grown up non-Christian, this is something I'll never figure out. But whatever drives people to enjoy themselves and eat good food, all the better, I say...

Closer to the center of town we stopped at Ye Olde Bell where we had another pint of Young's Ordinary Bitter. This pint was okay but not nearly as good as the one at the Ypres Castle. Could this be because Ye Olde Bell is located in the pulsating, throbbing, and redundantly pounding heart of the tourist section, a mere lane away from the famous but impressively overpriced Mermaid? I suppose surviving constant holiday hordes of tourists can be tough on any pub's image; unfortunately because of all the tourists I can't remember much about Ye Olde Bell except for the garden. That's where we sat and drank our beer, finally giving in to the urge to have an Easter lunch with everybody else. The food was okay, our fish pies pleasant if a bit bland, and the bread and chips were nice. Amazingly enough Ye Olde Bell sits directly across the street from a building called Easter Cottage. Coincidence?

Not far from Rye is the village of Cheesypeas -- er, I mean Peasycheese. No, actually it's Peasemarsh, a relatively peaceful place famous for the fact that Paul McCartney lives here. Right on the main road is the intriguingly-named Cock Horse Inn, a nice enough old pub with a pleasant beer garden in back offering a surprisingly tranquil view of the small holiday camp directly behind. Here we had pints of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter (4.0% ABV, John Harvey Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex). This was an okay pint, not the most brilliant I've had but better than the worst. On second thought it was pretty average, which was disappointing seeing as how the pub has a large collection of real ale beer mats on display. You would expect something better, don't you think? Ah, well, the search for a truly decent pint of real ale is often a challenge, and perhaps another pub in Pease Marsh would have provided more satisfaction.

But one thing I have to give the Cock Horse credit for is its food. At first the menu items seemed extremely overpriced -- sandwiches at £2.25 and up, with the first prawn sandwich I've ever seen over £4.00! Yikes! But the sandwiches are big, the sharp cheddar and ham and tuna are all excellent, and the salads are tastefully done. So our lunch was quite enjoyable, even if it was merely a Friday in May as opposed to an Easter Sunday.

I still have one burning question about this pub: just what is a cock horse, anyway? I know what a cock is, and what a horse is, and even what a horse's...well, you know what I mean. But the sign on the road features a giant cock overshadowing a tiny horse. What does that signify? What could the signmaker have been thinking?

Just another mystery of life to ponder over a fine pint of real ale...