Page:Highways and Byways in Sussex.djvu/388

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360
CHAP.
THE FREAKISH SEA

Strand approach is perhaps a shade finer and more romantically unreal.

Winchelsea and Rye are remarkable in being not only perched each upon a solitary hillock in a vast level or marsh, but in being hillocks in themselves. In the case of Winchelsea there are trees and green spaces to boot, but Rye and its hillock are one; every inch is given over to red brick and grey stone. They are true cities of the plain. Between them are three miles of flat meadow, where, among thousands of sheep, stands the grey rotundity of Camber Castle. All this land is polder, as the Dutch call it, yet not reclaimed from the sea by any feat of engineering, as about the Helder, but presented by Neptune as a free and not too welcome gift to these ancient boroughs—possibly to equalise his theft of acres of good park at Selsey. Once a Cinque Port of the first magnitude, Winchelsea is now an inland resort of the antiquary and the artist. Where fishermen once dropped their nets, shepherds now watch their sheep; where the marauding French were wont to rush in with sword and torch, tourists now toil with camera and guide-book.

The light above the sheep levels changes continually: at one hour Rye seems but a stone's throw from Winchelsea; at another she is miles distant; at a third she looms twice her size through the haze, and Camber is seen as a fortress of old romance.

Rye stands where it always stood: but the original Winchelsea is no more. It was built two miles south-south-east of Rye, on a spot since covered by the sea but now again dry land. At Old Winchelsea William the Conqueror landed in 1067 after a visit to Normandy; in 1138 Henry II. landed there, while the French landed often, sometimes disastrously and sometimes not. In those days Winchelsea had seven hundred householders and fifty inns. In 1250, however, began her downfall. Holinshed writes:—"On the first day of October (1250), the moon, upon her change, appearing exceeding red and swelled,