Winchelsea, East Sussex
Once one of the busiest ports in the country, Winchelsea may now appear quiet but look around you and the evidence of its importance during the medieval period can still be found. The variety of habitats surrounding the town also makes it a haven for wildlife. Criss-crossed by a network of footpaths the area awaits exploration.
Created by Edward I in 1288 as a replacement for Old Winchelsea, which washed away during heavy storms, the town sits atop Iham Hill, overlooking The Channel and the Brede Valley. Laid out in a grid pattern with the church at its centre the town is easy to explore.
Look out for a number of National Trust properties, including Rookery and Blackfriars Barns and Salutation Cottages. Winchelsea became a Cinque Port in the twelfth century and The Corporation continue the tradition of electing a mayor and jurats.
They also care for a number of structures in and around the town including the three surviving town gates and the museum.
Step into the story of this ancient town with a tour of the medieval cellars. Winchelsea has some of the finest medieval cellars in the country, dating back to the foundation of the town in about 1290. Although the cellars have been used for centuries it is thought that they were mainly used for storing wine imported from France during the 13th and 14th Century.
Today you can still marvel at these hidden wonders on a guided tour, which take place on most Saturdays between April and October. For dates and times see Winchelsea Cellars tours website. (Not NT) Please note there is charge for tours, including National Trust members.
A majority of the land directly surrounding the town is cared for by us with the support of our tenant farmer.
If you follow the 1066 footpath south-westward you will pass the remains of St John’s Gable, formally a medieval hospital, and arrive at the magnificent Wickham Manor (not open to the public). This splendid medieval manor house was once owned by the Penn Family, founders of Pennsylvania. Continue on and a glorious view of the Pett Levels and the English Channel opens up, underlining the strategic importance of the town’s location.
Follow Mill Road westward from the town, taking care as you cross the A259, you will arrive at the beacon. This mound was the former site of a windmill and before that, St Leonards Church. There are great views of the Brede Valley from here and the network of ditches that drain the land can be clearly seen.
Look harder and you may spot the remains of the former tidal creeks that flowed here. With an original estimated population of between four and six thousand people much of this land contains undiscovered archaeology and you will be walking above long-forgotten streets and houses.
With such a mosaic of habitats wildlife is abundant. Farmland birds gather in the woodlands and valley. Lapwings nest in the fields, flocks of yellowhammers fly overhead and buzzards patrol the skies.
Rooks can be heard calling from the appropriately named Rookery Field and the rustling in the reeds could well be a reed warbler making a nest. Sit quietly in the summer and you will hear the call of the skylarks as they hover high in the sky, frustrating your efforts to spot them.
The ditches provide shelter for nationally scarce water voles. Dragonflies are abundant, with twenty species recorded, including the locally rare variable damselfly. Fish quickly dart for cover, hiding from the hunting eyes of herons and egrets and the marsh frogs sing out there unique call.
How to find us
Winchelsea railway station is a 15 minute walk away. Bus 100 from Hastings and Rye stops in the town. By car Winchelsea is located on the A259 between Hastings and Rye. On street parking is available.