I drop hints with a slow trickle, wondering if one will make a splash.
“It’s World Laughter Day”
“I told you I was tired.”
Nothing. It’s so dry and sunny I can almost hear the hollow wind of tumbleweed. I ignore my family’s stony-faced inattention and drive on.
Winchelsea Beach at low tide. Beautiful in the late morning sunshine, with its steep shingle banks leading down to rock pools, sand and the teal tones of the sea beyond.
Another clue is offered as we tumble down the sheer grassy verge back to the car: “Mind that spike!”
Lunchtime beckons, but first a sideways diversion to the tiny town of Winchelsea perched prettily on a hill.
I find the church of St Thomas with ease. Its large graveyard surrounds the partially ruined old church. We enjoy the peace, reading names lost in time, and running hands over stones so smooth no trace of a date remains.
Under a tree on the northern side of the church is a grave marked with a simple stone and words that I point to with an eager flourish – “I told you I was ill.”
The penny stubbornly refuses to drop as my kids read the epitaph (because it is in Irish Gaelic – Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite – a compromise reached with the Diocese of Chichester), but then they see the name of the grave’s occupant and smile…
Spike Milligan’s brilliant last laugh.
Taking a leaf out of our Belgian friends’ book, we stop for lunch in the ancient town of Rye. Just a couple of miles east of Winchelsea, it sits on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. Historically important (like Winchelsea) as one of the Cinque Ports (the sea has long since receded from both towns), it is an enticing tangle of cobbled lanes and alleys containing a rich medley of quaint cafés, old pubs and charming shops (although parking proves to be a challenge).
Ypres castle pub (known locally as Wipers) sits just below the 13th century Ypres Tower, and is packed with people brought out by Sunday’s spring warmth (it’s the only Rye pub with a garden – and a view). We take a table near the bar and enjoy the friendly bustle of pub life. The hard-working staff feed us a big bite to eat.
Wipers hosts live music on Fridays and Sundays (I wonder if Spike Milligan ever came here to listen to jazz and drink red wine).
A post-lunch coffee is required so we amble through the Castle’s Gun Garden …
… and a few lanes later find The Apothecary – a Harry Potter style haven of coffee, cakes and chemical oddities cramming every shelf.
The service is friendly but as slow as the café’s ambience, and the children plead impatiently for a return to the beach.
The tide has washed the sea up over the sand, but the pebbles make a surprisingly pleasant resting place. The swirl of the sea whispers in my ears, my eyes close and for a second I believe in miracles. But no. Reality hits (literally) with a stone-throwing game that misses its target (big ouch).
But at least my rude awakening kickstarts a walk along the beach before heading home.
Time now to treat you to Spike Milligan delivering comedic genius when receiving a lifetime achievement award at the British Comedy Awards in 1994.
Last linking notes
Winchelsea Beach – the straight road running parallel to the beach gives no hint of the natural beauty of the beach itself, so don’t be put off by that or the limited parking. Just remember to check out tide times beforehand, particularly if you prefer sandy stretches.
More on Rye’s history here.
Spike Milligan (1918-2002) was born in Ahmednagar, India, but later lived in the UK. He took Irish citizenship in 1962 (his father was Irish), having been refused British citizenship in 1961 for refusing to take oath of allegiance to the UK.
And yes – World Laughter Day is indeed celebrated on the first Sunday in May each year.