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Privacy and piracy

Mermaid Inn exterior

Roger St Pierre hides away in a quaint Sussex town

A hilltop settlement of great antiquity, the quaint little Sussex town of Rye guards the River Rother flood plain and is now seven miles inland from the sea that once lapped at its feet.
On one of the steep flintstone cobbled back lanes stands the Mermaid Inn (, which was already 150 years old when Queen Elizabeth I stayed there in 1573. .

A notice on one of the black and white half-timbered walls proclaims proudly that the inn was ‘Re-built in 1420’ – having been burned to the ground by French Corsairs, the cellars being the only part of the original 1156 building to survive.

Corporate deals, board meetings, seminars and training sessions are today held in atmosphere-laden private rooms where excise dodgers and pirates once hatched their plots and spent their ill-gotten proceeds. The largest such room can accommodate up to 50 seated.

It’s a sensational venue. As one writer exclaimed: ‘The Mermaid is unquestionably the most beautiful of all smugglers inns and undoubtedly one of the loveliest of all the inns in England. It stands on Mermaid Street, for which thoroughfare it is claimed – and justly claimed – no other street in the world exhibits such a wealth of antiquity and of this the best specimen is the Mermaid Inn.’

Hyperbole? Well, maybe, but as you wander the rabbit warren of rooms it’s hard to resist being mentally swept back to an earlier, more romantic age. Of course, spending the night in a room that’s replete with oak panelling, massive beams, creaking floorboards, period furniture and a massive four-poster bed helps the mood no end!

A treasure trove of bric-a-brac and original old oil paintings, as well as a remarkable collection of silverware, the Mermaid is a visual feast, as is the superb cuisine offered in the inn’s luxuriant, atmosphere-charged three AA Rosette restaurant.

Our overnight at The Mermaid was a hard act to follow but our next stay, just two miles down the road, on the outskirts of the picture postcard little medieval village of Winchelsea, met the challenge. Dating from around 1425, Strand House is equally heavily beamed and quirky, and even sported the same luxuriant fleur de lys patterned carpeting as we’d admired at The Mermaid and, in our plush, if rather low ceilinged bedroom there was an even more imposing Tudor-style four-poster (as well as a resident teddy bear).

As someone who lives in a 16th Century cottage, it’s a style I love but what wowed me even more at Strand House was the stunning, thoroughly modern, white-on-white décor of the three extra bedrooms, located in the adjoining annexe house, known as Rye Bay Cottage, bringing the total number of letting rooms on offer up to 13, each of them individually styled.

This separate, quite private building has recently been finding a market among local companies, offering a confidential location for sensitive business meetings, well away from home base and prying eyes. Groups can rent the entire property, including its pretty garden, on an exclusive basis.

As an add-on, proprietors Mary Sullivan and Hugh Davie offer an adventurous slant on home cooking, fitting for an establishment that’s more like a well-loved family home than a mini hotel: ‘The ambience seems to work well and such exclusive bookings from business groups can run to three or four days, though most comprise a single overnight,’ Mary told me, adding, ‘We know that several major deals have been hammered out in our property.’

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