Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is one of the most important sites for wildlife in Sussex and is managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The reserve is on the outskirts of High Weald AONB near the medieval town of Rye, so it is easy to combine a visit to both on a day trip to East Sussex.
If you love nature and are an avid bird-watcher, this wildlife haven will be a paradise for you. Set in a beautiful landscape comprising coastal and wetland areas, it is home to over 4000 species of animals and plants. There is something for everyone with bird hides, walking and cycling routes and the beach. Keep an eye out; you might even spot a seal basking along the coastline!
There are three great circular walking and cycling routes. Choose from either 2 miles, 4.3 miles or a 6-mile route that passes Camber Castle. I decided upon the easy 2-mile circular walking route around Rye Harbour Nature Reserve as I was a bit worn out from my morning of walking around Rye town centre.
Most of the pathways are flat tarmac; however, there is a small slope at the end of this walk. Visitors with any difficulties or parents with prams may find this challenging.
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Things To See on the 2-mile Nature Reserve Circular Walk
The circular walk starts and finishes at Rye Harbour car park. The walk takes you past some interesting sights, and a map of the nature reserve’s footpaths will help you explore the area. Drop into the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve Discovery Centre and find information about the nature reserve.
Bird watchers can observe the wildlife from five bird hides scattered along the route. Beach lovers can take a moment to enjoy the shingle beach with views of the dunes at Camber Sands, and history buffs can read about the WW2 “pillboxes”, concrete machine gun defences that line the Sussex coast. Photographers will find the changing environment in the nature reserve similar to the unusual coastal area of Dungeness in Kent.
Getting to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Rye to Rye Harbour takes 10 minutes by car, and parking is free in Rye Harbour car park -postcode TN31 7TX. If you are coming by bus, hop on number 312 from Rye train station. If you are walking from Rye to Rye Harbour, allow 45 – 60 minutes depending on your speed.
Toilets are located at the entrance to Rye Harbour.
Rye Harbour Circular Walk
Start by walking out of the car park and turn right onto the pathway. The Rye Harbour Nature Reserve sign will be in front of you to your left. The Martello Tower is to your right.
Continue along the pathway and you will have the chance to visit the Discovery Centre if you so desire. Opposite here is the first bird-watching hide named Gooders Hide. Take a seat inside and watch the birdlife on the lake.
Continue along the pathway and you will come to a black fishing shed with a red roof. It is quite a stark contrast to the blue sky and sea and great for photo opportunities. Keep an eye out for fishing boats coming back in along the River Rother with the days catch.
Across the water you will see the sand dunes of Camber, a popular seaside destination in East Sussex.
The next thing that you will see is a WW2 “pillbox” machine-gun station. These look out of place in the tranquil nature reserve but were necessary against advancing German bombers.
Continuing to the end of the path you can spend some time on the shingle beach or continue along the path to your right.
Check out the Wildlife Information Boards
Don’t forget to stop and read the nature reserve’s information boards all along the route. They give valuable tips on which wildlife to look out for and the history of the reserve. Depending on the season, popular birds to spot are little tern, common tern, sandwich tern, ringed plover, oystercatcher, redshank, lapwing and wheatear.
Continue on the long pathway, which slices between the marshland and the beach. Look out for quirky objects like rusted chains and track lines along here. I particularly liked the heart chain that was lying on the beach.
You will soon be at the crossroads of the circular walk. If you reach this point and feel like a longer walk, you can continue straight ahead; otherwise, turn down the right-hand path. An information board and bench are markers at the entrance to the turning. Notice the green plants with white flowers growing on the beach? They are sea kale flowers.
After a few minutes, you will reach Parkes and Denny Hides. Go inside and look out at the tranquil expanse of water. Can you spot anything? On my visit, there were a lot of Black-headed gulls.
Continue past the hide and up a small incline. A wooden bench under a tree is a nice place to rest and take in the views. A small plaque says, “wish you were here.” This sentiment perfectly fits the serene location.
As you continue, you will see a track to your left that takes you along the side of a stream and past a caravan site. You are nearly at the end of the walk.
Check out the Martello Tower
Go up a small slope, and you will find yourself back at the start with the Martello tower to your left.
A fascinating fact is that the English built Martello (gun) towers to defend against the French during the Napoleonic wars. Originally, there were 103 of these towers, with roof-mounted cannons capable of shooting lead balls a mile out to sea. This one – built circa 1806 – is No. 28 and once sat in a moat.
Well done – you have completed the Rye Harbour 2-mile Circular Nature Reserve Walk!
Other Things to Do in Rye Harbour
Visit the Rye Harbour Lifeboat Station and check out the Mary Stanford Lifeboat Pebble Memorial. Stop for a bite to eat at Bosun’s Cafe or William the Conqueror Pub or hire some bikes from Harbour Cycles. If you want some assistance with your cycling then indulge in an E-bike from Rye Bay E-Bikes and explore the nature reserve and surrounding East Sussex coastline on two wheels.
Where to Stay in Rye
The Lookout in Rye – is located in the centre of the historical town of Rye, high on the East Cliff with views across the river.
The George in Rye – A luxury boutique hotel dating back to the 17th century. Being in the high street, this is a popular place to sleep and to dine.
The Mermaid Inn – Ghosts, creaky floorboards, open fireplaces and oozing 15th-century history from every pore – What more could you want!
Whitehouse – Modern decor in a Grade 2 building.
If you have enjoyed this post and have done any of the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve walks, I would love to know. Please comment below.
Thursday 10th of June 2021
Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.
Sunday 17th of October 2021
This area of the UK is beautiful with so much nature and open spaces all around.