“If you wake at midnight, and hear a horses feet,
Dont go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions they isnt told no lies,
Watch the wall, my darling, whilst the gentlemen go by“
This extract from the poem, A Smugglers Song, by Rudyard Kipling greets you in the car park of The Mermaid Inn in Rye. The poem hints of the Inn’s sketchy past, giving you a clue to its clientelle of yesteryear. The Mermaid Inn has long been on my list of hotels I would love to stay in, and when I wrote my post on its haunted past recently, (you can read it in this post, A Smugglers Haunt,) I knew that a little pre-christmas stay there would be amazing. We have just returned, so I thought I would share with you our experience of The Mermaid Inn, Rye.
I know for a lot of people, the thought of staying in a reportedly haunted hotel would not be on their list, but I love anything like that. You know by now my obsession with old buildings and historical places, so it should come as no surprise to you that I would want to stay here. The Inn dates back to 1156, so just imagine all the people that have passed through the doors in its 850 years history…….some of them perhaps preferring to stay……
I wanted to stay in one of the “historical bed chambers”, which are the rooms that have such rich history. There are two of the bed chambers, rooms 15 and 16. The Elizabethan Chamber, named after Elizabeth the first stayed here in 1573, and Dr Syns Bedchamber, named after the ficticious character from the mind of the author Russell Thorndike, who wrote a film based on the Inn’s past residence, the 600 man strong Hawkhurst Smuggling Gang. We stayed in Dr Syns Bedchamber, the largest of the Inn’s rooms, and it was stunning. The minute I walked in through the door I was in love. The rich reds of the furnishings, coupled with the original beams and antique furniture just filled the room with atmosphere. It is a beautiful room.
Walking into the room, we were surprised to see both a double bed and a single bed. The room is used as a family room too, so that explains that….it wasnt a bed for any unexpected or unwelcome visitors…… You also had a door leading to the bathroom, a seating area with the most comfortable, aged leather wing back chairs I have ever sat in, a beautiful fireplace and a book case lined with old books. Or was it??? Walking over to admire the books, we saw that it was in fact a panel that had been made to look like a book case. The panel had a latch that showed that the panel could be opened like a door…….leading to where??
Throughout the Inn, you will find many secret panels, hidden doorways and places where a priest or a smuggler could be hidden. The secret passageway from our room leads down to the bar, which used to be the kitchen of the inn. The perfect getaway route for those trying to escape the long arms of the law. There are also rumoured to be countless tunnels running under the Mermaid, to various places over the town. Again, all in the name of quick getaways.
We were lucky enough to meet the Mermaids owner, Judith, who was happy to show us around the beautiful Mermaid, and regale us with stories of the ghostly goings on and history that has been uncovered over the years. It has even been confirmed that William Shakespeare himself had been at the Inn. The wannabe author in me was over the moon to learn this. I kept telling Nik that I needed to stay at The Mermaid for at least a month, to really get my creativeness flowing. He didn’t seem keen on the idea….
The communal areas of the Inn are just perfect. There are various lounges, all with fires roaring in them, where you can be enveloped by the comfy sofa’s and enjoy one of the 50 gins on offer, a spiced mulled wine or a crisp glass of wine. The Fireplace bar, at the rear of the Inn, has the most amazing inglenook fireplace, and the atmosphere is wonderful. You can feel the history of the place in the carvings on the fireplace, etched into the wood by captains of the ships docked in the port. Looking closely to the left of the fireplace, you would see the hidden doorway to the priest hole, a hidden recess in the fireplace where the exiled priests escaping to France would be hidden.
We had booked bed and breakfast, and the breakfast was served from 8-10, so no need to be up with the larks. The breakfast consists of a full english, or variations of cooked breakfast, cereals, fruit, yoghurt and pastries. It was delicious and certainly set us up for the day. We didn’t have our evening meal at The Mermaid as we had already decided that we wanted to go to the local Thai restaurant (which is amazing), but we did have some baguettes at lunchtime, which were fresh and delicious. Nik chose ham hock, I opted for cheese.
Now, lets talk about whether we had any ghostly encounters. I suppose the most truthful answer would be Im not sure. Let me tell you what happened. The head porter at The Mermaid, Glen, had offered to take us up to The Kingswood Room, which is reported to be the room with the most activity. The room is beautiful, and has a real feeling of stepping into history as soon as you walk in the door. Standing in the middle of the room, I felt a warmth. Thats the only way I can describe it. It was like a warm feeling running through me. The room is said to be haunted by one of the Hawkhurst Gang members, Kingswood, so Glen asked if we would like to try to see if he was in the room. Of course we agreed!
Glen and Nik stayed by the door, and turned the main light out. Glen called out “Kingswood, if you are here, let us know’ He started taking photos on my phone, hoping to catch anything. It could have been my imagination, but I swear, after about 2 minutes, it felt like someone brushed the back of my neck. Not just a breeze, but actual fingers running along the nape of my neck. Nik was standing with Glen, and also taking pictures, and Nik, who is a non-believer, said that he could see bright, circle lights dancing around near the top of my head, and darting down towards the floor. One of the photos does show one of these light circles. It was weird, I 100% felt something on my neck, but I never felt scared. Who knows! It could have just been in our minds, but i like to think it was the permanent residents of the Mermaid Inn telling me that I was welcome there.
I absolutely loved our stay at The Mermaid Inn, and would go as far to say that is my favourite UK hotel to stay in to date. I just adored it and felt like I was home. The Inn is also one of the only places in the centre of Rye to have its own car park, which is perfect for guests. The staff are all fantastic. Friendly, full of stories and eager to make your stay amazing. Both Nik and I really felt that you could feel how passionate the staff were about their work place, and all 41 members of staff have been at The Mermaid for many years. Their local knowledge is so helpful. I would say in summary, The Mermaid Inn is a place full of stories, history, atmosphere and comfort. It is perfectly located for exploring Rye and the surrounding areas, and you can guarantee a warm welcome. I hope to return early next year for another stay.
Prices for a nights stay at The Mermaid Inn start at around £140 – £220, depending on what room you wish to stay in. Details of prices can be found here.
The room types that are available can be found here.
So, what do you think? Would you stay somewhere like The Mermaid Inn? Do you prefer modern luxury or do you like the historic, atmospheric places? Have you ever stayed somewhere that has been known to have ghostly goings on? As ever, I would love to hear about your experiences!