As part of a series where we get to know local businesses in Rye Harbour, Emma Chaplin went to speak to Tracey and Simon Kenward, who own and run The Old Vicarage bed and breakfast on the corner of Harbour Road. They have incredible views over Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and offer three en-suite rooms and a self catering studio
Children's writer Monica Edwards grew up what was Rye Harbour vicarage, built on the site of a hole excavated by the tram company (filled in during the hard winter of 1901, when local fisherman were paid 2/6 a day to collect mud and stones from the mud flats). Monica's father Rev. Newton spiritually supported the village after the Mary Stanford lifeboat disaster of 1928, and buried the 17 victims. Some of Monica's books are set locally, and include reference to the vicarage.
The vicarage was built with the view that having a resident minister would encourage the people of Rye Harbour to live a more Christian lifestyle (avoiding the evils of pubs and alcohol). There are no records as to whether the presence of one changed behaviours, however!
Tell us about yourselves
We are local-ish. I was born in Hastings Old Town (Simon). I'm from Staplecross and originally trained as a hotel manager (Tracey).
A long time ago, we had a little boat in Rye Harbour. Then we moved away for 20 years and moved back when we bought this place. It stopped being a vicarage in the 1970s, and had been a family home, but hadn't been lived in for a while and was totally overgrown.
How long have you been running this as a B&B?
When we bought it in 2009, it needed a lot of work, which we did ourselves. A lot of reconfiguring was needed to make the guest rooms ensuite, whilst keeping the integrity of the Victorian build, with high ceilings and big rooms, fireplaces and sash windows. There are still some original shutters. We opened as a B&B in 2012. We think it matters, to keep the character of the original house.
Are you regular visitors to the nature reserve?
We go as regularly as we can, given how busy we are here, looking after guests. But I came here as a child (Simon) when there was a single track road with an ice cream shop at one end. One way or another, we've been visiting the reserve for many years. Sunrises and sunsets at this time of year are beautiful. We love the late light in the summer, when visitors to the reserve are heading home and we feel very grateful that we live here.
We have a copy of The Shingle Shore in every room, and love it for reference. This is a special place, the big skies and the wildlife. We should never take any of it for granted.
What sort of guests do you have?
All sorts. Some for special occasions. Others interested in the nature reserve, in wildlife, birds, moths etc. Some from an hour away, some much further. But we are very lucky, we've only ever had nice people stay. You have to make an effort to get here, and that possibly helps.
What qualities do you need to run a B&B?
You need to like people and be interested in them. We have one big breakfast table, and we love hearing raucous laughter from the kitchen, when people meet and get along with each other.
What surprises you?
We are constantly surprised by the interesting lives that people have led, how everyone has a different story and also how very many fit and active older (80+ year olds) we meet. Truly inspirational.
Where do you source your ingredients for breakfast?
Rye butchers, Rye bakery. Eggs from Tracey's dad's farm. Tracey makes pastries every day, our own granola, jams and marmalade.
What are the challenges?
Doing it all on our own can be tough and getting time to go out on the reserve ourselves!
What are you most proud of?
The fact that we have so many regular, and returning guests. The garden took a lot of work, understanding what would grow in this micro-climate, but we're pleased with it, and we now have an electric car charging point too.
For more information, see their website.