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CAMBER SANDS WITHOUT THE CROWDS by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in DESTINATIONS By The Travelwrap Company

Mile upon mile of golden, shell-studded sand, edged by grassy dunes, Camber Sands is surely the most beautiful beach on the East Sussex coast. The downside is that it gets very crowded in summer. In August, thousands of families, laden with deck chairs, windbreaks, cold boxes, and plastic buckets and spades, trudge from the car park through the dunes to the beach – where they set up camp as close to each other as possible.

So when a friend, who runs a B&B just outside Rye, suggested a trip to Camber Sands last weekend, I wasn’t that enthusiastic. Just as I was setting off, she texted me. “Shall I book The Gallivant for lunch?” The Beach Bistro at The Gallivant hotel (really more of a restaurant with rooms than a hotel) is the best beachside restaurant in Camber. A former roadside motel, it has been restyled to resemble an airy New England beach house. Head chef is Ben Fisher, who has worked at both Tom Aitkins and the French Laundry in London, and the menu features fresh, local produce – the catch of the day comes straight from Rye’s fishing boats. I quickly agreed. Minutes later she texted again. “It’s fully booked. Let’s have a picnic”.

Trying not to mind missing out on The Gallivant, we shopped for provisions. We stopped first at Dengate Farm Stall, just outside Rye, where David and Suzanne Dengate sell a huge range of home-grown produce, including apple juice made from their own apples.The only problem was which one of the seven different varieties (sometimes there are nine) to choose. In the end, we went for a ‘medium-sweet’ bottle of Worcester and Bramley. Next up was Rye Bay Fish to buy fresh local crab for our sandwiches. Run by Shane Haddon and his father Terry, this is one of Rye’s best fishmongers and we couldn’t resist buying some glistening prawns and creamy scallops for later.

Camber Sands was just as I remembered it – crowded and noisy, and though still early, the Kit Kat Café was doing a roaring trade. But we weren’t stopping: after pausing to admire the dozens of power kites dipping and soaring at the eastern edge of the beach, we set off in the direction of Rye Harbour. Gradually the crowds thinned to a trickle of mostly dog-walkers, until we had the beach almost to ourselves.

Then we climbed up into the dunes. Taking several nude sunbathers by surprise, we found a perfect spot and tucked into our picnic. The crab sandwiches were perfection. Later, while my friend went for a swim (the tide was out and it took her nearly 10 minutes to reach the water), I lay back under the marbled blue sky and read my book. I could hear nothing but the screeching of gulls overhead and the far-away crash of the waves. On a sunny day in August, Camber Sands is really rather heavenly… Just don’t tell the crowds down by the Kit Kat Café.

Further information on The Bistro at The Gallivant,

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