Have you ever had a day where so many things go wrong that you want to laugh and cry with disbelief at the same time? Whilst Battle was a worthy place to spend my time, I originally had intentions to visit two other places on the day’s trip. Unfortunately things went brilliantly wrong and I was at the point of frustrated exhaustion by the time the train pulled into Battle. Read more about this in Lessons from a Greedy travel day. In the meantime, let’s get back to Battle.
Located in East Sussex, the village of Battle sits in the heart of what is known as 1066 country. Full of black beamed houses, the town centres around its high street with the Abbey found at one end. The view of the high street from the Abbey front wall inspires vision of horse drawn carts carrying goods through the town to supply the neighbouring villages.
Battle Abbey dates back to the 11th century and sits at the site of the battlefields of The 1066 Battle of Hastings. The abbey was built following the orders of the Pope to William the Conqueror and the Normans to repay their debt following the deaths of so many in their bid to conquer England. The abbey was built soon after complete with the church’s high altar placed at the spot where King Harold fell.
Benedictine monks lived at the Abbey until the suppression of the monasteries in the 1500s, and passed through several wealthy landowners before the Grade I listed building was entrusted to the hands of the English Heritage.
Today visitors can see the outline of the Abbey as well as many of the other site buildings including the impressive gatehouse and multi-level dormitory. Wandering round, some of the rooms have an ominous feel. There is often little natural light in places and the cavernous size is quite haunting. It does feel like a place that has seen many lifetimes and that many of those dwelling here may have stuck around.
Behind the Abbey site is the battlefield where annual re-enactments now take place. To look over the field where the Battle of Hastings was fought between Anglo-Saxons and Normans is humbling. One person standing where so many fought centuries ago.
Follow the path from the battlefield to the Duchess of Cleveland’s walled garden, the pretty thatched dairy and underground icehouse. The latter is a rare survivor from the 19th century and looks something akin to a hobbit house from the outside.
For those that would like to learn more about 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, the Abbey museum and visitor centre uncovers the story of the site, with artifacts found on the Abbey grounds.
Once you are full of Norman knowledge, why not walk to the high street for lunch? There are plenty of teahouses and cafes dotted between antique shops and boutiques full of unique clothing.
Battle is a village that embraces its history. The Abbey is well known and sits at the heart of 1066 country, in arms reach of attractions such as Pevensey Castle, Rye, Bodiam Castle and Hastings. The Abbey hosts events throughout the Summer with 2019 audiences enjoying a theatre production of family favourite, The Secret Garden. Join the crowds drawn to the Battle of Hastings re-enactment each year or trek along the 1066 country trail from Battle to Pevensey.
It may be a reminder of a not so peaceful past, but Battle and its Abbey have long-earned their place in Britain’s history. The abbey site now stands quietly as one of the country’s architectural grandfathers and watches the modern world go by. Drive by and it would only take a few minutes to miss. Stop and you can uncover the tales of one of Sussex’ oldest battlegrounds.