As every school child knows (or should do), the Battle of Hastings didn’t happen in Hastings. It took place on Senlac Hill, near the town of, yep, Battle. The Benedictine Battle Abbey was ordered by William the Conqueror to be built around an altar on the exact spot where Harold fell. Ouch. England had become Norman and the very
fabric of the country would never be the same again.
Stood overlooking the battleground, with my mate Dave and several dog walkers, it’s hard to imagine fields ‘covered in corpses, and all around the only colour to meet the gaze was blood-red’. The outline of the Norman Abbey church remains in Battle Abbey, as does the 13th century of the monks’ dorms. Mind you, a fair time has passed since 14 October 1066, including the Dissolution of the Monasteries which saw Henry VIII order the destruction of many of the buildings – a devastating time in England’s history.
Our walk had started in the beautiful village of Rye, a former member of the Cinque Ports Confederation, set up in 1155 along the coast of Kent and Sussex that, essentially, allowed the townsfolk to do what the hell they wanted: run the law, claim any washed up goods and not pay taxes and smuggle, in return for keeping ships for the Crown. I’ll repeat what the Royal Charter actually said because it includes some fabulous words: “Exemption from tax and tallage, right of soc and sac, tol and team, blodwit and fledwit, pillory and tumbril, infangentheof and outfangentheof, mundbryce, waifs and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan”
I read this on my iPhone as we walked through Rye Harbour away from the quaint old town following the Saxon Shore Way. History sprouts from the ground in this part of the world. We pass Camber Castle, ordered by Henry VIII around 1512, with barely a thought, keen to get on. Through Winchelsea we hopped onto the 1066
Country Walk that we would follow to Battle. Although it was a little early, we
couldn’t resist stopping at the Queens Head Inn – one of the finest pubs in Sussex, with an expansive view over Rye and the Dungeness wind farm from the beer garden.
Reluctantly we moved on through farmland and over marshy tributaries of the River Brede, past vineyards and into the Great Wood near Battle where I imagined soldiers awaiting their fate a thousand years ago. We wandered over to Senlac Hill and the field that was once ‘covered in corpses’. Choosing not to imagine that too vividly we retired to a nearby hostelry where the evening descended into petty, and certainly
semantically incorrect, name-calling: “Listen you fledwit, if you outfangthief
that beer mat, I’ll tumbrill you.” “Bah, tallage.”