Days Out: Battle Abbey

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The Independent Travel

The one date in English history that everyone knows is 1066, and this is where it all happened: the site of the Battle of Hastings. On this field William the Conqueror led his Norman army to victory and set the start date for modern British history. As you walk around the battlefield, an exceptionally effective audio guide (suitable for all ages) allows you to hear Aelfric the Saxon thane and Edith Swan-neck, common-law wife to King Harold of England, describe the events of the day. With the help of short dramatisations and the sounds of battle, the descriptions conjure up vibrant images on the empty field. On the ridge where the Saxon army lined up for battle there now stands the ruins of the abbey built by William I in 1070. Some say this was in atonement for the loss of life; others that it was in thanks for his victory. It remained a monastery until the Reformation before several buildings were converted into a country house and eventually a school.

Something for grown-ups

The "Prelude to Battle" exhibition will sort out any gaps in your school history and set you up for the audio-guided walk around the battlefield and the abbey. The foundations of the crypt remain, as do the walls of the monastic dormitories. The Great Gate House, built in 1338, is one of the finest examples of a medieval abbey entrance. You can visit the abbot's hall (now part of the school) in August, and there is a small museum of medieval monastic life with artefacts found in the various excavations of the abbey.

Something for children

An introductory video (for all ages) explains the background to the battle and introduces Aelfric and Henri. The audio guide is ideal for children. It is clear (without being patronising), and you can dip in and out of it and choose which character you want to listen to. By the abbey ruins is the Harold Stone: it is possible to stand on the spot where, so the story goes, King Harold died from an arrow in the eye. The battlefield is unfenced so it's not just kids' imaginations that can run wild. And, when you've had enough history, there is also a themed wooden playground for 4- to 12-year-olds. Inside, the Discovery Centre provides an interactive "lift-the-flap" quiz and a build-a- family-tree activity for younger children.

Refreshments

Drinks, ice-cream and snacks are available from the shop and there is a picnic area on-site. Otherwise, there are plenty of pubs, tea shops and restaurants in the town of Battle. If you keep your ticket you can re-enter the site.

Access

Those in wheelchairs and buggies can be taken along the terrace in front of the abbey, a route ideal for people wanting a shorter walk, who can sit on the benches that overlook the battlefield.

There is a wheelchair route to the abbey ruins and to Harold Stone. Electric wheelchairs are available from the ticket office. A portable induction loop lets the hard of hearing use the audio guide and Braille maps are available. Disabled parking near the gatehouse costs £2.50 (the same as non-disabled).

Admission

Open daily (except 24-26 Dec), 10am-4pm, until 31 March, then 10am-6pm until 30 Sept. Prices: adults £5.30, concessions £4, children 5-15 £2.70, under-5s free, family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £13.30. Audio guide included. English Heritage members free. (01424-773792; english-heritage.org.uk/battleabbey)

How to get there

Battle Abbey, Battle, East Sussex. By train: five minutes' walk from Battle station (direct line from Charing Cross). By car: plenty of parking, £2.50 a day.

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