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Days out: Do Battle, and conquer Hastings

1066 and all that in East Susse

Simon Heptinstall
Sunday 07 October 2001 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


It started on a marshy beach in East Sussex and ended, 935 years ago next Sunday, on a grassy hill 16 miles away. In 1066, Duke William of Normandy's brief but victorious campaign took more than two weeks to advance the fateful 16 miles from Pevensey to Battle. You can do it in a day.

Start your invasion at Pevensey Castle. William landed here unopposed on 28 September to find an old stone castle dating back to Roman times. He probably sheltered there before moving on. Today an audio tour guides visitors round the ruined battlements, towers and dungeon.

From here the energetic can march to Battle, like William's army, using the tourist board's latest idea: "The 1066 Walk". This trek through the South Downs is hilly and muddy and there are plenty of stiles to conquer. You may prefer to drive along the coast via Hastings, which despite lending its name to one of our most famous battles, didn't really have much to do with it.

Nevertheless, "Hastings Castle and The 1066 Story" is worth a stop. William built a wooden castle here before the battle, and a stone castle after. In fact, he probably arrived with pre-fabricated forts in his ships. Today there are only ruins, although the dungeons survive. The most exciting part of the castle visit is approaching via the Victorian Cliff Railway, which climbs from street level, inside the hill, to emerge near the entrance.

Then it's time to head north to Battle ­ the village built around the site where, on 14 October 1066, William's army fought King Harold's Saxons. Hand-to-hand fighting lasted all day in a conflict that involved around 14,000 men. William's victory enabled him to take the English crown, and introduce a regime that fundamentally altered English society.

Like William, plan your approach carefully. Your first target should be the hilly field where the battle was fought, and the abbey which was built on the spot where Harold was skewered in the eye. An audio tour uses actors' voices in the roles of Saxon soldier Aelfric, Norman knight Henri and Harold's mistress Edith "Swan-neck" to guide visitors through various scenes of carnage.

The abbey has a museum and a play area. To mark next Sunday's anniversary there will be a battle re-enactment by costumed volunteers, starting at noon.

Battle village museum has a small collection of historical oddities housed in the Memorial Hall, including a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, a replica Domesday Book, and, rather incongruously, some dinosaur remains.

Just down the street is the medieval Almonry, containing a model of the village which provides, complete with lights and sounds, a quaint overview of the area and its history.

The facts

Pevensey Castle (01323 762604; opens from 10am daily. Admission: £2.50 adults, £1.30 children. Maps for The 1066 Walk are available from Battle tourist information centre. Hastings Castle (01424 781111; opens 11am - 3.30pm daily. Admission £3 adults, £2 children, £9 family. Battle Abbey (01424 773792; opens from 10am daily. Admission: £4.30, children £2.20 (£7 and £3.50 next Sunday only).

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