A visit to Battle Abbey, East Sussex

by Jan

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is an event that changed the course of English history.  However, the battle didn’t take place in Hastings, but 6 miles away in the aptly named town of Battle.  On our visit to Battle Abbey, we retraced the history of this famous attack and saw the ruins of the ancient abbey.

Battle is a charming, historic town near Hastings in East Sussex.  It is only 50 miles south of London and is easily accessible by direct train or car.  At the top of Battle is the magnificent Battle Abbey that towers over the town.  It was built on the spot where the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.

Large imposing Stone Gatehouse, flanked by two towers at Battle Abbey Gatehouse, Battle, Sussex, England

Today the English Heritage carefully manages Battle Abbey and battlefield but it is open to anyone.  However, current covid-19 restrictions mean you must book a timed slot in advance.  To start, you’ll pass under the great gatehouse.

1066 Battlefield

Firstly, we visited the medieval battlefield, where all the action took place.  On 14th October 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, led his French army into battle against the Anglo-Saxon King Harold and his English army.

William believed that the throne should have become his after the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066.

Small BoyChallenging a lifesize Norman Swordsman sculpture at Battle Abbey, Battle, Sussex

The field besides Battle Abbey is apparently the location of the famous 1066 where Harold met his untimely death, at the age of 44.

Harold started well as he led his army from the high point of Senlac Hill, but the Normans persevered, and the English started to retreat.

Wooden Sculpture of Norman Soldier on Horseback

There are several trails which lead round the field, but we followed the sculpture trail.  This is the longest trail, but only takes about 50 minutes.

The trail follows a series of information boards that give a chronological timeline of the crucial events in English history.  You can also download an audio guide for the tour.

It’s a pretty walk, with woods, open fields and ponds and it’s hard to imagine that so many perished here.

There is a shorter, accessible walk which only takes 20 minutes, but misses out the sculptures.

Wooden Archer statue drawing his bow, Battle of-Hastings, Battle, Sussex

As well as getting a great insight into the events of that fateful day, the collection of life-size wooden sculptures, portraying the different soldiers in the battle bring everything to life.

Of course, the best one must be the archer.  Did he shoot the fateful arrow that hit King Harold in the eye?

There is also a very large arrow sticking out of the ground in the middle of the field!

Battle Abbey

On our return from the battlefield, we took a turn of the Abbey grounds.  The victorious William the Conqueror founded the magnificent Battle Abbey as an atonement for all the bloodshed from the battle.  It started as a Benedictine abbey and was home to monks for the next 400 years.

We followed the route of the children’s “Explore Quest” booklet and tried to answer the questions within.   Our trail started with a loop of the walled garden and a hunt for different fruit trees in the orchard.  We also found two beehives.

From here, we moved on to some of the ancient buildings, such as the icehouse and the dairy.

View of roofless Common room, Battle Abbey, Battle, Sussex, England

As we walked round the ruins of the original abbey, we read more information boards and tried to picture how the monks  lived nearly 1000 years ago.  Although some parts are barely above ground, the common room is in remarkable condition.  You can still see the fine craftsmanship of the arched vaults inside.

Outside, you can also see the footprint of the church.  Following orders from William, the high alter of the church is now on the site where Harold died. This is supposedly the spot where William secured his great victory over the English.  There is now a commemorative plaque to mark the spot.

We took a walk along the wall-walk, from where you can look outside the grounds of the abbey.  From here you you’ll get a good view of Battle’s Norman church, which William built for the local residents.

To finish our tour, we headed up to the top of the Gatehouse.  There are two floors, with artefacts from the Abbey’s history.  It’s a steep climb up a narrow spiral staircase.  However, at the top you’ll get spectacular views over the abbey grounds and Battle town.

We all came away from Battle Abbey with a good understanding of the battle and the history of the abbey.  I think I am still in shock that the battle was all over and done within 1 day!

looking through stone window with Arched vaulted ceiling - Battle Abbey, Battle

1066 Battle today

Battle still celebrates the events of the Battle of Hastings and all the local area is known as 1066 county.  It is a charming town, with a good variety of gift shops and cafes.

We headed straight for Spoiled Rotten, which has a rather good choice of ice cream and shakes.

Battle lies within High Weald, an area of outstanding natural beauty, so there are lots of things to do nearby.

Sign of Town of Battle 1066, with Battle Town highstreet in background, Battle, East Sussex, England

Things to do near Battle

Battle is in a great location for visiting the historic towns of Hastings or Rye.  The beautiful Bodiam Castle is also 15 minutes away.

Wooden Walkway across moat to Bodium Castle, East Sussex, England

Practicalities:-

How to get to Battle

By car:  From the M25 motorway, take the A21, which leads all the way.

By train:  There is a direct train from London Bridge to Battle, which takes about 1.5 hours

Parking in Battle

There is an English Heritage run car park  next to the abbey.  Alternatively, there is one at the other end of the High street just before the roundabout.

Accommodation near Battle

We spent a weekend glamping at the Brakes Coppice Campsite, which is about 5 miles away.

We later spent a couple of nights in a yurt at Freshwinds Farm, Pett, which would also be a good location for a visit to Battle.

Have you had the chance to visit Battle Abbey?  Please feel free to comment below.

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Avatar for Jan
Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels 24th September 2020 - 11:42 am

I didn’t know this, I thought the Battle of Hastings took place in Hastings:)

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