Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 8: 1066 Country

After breakfast  (hash browns, toast, yoghurt and apple juice for me), we departed for Hastings. As we drove away, I flung my back and neck around for a parting glance at those infamous white cliffs.

It took an hour or so to drive into and through Hastings (we passed our future lodgings on the way). A bit later and after some hairy driving, we arrived at Pevensey Castle. Cazy squeezed the car through a wooden gate then leisurely selected a spot before paying two quid for parking. We entered the large outer stone wall, confused about where to flash our Overseas Visitor Pass because we could not see anyone else.

Pevensey Castle

While we searched, we took photos of the impressive outer and inner walls of the castle while standing on the grass between them. The moat is still very in tact. The space between the walls is quite vast. I roamed over lumps and bumps in the grass, freezing in the morning cold (it had just stopped raining), to a sign near the outer wall. It proclaimed that I was at the site of Roman walls - my first clue of the castle’s long history.

We entered the inner bailey over a bridge where the draw bridge would have been. A groundsman was busy mowing and blowing. The inner bailey was impressive despite being in ruins.

A hell of a welcome mat

Tossing my hair out of my face, I entered the visitor’s centre right near the gatehouse (a heated hut with sparse gifts and a hot beverage machine) to show my card to the woman there. Cazy and I were given audio guides and began juggling our cameras with the audio devices that had to be held to our ears like mobile phones.

We’d been informed that the dungeons were flooded and soon discovered one where this was true. Small narrow stone steps took us out of the wind to where we perched to take photos of the dungeon. The entire bottom floor was covered in a pool of water.

Uh, bellhop, this doesn't look like my room...

The tour took us to each of the four towers - some had been converted into sleeping quarters during WWII for American and Canadian troops in case Hitler invaded. These areas had modern wooden flooring.

I walked around the ruined keep and past a collection of large stone balls. The size of car tyres, these stones were found in the moat, launched there during the four sieges laid against the castle.

And me without my trebuchet!

The inner bailey was as green, open and freaking cold as outside the gatehouse but there were chapel foundations in the middle and one grave stone.

Pevensey began as a Roman fort - stones from that time were reused in the keep. The Roman walls were used and fortified through the medieval period. William the Bastard landed here on his way to win England.

The ruined keep. A WWII pill box is built into the other side.

I looked down the hill and realised it had been sea and marshland, easy to defend. The sea had made it an important area to place defences but land reclamation until and past Tudor times meant that Pevensey became undesirable. 

I walked up onto the curtain wall and then viewed the other dungeons but the large one was very flooded and the other was a pit under a grate. I enjoyed reading about the fourth siege and how the castle lasted under the command of a woman. The people inside starved terribly and she managed to send word to her husband. He brought reinforcements with him.

We left Pevensey, impressed by its far-reaching history. 

The weather was still ominous when we arrived in Battle, 20 minutes from Pevensey where William the Conquerer left some men before marching to the town we were now at. We followed him, basically. Not a very long distance. 

Our OVP got us into Battle Abbey and the battlefield area for free and we were given cheaper parking. The courthouse has outlasted the abbey and plays home to the visitor centre and gift shop. There is a school tucked behind it. We were warned that the actual battlefield was too muddy to traverse (I checked online - it has been like this for months).

Courthouse: 1, Abbey: 0

We walked the path past the remains of the abbey defences (a wall they were allowed to build and fortify in the 1300s). The abbey was built where William the Conquerer erected a church to mark the place where King Harold died. We saw that spot, marked by a concrete slab. The church is gone, seen only as doctored foundations. 

The abbey is in ruins but is still very large and the vaulted ceiling underneath is still in place. Just as epic as Westminster Abbey but left to fall apart. So much remains but even more was lost when Henry VIII went on the warpath. 

"Impressive. Most impressive."

We viewed the crypt and later the icehouse before walking beside the battlefield. Apparently the slope underneath/beside the abbey was very similar in 1066. I do not envy the Normans this challenge. And if it was anything like today - mud galore! - it would have been a nightmare charging up there. It struck me that whole branches would be very different in my ancestry had William failed. My grandfather's surname has Norman origins!

The abbey was built on a slope

After poking through the guest range, we bought souvenirs and headed for the hotel which was very nice, though the corridors and rooms form a rabbit warren (this reminds me - we saw a van stop and toot a bunny crossing the road today).

Two double beds, sea view. The pier outside is ruined. Very sad that it burned down less than three years ago. We walked to the shops and bought too many nice sweets. Found the cliff railway.

Hastings Pier

Now - bedtime!

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