One of the most famous battles in English history took place on a field in West Sussex on 14 October 1066. William of Normandy (afterwards known as 'the Conqueror') defeated Harold Godwinson to become King of England. This conflict marked a radical change in Britain, from Saxon pastoralism and rudimentary towns, to Norman stone builders with more sophisticated tastes. Not only did the Normans bring castles to English shores but they also brought countless new foodstuffs and ways of cooking. The language changed too, so Battle marks a very significant milestone in our history.
To commemorate the place where Harold fell, William ordered the Abbey of St Martin to be built. Now a ruin, there are plenty of buildings of the period to be seen at the site.
Walking around the battlefield with an audioguide is a great way to learn how Harold could easily have won. Unfortunately his troops were exhausted from fighting the battle of Stamford Bridge where they had defeated Harold Hardrada's invading Norwegians and then marched down from Yorkshire to Sussex. The English army had the advantage of the high ground on Senlac Ridge but broke ranks to chase down the hill after the retreating Normans, who then turned on them, a bloody battle ensuing. Fascinating insights into this pivotal change in British history can be gained at Battle Abbey in the imposing Gatehouse which dates back to 1338, looked after by English Heritage.
After a fascinating visit and lots of walking around the battlefield we needed a sit down and refreshments. We tried the Bluebell Cafe Tea Room, a little gem with great afternoon tea.
Walk off your carbohydrate overload up the High Street and admire the cottages and houses near the Abbey, dating from around 1700. There are also great Georgian buildings too, as well as the parish church of St Mary. The church was built in Norman times and boasts 14th century wall paintings. At the top of the High Street is the Almonry which was built in 1090 and is now home to the Town Council and the Battle local history museum.
Want to find out more about this charming spot? Why not visit Battle on a bespoke Tasteful Travel tour.