We visited yesterday, Thursday 13th April, not arriving until about 3.30pm. Our first view as we drove through Battle, a town which only sprang up after the Abbey itself was built, was the imposing gatehouse. We pulled in to park up in their carpark, but pulled out again as it was £3.50 to park if you weren’t a member (and we weren’t sure if we were going to re-join at this point).
However, we managed to park a little way up the road (for free) – this, of course, had the added advantage of enabling me to get some steps in!
Arriving back at the Abbey we decided to re-join (although I have to say I think the entrance prices are pretty reasonable). Once in you are free to choose your own route around the attraction. You are given an audio-guide to take you round the site though, which keeps you heading in a certain direction. I didn’t take one but having listened to a fair bit of Calv’s, whilst we were walking the full route around the battlefield itself, I wished I had as it was very, very well done.
We started in the Gatehouse itself (there are many steps, including steep, spiral steps and some are uneven due to a few years of use! – however, not suitable for people with limited mobility). We found hidden staircases, that have been discovered only in recent years, that were built into the wall. We’re not allowed up these (to be fair they’re probably a bit too narrow for many people…)
I also found out, when visiting the garderobe, that the pit below had to be cleaned out by hand. Yuck – thinking about it though I don’t know what on earth I thought happened! I’m also a little dismayed at my never-ending obsession with the toilet practices of yesteryear – even now, at my age, when visiting old houses, castles and palaces, I seek out the bathrooms and lavatories to see how such things were managed. I really thought I might have grown out of this childish obsession some years ago…
There were other interesting displays and information in the gatehouses, such as the accounting section and the ‘defences’, such as portcullis and murder holes, that were really only there for effect (to scare potential intruders). And there were lovely views, including this house to the front of the Abbey.
In the Discovery Centre (a must see, even you normal avoid these parts of an attraction), you have a short film to watch that gives more information, and there is also a debate between Harold and William played out giving children an opportunity to choose sides. Here I learned that part of the reason for the battle was that Harold had promised William that the throne would be his – something I was never aware of.
We then moved on towards the battlefield itself. It’s difficult to get a sense of the hill this was, as at the top it was terraced to accommodate the abbey buildings.
The battle was fought here as it was where, on Senlac Hill, Harold and William met after William had landed at Pevensey 2 weeks earlier, arriving here having re-grouped at Hastings. The site has been kept very clear, with just a few wooden statues of warriors and bowmen dotted around, and also a walkway to keep to. I was surprised at the amount of water around the site.
I was trying desperately to imagine what had gone before in this place, 7000 men left slaughtered at the end of the day… But it wasn’t until we returned to the Abbey (which was built a few year’s after the event, as a penance by William), that I felt anything as to the history.
Arriving back at the abbey buildings, what’s left of them anyway – many were destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, when the abbey became a private house. What is left is very impressive and the attraction provides plenty of information.
(Pictures shown at the top of the post).
There’s even a wall walk (highly unusual for a monastery), created with a walk of Camellias by one of the private residences (photo also shown at the top of the post).
All in all, we would definitely recommend this as a day out. Children are well catered for and there is, of course, a shop and café available!