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A Day Trip to 1066 Country – Bodiam Castle and Battle Abbey:
Remember when you were five or six years old and you wanted to live in a castle. Perhaps like me, you wrote stories about being a princess and illustrated them. The castle that you drew probably looked something like Bodiam. Even from a distance, the moat, towers and crenellated rampart look just too much as if they have dropped out of a fairy tale to be true.
As you get closer, the castle is more impressive. A deep moat, well populated with carp and scattered with waterlilies, encircles the building.
Outside the castle, you’ll find a tea shop and somewhere to learn archery. Inside, you can walk up into the towers and round the ramparts.
Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 to defend the area against a potential French invasion during the Hundred Years’ war. The original plan had been for Edward Dalyngrigge, the lord of the manor, to reinforce an existing manor house. Instead, Dalyngrigge chose a fresh site, building the castle with some haste because of the threat of war. In fact, there was no invasion and it wasn’t until much later under different ownership that the castle had any role at all in war. By 1483 Bodiam was owned by Sir Thomas Lewknor, a supporter of the House of Lancaster. And, when he was accused of treason, the castle was beseiged and then confiscated. Not until Henry VII’s accession was the castle returned to the Lewknor family.
By the mid 18th Century Bodiam was already in ruins. Subsequent owners appear to have renovated and repaired the building but kept it as a picturesque ruin and it wasn’t until Lord Curzon bought the castle in 1916 that serious renovations and repairs took place. The castle was given to the National Trust in 1925 and opened to the public a few years later
Now, visitors can explore the ruins at leisure, though you might bump into some characters who seem to have dropped in unannounced from another era.
It’s worth taking one of the audio guides, so that you don’t miss features like these murder holes in the original entrance – which were used to drop stones, boiling oil or sand or to spear any invaders who happened to get across the moat.
Although we started at Bodiam, ideally you should visit the next place on our list, the town of Battle, first. Despite the name I hadn’t realised just how significant this pretty market town was in history. Just behind Battle Abbey, the quintessentially English fields, now home to nothing more than a few sheep, are the site of the most famous battle on English soil, the Battle of Hastings.
The audio guide provided an excellent insight into the ‘action’. Not only did I learn ‘both sides of the story’, but I also discovered that Battle Abbey itself was built to make amends for the Norman invasion and for the deaths that resulted.
In 1070 Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans to do penance for killing so many people and the abbey was built with the high alter of its church supposedly on the spot where King Harold fell in battle on 14th October 1066. The church was finished in about 1094 and consecrated during the reign of his son.
The annual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings 1066 takes place on the site every October (10 & 11 2015) so it’s well worth checking the date if you are planning to visit. Or, the on-site museum offers some excellent audio visuals if you can’t make the re-enactment.
I felt just a twinge of envy for the students at the school. A stunning historic building still houses the senior school – and I can’t think of anything more romantic than waking up every morning to the sight of the ruins of the Abbey and the rolling hills of 1066 country. I loved the town itself too. We dined there too, but I’ll be writing more about that and about our vineyard visit in a separate post.
Just an hour or so from London, 1066 Country, in East Sussex has a lot more to offer, including seaside towns, beaches, heritage railways and vineyards. A great day out, whatever your interests. But, I wouldn’t miss Bodiam or Battle – both landmarks in English History that will intrigue and excite.
For more about East Sussex check the Visit 1066 Country Website
More information can be found on the Bodiam Castle official website
More information about Battle Abbey and the Battle of Hastings can be found on the English Heritage Site