Here's a revised and updated one-day adventure taken from my guidebook Daytrips London. (And updated for 2011 in the brand new Daytrips From London guide).
A Daytrip from London
The Battle of Hastings was probably the most significant event in English history. It was fought on that fateful day in 1066, not at Hastings, but on a hill six miles inland where the attractive village of Battle now stands. Visitors may wander around the fields and, with the help of explanatory signs, re-create in their minds the conflict that signaled England's entry into European civilization. Also waiting to be explored are the ruins of the great abbey begun by William the Conqueror to commemorate the event.
The story of the Battle of Hastings is well documented by the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a replica of which is in the Battle Museum. Briefly, what happened is that the childless King Edward of England promised the throne to his cousin, Duke William of Normandy. He even sent Harold Godwinson, his brother-in-law, to France to confirm the pledge. Upon the death of King Edward, however, Harold took the crown himself. Feeling betrayed, William assembled a mighty army and invaded England. Meanwhile, Harold was successfully fighting off a third claimant to the throne, the King of Norway, at Stamford Bridge near York. On hearing of Duke William's invasion, he rushed his tired troops 200 miles south and engaged the Normans at Battle. The two armies were nearly matched in strength. Harold, occupying the higher ground, might have won except for a brilliant ruse on the part of William, who feigned defeat and trapped the English on the lower ground. By the end of that long, bloody day of October 14th, 1066, Harold lay dead and the sun set forever on Anglo-Saxon England.
It is possible to combine this daytrip with the one to Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Trains to Battle depart London's Charing Cross station at half-hour intervals, with slightly reduced service on Sundays and holidays. The journey takes about 80 minutes, and return trains run until mid-evening.
By car, Battle is 57 miles southeast of London via the A21 and A210 roads.
You can visit Battle at any time since the abbey and battlefield are open daily all year round. For further details, contact the Tourist Information Centre in the Abbey Gatehouse, T: (01424) 776-789, W: visit1066country.com. The annual Battle Festival, featuring a wide variety of events, is held from about mid-June to late June. Battle is in the county of East Sussex and has a population of about 6,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Battle has a good selection of restaurants and pubs, including:
Blacksmith's (43 High St., near The Almonry) English and Continental cuisine in a 16th-century building. T: (01424) 773-200. X: Mon. ££ and £££
Pilgrim's Rest (opposite the Abbey Gatehouse) Lunch in a 15th-century half-timbered house, or in the garden. T: (01424) 772-314. ££
1066 Inn (12 High St., just north of the Abbey Gatehouse) A friendly pub with home-cooked food. T: (01424) 773-224. £ and ££
Ye Olde King's Head (Mount St., just off High St.) This 15th-century pub offers home-cooked meals. T: (01424) 772-317. £
Leaving the railway station (1), a Victorian Gothic structure dating from 1853, turn right and follow Lower Lake and Upper Lake to The Green. On your left you will pass the abbey wall and come to the Abbey Gatehouse (2) (photo, right), built in 1338 and one of the finest in England. It now houses the Tourist Information Centre. Pass through it into the:
*BATTLEFIELD AND ABBEY (2-4), T: (01424) 775-705, W: english-heritage.org.uk. Open April-Sept., daily 10-6; Oct. -March, daily 10-4. Closed Dec. 24, 25, 26, New Year’s Day. Adults £6.70, seniors £5.70, children £3.40. Last entry one hour before closing. Special events from Apr.-Oct.
Enter the grounds and follow the sign for the one-mile country walk around the *Battlefield (3). This easy trail is lovely, but watch out for sheep droppings and be sure to close any gates that you've opened. All along the way there are relief models explaining the progress of the battle.
The origins of the *Abbey (4) date from a vow made by William the Conqueror on the day of the battle to build a church on the site if God led him to victory. This promise was kept, with the high altar erected on the very spot where Harold fell. The abbey continued to grow until being disbanded by Henry VIII in 1539 and given to his Master of the Horse, who destroyed most of the buildings. Only one structure remains fully intact today, and that is used as an independent co-ed school and cannot be visited. Of the ruins, the most interesting is the Dorter, or monks' dormitory. Walk out on the nearby terrace for a good overall view of the battlefield.
Follow the map to the Almonry (5), now home to the Battle Museum. This 15th-century building houses models that explain how the battle was fought, along with a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry (partial image, left), a facsimile Domesday Book, coins, the oldest known effigy of Guy Fawkes, and other historical items. Open April-Oct., Mon.-Sat. 10:30-4:30. Adults £1, accompanied children free. T: (01424) 775-955.
Heading back to the train station takes you past Buckley's Yesterday's World (6), a commercial re-creation of the century from 1850 to 1950. Shops, homes, and even Queen Victoria herself come to life with push-button animations, complete with sound and smells. Open daily from 9:30–4, closed Dec. 25, 26, Jan. 1. Adults £7, seniors £6, children (4-15) £5. Café. T: (01424) 777-226, W: yesterdaysworld.co.uk.
A bit farther down the road stands St. Mary's Church (7) with its Norman nave, 14th-century wall paintings, and fine 15th-century tower. Open Easter-Sept., daily; rest of year Wed., Thurs., Fri. 10-noon.
Text and map copyright © 2003 by Earl Steinbicker, updated to 2009.
NEW FOR 2011: Daytrips From London!