Where the famous Battle of Hastings unfolded in 1066
Battle in the southeast of England is in the heart of the East Sussex countryside and is a tranquil and beautiful town. You’d find it a struggle to envisage the thundering troops from England and France, battling it out with each other on 14th October 1066.
Scene of the 1066 Battle of Hastings
Today an air of serenity rests across the battlefield masking the scene where the Battle of Hastings took place. It’s here where William, Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, on his own turf.
When you arrive at Battle Abbey, it is a bit of a ‘wow’ moment as the magnificent, imposing Great Gatehouse looms high above you.
Great Gatehouse from the inner courtyard
The Abbey and Battlefield are lovingly preserved by the ‘English Heritage’ and kept in impeccable condition.
Immediately on hand as you wander beyond the Gatehouse are welcoming faces ready to answer all your Battlefield questions.
If you are a member of the English Heritage, not only will you gain free access to the historical site but, you will also be entitled to free parking. Would you like to become a member and discover more of England’s historic landmarks?
Head to the rooftop
To get a birds-eye view across the landscape, we headed to the rooftop of the 14th-century Great Gatehouse. Climbing the twisting spiral staircase is not too arduous, it’s just a little steep in places. However, it’s so worth it when you reach the viewing platform and enjoy the 360-degree vista across the battlefield and beyond.
View from the Gatehouse with Battle below
As you head up to the rooftop, you pass through the gatehouse exhibition. Here you’ll find an intriguing display of ancient artefacts and items that have been excavated from the surrounding grounds.
View from Gatehouse rooftop
The exhibition will give you an understanding into the day to day lives of the Medieval monks that lived and worked in the abbey.
Battle Abbey Sword
Replica helmet of the battling troops
The invasion unfolds
Just a few steps from the Gatehouse is the visitor’s centre. Here you’ll find an incredibly interesting exhibition on the 1066 Battle of Hastings. It goes into great detail regarding all the key events leading up to the battle and how the whole bloody conquest unfolded.
The Visitors Centre
We chose to start our tour by heading along the Precinct Wall and then around the Abbey, crypt and walled garden area. Leaving the Battlefield walk until the end, although the choice is yours
Battle Abbey was built by William the Conqueror, and it was believed to be in penance for the bloodshed during the Battle of Hastings.
Today very little of the original abbey remains; however, with the shell of the dormitory commanding such a presence, it creates an incredibly calming atmosphere.
Battle Abbey Dormitory
Walk up a few steps to the dormitory rooftop, and you’ll appreciate how Battle Abbey would have been originally laid out. Prior to its destruction in 1538, due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This is such a lovely part of the Abbey grounds to stroll around, take your time and enjoy.
Battle Abbey ruins
Under the dormitory is the Novices’ Chamber and also the Common Room, with vaulted stone arches running through them.
Vaulted Common Room
Pillars in the Battle Abbey Common Room
Interested in castles?
King Harold was defeated
Although the abbey church is no longer standing, you are still able to see the layout visibly, and some of its stone remains, it would have been vast.
Battle Abbey High Altar
The location of the high altar in the church was intentionally laid out to highlight the place where King Harold died on the battlefield. Today a stone lays on this very spot.
The stone represents the spot where King Harold died
Just beyond the high altar is the 13th-century crypt, and one of the few areas of the abbey which the layout is quite noticeable and the original stone standing steadfast.
Battle Abbey Crypt
The complex of Battle Abbey consisted of various buildings and outhouses, and one of the few to structures to survive during King Henry VIII’s destruction in 1538, was the Abbot’s House.
Abbot’s House and Dormitory ruins
The Abbot’s House is now Battle Abbey School which was founded in 1912. The Great Hall within the school can only be accessed in August by tour.
However, the building itself is beautiful and just wandering around its grounds is pleasurable.
Tour of Normandy
There’s more to discover
By the dormitory, pick up the trail again and stroll down to the Dairy, Icehouse and Walled Garden. The Dairy and Icehouse which were lovingly restored in 1991 are relatively rare to see. Built between 1810-1820, they sit above a medieval undercroft.
The Icehouse is bizarre, and I think it was designed for short people in mind (which was handy for me). Take a few steps down, and you’ll find a brick-lined darkroom which has been dug underground.
Inside the Dairy
Inside the icehouse
During the winter, ice would have been collected from the surrounding ponds. It was then stored in the icehouse, for use in the dairy the following summer. The dairy was built in the Gothic style and is adorned with a pretty thatched roof.
Pear tree in the walled garden
Just nearby is the tranquil walled garden, it’s now home to the abbey’s beehives and a selection of fruit trees chosen for their historic varieties.
Just over 950 years ago, two already combat scarred nations faced each other across the battlefield, this was to become one of England’s most important battles.
William the Conqueror and his Norman troops and cavalry came face to face with King Harold’s army on 14th October 1066, in the Battle of Hastings.
Wooden carved archer on the Battlefield
Remarkably this iconic battle only lasted one day, and France’s archers and swordsman had defeated the English by nightfall.
On the Battlefield looking up to the abbey ruins
Today strolling through the battleground with the birds chirping and the last of the summer wildflowers beginning to fade. It’s hard to believe the degree of bloodshed that would have befallen both sides, with thousands of marauding exhausted troops battling for their honour.
Battle Abbey Dormitory ruins
Strolling through the woodland
If you don’t mind mingling with sheep (and they certainly don’t mind you), I highly recommend you walk the full tour around the battlefield. The route is marked along the way by storyboards detailing how the day unfolded for both the French and the English.
Cavalry heading into battle
Along the full route, which takes around 50-60 minutes, you’ll wander past wooden sculptures that have been strategically placed along the trail. These carvings depict how the foot soldiers and cavaliers would have been armed in preparation for the onslaught.
If you only wish to take the short tour, which is the accessibility route, this will only take around 15-20 minutes. This may also be a good option in winter.
I personally really enjoyed this part of the visit. As the tranquil walk through the woodlands and fields made you reflect on the enormity of what took place here, nearly one thousand years ago.
Where the Battle of Hastings unfolded
William the Conqueror didn’t hang around in taking command of England, on Christmas Day in 1066 he was crowned King and became the first Norman King of England.
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How to get to Battle
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Inspired to visit Battle Abbey?
Enjoy an overnight stay in the quaint English town of Battle, and sleep within an arrow’s distance of the battlefields.
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