A day trip to Battle Abbey, East Sussex, England

In Counties, Days Out, East Sussex, English Heritage, Our Journeys, Trip-Types by JanisLeave a Comment

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. 

The view of the back of a carved wooden statue of a Norman Soldier overlooking the green rolling landscape of the battlefield at Battle with the Abby in the distance.

Scene of the 1066 Battle of Hastings

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Useful things to know

2019 Pricing; Adult £13.60, Children £8.20, Concessions £12.30 – All include Gift Aid.

Ideally, wear comfy shoes if you are going to walk the full tour.

Onsite café is available and also a picnic area if you wish to bring your own lunch.

Play area for children

Check opening times, as Battle Abbey is only open weekends in the winter.

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.  

Great Gatehouse

When you arrive at Battle Abbey, it is a bit of a ‘wow’ moment as the magnificent, imposing Great Gatehouse looms high above you.

The twin-towered medieval gatehouse of Battle Abbey.

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.

English Heritage

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?

The view from the side of the stone medieval Great Gatehouse of Battle Abbey.

Great Gatehouse

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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.

The view over the town of battle from the roof of the Great Gatehouse.

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.

The view to the east from the roof of the Great Gatehouse.

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.

A 15th-century sword in a display cabinet with an ornately decorated pommel and cross-guard in gold.

Battle Abbey Sword

A display of a replica helmet worn by the Normans on a stand that can be tried on.

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 outside of the visitors' centre and coffee shop.

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

Looking up at the end of the gatehouse walls from the eastern end.

Gatehouse walls

Looking along the shrub lined Precinct Wall at the boundary of Battle Abbey

Precinct Wall

Battle Abbey

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. 

A view of the remains of the Abbey dormitory in the distance.

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.

Standing inside the remains of the Abbey dormitory looking up at a deep blue sky.

Battle Abbey ruins

Under the dormitory is the Novices’ Chamber and also the Common Room, with vaulted stone arches running through them.

Looking down into the space under the dormitory with its low vaulted ceiling.

Vaulted Common Room

A close-up of the columns under the Abbey dormitory.

Pillars in the Battle Abbey Common Room

Something to make your travels easier?

Interested in castles?

Would you also like to discover other historic sites in the southeast? Kent has some incredible castles, take a look at Dover, Deal, Walmer, Rochester & Upnor.

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.

An open-air view of the area where the Battle Abbey high altar once stood.  The boundaries are marked out with grass, and an information board gives more details of the original layout.

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.

A stone tablet marks the spot where King Harold died.  It reads "The traditional site of the High Altar of Battle Abbey founded to commemorate the victory fo Duke Williams on 11 October 1066.  The High Altar was placed here to mark the spot where King Harold died"

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.

The sunken remains of the Battle Abbey Crypt with the Abbot's house in the background.

Battle Abbey Crypt

Abbot’s House

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.

The looking across to the dormitory ruins and 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.

The neatly manicured lawns in front of the Abbot's House.

Abbot’s House

However, the building itself is beautiful and just wandering around its grounds is pleasurable. 

Tour of Normandy

If your taste buds have been tempted to find out a little more about Normandy, take a peek at our Normandy posts. You may even want to head off on your very own road-trip and sail across the English Channel with Brittany Ferries.

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.

A view of a meadow in front of the small octagonal thatched Victorian Dairy building.

The Diary

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.

Looking through the door of the Dairy building.

Inside the Dairy

The brick interior of the deep pit of the icehouse.

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.

A pear tree espaliered against the edge of the walled garden.

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.  

Tempted to?

Discover more of the Great British Isles, why not jump in a car and tour the country at your own pace. You can do it all on a road trip, SIXT car hire cover all budgets and allow you to pick up and drop off at different destinations.

Battlefield

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.

A wooden statue of a kneeling archer aiming in the direction of the Abbey from the edge of the battleground.

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.

The view of the battlefield towards the Abbey across the undulating landscape.

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.

Looking through the foliage, across the battlefield toward the Abbey ruins.

Battle Abbey Dormitory ruins

A wooden bridge through the wooded area as part of the path around the battlefield.

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.

A wooden statue of a Norman soldier on horseback looking across the battlefield towards the Abbot's house.

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.

Alternate route

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.

William I

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.

A view across the battlefield.

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.

Something for the Traveller

How to get to Battle

You can catch a direct train from London Charing Cross or London Cannon Street to Battle Station, which takes around 1 hour 30 minutes.

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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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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