United Kingdom

Hastings, battles and hills

Who ever knew that Hastings was so hilly?  Well, E apparently, because she had listened and paid attention in history at school! (I’ll explain why later).

Campsite: Hastings Touring Park 

Liked:  lovely grassy site, indoor swimming pool and the showers – we loved the showers! They were the crème de la crème of campsite showers – roomy enough that you didn’t bang your elbows, constant flow (no button to press every few seconds) and individual temperature control – bliss! (You’d be amazed how important these things are!) 

Didn’t like:  toilets that weren’t cleaned frequently enough (especially over the weekend – disgusting!) and having to tow the caravan to the top of a massive hill 

Score:  6 out of 10 

We arrived in Hastings on Thursday after a fairly long and tiring journey from Stratford upon Avon – not much motorway and lots of dual carriageway with roundabouts.  We also need to remember that we have to add at least 30% more time to our journey because we are only travelling at a maximum of 60mph (and 55mph really if you want any decent fuel economy).

Highlight:  Battle Abbey and the 1066 battle site

Other things we did:  tried to slow down some more – we have really worn the girls out!  We had a great morning swimming and playing volleyball in the pool, which we had to ourselves.  We also did some more school work and stocked up with essentials before we head over (or rather, under, the channel).   Oh, and we had a delicious fish and chip supper at the Old Town Fryer – yummy!


The town of Hastings is a fairly large seaside town on the south east coast of England.  It is built on several hills, so you go up and down at least two very steep hills just to cross from one side of town to the other.  Our campsite is also right at the top of a very big hill and it was quite an experience getting the caravan all the way up here.  I don’t think Andy is looking forward to the journey down either!

Hastings - town on the hills
Whoever knew Hastings was so hilly?

From the grandeur of the buildings, it was obviously once a very wealthy town.  There are row upon row of Georgian and Victorian terraces with beautiful bay windows and balconies upon which no expense was spared when they were built.  Today however, it is rather more down at heel.  Many of the buildings are seriously in need of a lick of paint and with the seagull poo that covers virtually everything along the front and the litter on the streets, it definitely needs some tlc.  The council are obviously trying to improve things and there is a very nice section along the front with crazy golf, cafes and nice areas to sit.  There is also an ‘old town’ area that is full of character with some interesting looking shops, cafes and bars.  But our overall impression was that it had seen better times.  Maybe that is true of much of the U.K. as councils have had to deal with budget cuts and austerity measures?

Battle and Battle Abbey

Anyway, back to the hilly terrain.  The reason that E knew that it was hilly around here is that she knew that at the battle of Hastings, the English forces positioned themselves at the top of a hill, with the Norman invaders coming at them from the bottom.  Do you remember all the details from school?  I certainly didn’t.  If not, here’s a refresher:

Short version:

The Battle of Hastings took place on 14 October 1066 between Harold Godwinson (King Harold) and Duke William of Normandy (who would become William the Conqueror). William won and Harold was killed, reportedly after getting an arrow in his eye.

Longer version (if you don’t want to read all about this, skip to ***):

In late 1065 King Edward the Confessor slipped into a coma without saying who he wanted to succeed him as King.  He had no children or heirs and there were no clear procedures in place to decide who should succeed him and so on his death the country was thrown into turmoil.  There were four claimants to the throne  – Edgar the Atheling (a sickly 14 year old boy who was the closest blood relative to Edward) Harold Godwinson (the most powerful nobleman in England but with no blood link to the King), Duke William of Normandy (Edward’s second cousin who claimed that Edward had bequeathed him the throne) and Harald Hardrada (the Viking King of Norway and a direct descendant of the old kings of England).

The Witan – body of English advisors made up of the most important noblemen in England – chose Harold to be King and he was crowned on 6th January 1066, the day after Edward died.  But he was only to be King for a few turbulent months as two of the rival claimants who tried to seize the crown from him.

The first was Harald Hardrada, whose forces invaded Yorkshire in September 1066.  Harold heard of this invasion and marched his army from London to York in 5 days and surprised Harald, beating him at the battle of Stamford bridge.  But whilst Harold was fighting off these Viking invaders in the north, William and his forces landed on the south coast.  Severely depleted and worn out from the battle in Stamford bridge, Harold marched his men back down to London.  Instead of taking a rest, they continued on to Hastings, hoping to surprise William.

Hastings - looking up the 1066 battlefield
View up Senlac Hill, the 1066 battlefield. The Norman army started at the foot of the hill where we are standing. Harold’s English army were at the top where you can just see the distant buildings.

Harold positioned his forces at the top of Senlac hill and hoped to repel William’s army, who had the disadvantage of attacking up the hill.  But although both armies were similar in number (about 6000 English vs about 7000 French), they were very different in their make-up and tactics.  Crucially, in addition to infantry soldiers, William also had archers and cavalry.

Harold’s army formed a shield wall that successfully kept back William’s men for most of the day.  Then word went around amongst his men that William was dead. Disheartened, some of them on the left flank turned and retreated.  This prompted some of Harold’s men to brake rank to follow them down the hill to kill them.  But they should’ve stayed where they were because William’s men came round the back of them and surrounded them, killing them all.  Being on horseback and therefore with a higher vantage point, William saw what had happened and told his men to do the same thing again and this time pretend to flee.  He had to first push his helmet back to show his face so that his men knew he wasn’t dead.  Harold on the other hand was on foot, fighting amongst his men and unable to do anything to stop it happening.  The tactic worked again – some of Harold’s men broke rank and left the shield wall to chase the fleeing Normans down the hill.  As they did so, the Norman cavalry came round behind them and slaughtered all of them.

In late afternoon, William brought his archers into the battle and as the arrows rained down on Harold and his men, one of them apparently hit Harold in the eye.  Not long after, he was hacked to death by the Normans thus ending the period of Anglo-Saxon rule in England.  It was to be the last successful invasion of England.

There were many beautiful wooden carvings around the 1066 battle site (left and bottom right). Top right – a view across Senlac Hill

*** rejoin here if you did the shorter version 

You get a free audio tour at the site, which explains everything in great detail and was very interesting. You have to use your imagination quite a bit because there are now lots of buildings on the top of the hill where Harold and his men stood.  In fact, a few years after the battle, William commanded that an Abbey was built on the site, with the high alter positioned on the very spot where Harold fell, and you can still see this today, marked with a stone.  The remnants of the 11th century abbey and later 13th century additions are still there, although much of it was destroyed during the Reformation.

Hastings - Battle Abbey
Some of the remains of Battle Abbey, founded by William the Conqueror to mark the spot where the battle took place and where King Harold was killed.

We did the longer tour that takes you right around the outskirts of the battlefield and it is only when you do this that you appreciate what an advantage Harold had being at the top of the hill.  It was hard work walking back up the hill, never mind fighting up it!  And in the exhibition at the site you could hold replica shields, swords, axes and chain mail, which were so heavy it is a wonder that they could fight at all.  Apparently the battle lasted all day, so these men must’ve been incredibly strong.

Of course, the battle changed the course of English history.  The Normans brought many new things into the country – architecture, food and new words to name but a few.  The Norman Conquest also changed the history of Europe – adding the wealth of England to the military might of Normandy made the joint-kingdom a European super-power.  And in warfare, it was the start of the age of the knight-on-horseback.

As well as learning all about the battle, the girls spent some time in the fabulous Anglo-Saxon themed playground, where we also ate our picnic lunch.  Unfortunately we had a bit of drama as E managed to crack her head on a low stone doorway on the rooftop of the gatehouse.  Andy and M were at the bottom because neither of them had wanted to climb up with us, but they knew something had happened because they could hear E’s wails from down there!  She was very brave though and managed to get back down again so that we could get an ice pack on it.  The staff took some details from us for their accident book – I think they may be considering putting a ‘mind your head’ sign above the doorway!

Hastings - Playground at Battle
Having fun on the adventure playground

So, it is now our final day here and we’re spending it doing some school work and downloading books to our kindles and tablets whilst we still have good (free) data and wifi connections.  Tomorrow we are taking the tunnel over to France.  Thankfully we chose the tunnel rather than the ferry, given the long delays ferry passengers have had to endure over the last few days due to increased security checks.  We also chose to travel mid-week to avoid the worst of the queues.  Our first stop in France will be at Camping La Bien Assise in Guines, which was the first campsite Andy and I cycled to on our last year out!  It is only about 15 minutes drive from the Eurotunnel terminal.  I seem to remember it took us a lot longer than that last time! Happy memories though.

See you in France!


  • Sarah

    Fabulous! Just loved the history lesson will be encouraging Caitlin to read as she doesn’t get any English history lessons at ISGR! ?

    • Sarah

      Excellent! I’m learning so much too, it’s great fun. We’re also hoping to go to Bayeux and see the whole thing recorded in the tapestry – looking forward to that. Xxx

  • Russell

    Sarah, glad you enjoyed the battle site. I recommended it to Andrew because of the girls interest in history so I’m glad it didn’t disappoint. Sounds like you’re having a fantastic time.