13 miles, 1 or 2 days
When William the Conqueror defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, he did not turn straight to London, but instead marched Eastwards towards Dover and Canterbury. This stage continues to follow 1066 path, through land dominated by the iron-rich sandstone and clay, shaded by coppiced woodland.
Transport: Train: Battle, Three Oaks, Doleham and Winchelsea Bus: bus services are patchy and do not link the route in a direct way, so it is better to rely on the train. Taxi: Phoenix Taxis (call 01424 466466)
Accommodation: Battle has a few options, we recommend the Powdermills Hotel or the Abbey Hotel. Westfield.has various campsites. Winchelsea: lowest cost option is Winchelsea Lodge. Also try Strand House. or the New Inn.
Food: Battle try the deli or Jempsons bakery. Westfield: The New Inn, the locally-acclaimed Wild Mushroom or the village store. Winchelsea: The Coffee Shop for coffee or groceries. The New Inn for meals.
The wildflower bank as you approach Winchelsea. This historic roadside bank is carpeted with wildflowers throughout the year, remnants of the Wealden forest that once covered the area.
The fantastic stained glass of the Church of St Thomas in Winchelsea. We recommend lying on the floor to take in all of its modern splendour.
Follow the 1066 Country waymarks, except to divert to the church in Westfield and the whispering reeds between Icklesham and Winchelsea New Gate.
From Battle Abbey and St Mary’s Church, take the secret green path out of town. Pass the sewage plant (part of the shadow side of our civilisation!) and enter the Great Wood. Some time later, emerge onto Sedlescombe Golf Club – being careful of flying balls – and cross the road beyond on the 1066 Country Walk.
Enjoy wild pools and ancient hazel coppice. Beyond its practical uses, the Hazel is considered by some to be a deeply magical tree of wisdom. Commonly used for water dousing, hazel rods were once also used to detect thieves, your true love or to divine all sorts of answers. In the pre-Christian tradition, hazels protected sacred pools from which wisdom was often derived; one could absorb this by eating the nuts or the fish that lived in the pools. Hazelnuts are still carried as a charm for protection and to encourage good decision making; if you find one, why not pop it in your pocket and see if you can gain some insights.
Follow clearings in the once entirely wooded weald, and leave the 1066 path at a rural micro-industrial estate, on the edge of the village. Enter Westfield along the lane, to reach the squat majesty of St John’s Church.
Follow the village road north before leaving the village via the 1066 Country Walk. Follow green fields to the tiny village of Doleham. Once you near Icklesham you will pass a hillfort, which was quite possibly home to a hilltop settlement many years ago.
Walk along the edge of the Brede Levels, where the River Brede flows in the valley below. This was once mighty, but is now a trickling stream. Climb into Icklesham, and check out the Queen’s Head Pub, which offers excellent food. Over the road, find All Saints and St Nicholas Church, with its octagonal porch and ancient yew tree. Enjoy the deep stone peace.
Then walk south, away from the village, and climb over the hill where Sir Paul McCartney has his windmill recording studio, at Hog Hill Mill. Perhaps whistle your favourite Beatles number as you pass? Until thirty years ago, the locals drew their drinking water from the wells in this small hamlet.
Then descend toward the shining sea, passing through the rustling reeds of Pett Level and Pannel Valley Nature Reserve, which inspired Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows (he was going to call it ‘Wind in the Reeds’). Be sure to pop into a bird hide, and take in the ‘better than TV’ visuals. Sussex Wildlife Trust describes the reserve as “a mosaic of coastal habitats”, within which you might see scarlet pimpernel, sea kale, herb robert and sea campion, among other plants. In the bird hide, look out for herons, great crested grebes, kingfishers, oystercatchers, lapwings…
Then, continue along the Royal Military Canal, before re-meeting the lanes to enter Winchelsea through its ‘New Gate‘ (it’s not new at all). From the New Gate you might notice clusters of odd looking plants growing on the banks and walls. With large disc-shaped leaves about the size of an old-fashioned penny, and a little dimple in the middle, these are Navelwort or Wall Pennywort. Gerard’s 16th Century herbal mentions this damp-loving plant growing over the door near Chaucer’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. Although it is fairly uncommon these days, it would have once formed part of the pilgrim’s first aid kit; you can peel apart the leaves and use the sticky interior as a dressing for burns, splinters or sores.
Take the footpath again to pass through the old grid-designed settlement of New Winchelsea (Old Winchelsea is now somewhere under the sea after the River Rother moved several miles and the landscape shifted after the Great Storm of 1287). Stop and take a moment at the ruins of St John’s Hospital, an ancient pilgrim shelter. Then follow Monk’s Walk into town, and the incredible St Thomas’ Church, with its astonishing stained glass windows. Don’t forget to look out for Spike Milligan’s grave (“I told you I was ill”). Welcome to Winchelsea – it is worth taking a moment of contemplation here, as the town has become a sleepy little place compared to the once mighty port a few hundred years ago.