15 miles 1 or 2 days
Leave the last glimpses of the Pevensey Marshes behind and venture into the Weald, with rolling hills, pockets of woodland and old country estates. Follow the footsteps of William the Conqueror’s army as they marched from Pevensey to Battle with a very different intention.
Train: Normans Bay, Battle. Bus: There are only bus services on Tuesdays and Wednesdays connecting Wartling. Taxi: Dave’s Taxis (call 07919 666646).
Boreham House for a luxury B&B, the Ashburnham Retreat Centre for rooms or camping. Penhurst Retreat Centre. Battle has many options. We recommend the Powdermills Hotel or the Abbey Hotel. There is a holiday let in the abbey grounds that can be booked for a longer stay.
Boreham Street: Bulls Head, or Ash Tree Inn at Brownbread Street. Ashburnham: Orangery Cafe. Catsfield: White Hart pub, has a village grocery store. Battle Battle deli, Jempsons and a number of other pubs.
St Michaels Church, Penhurst. A beautiful largely unaltered church made from the local iron-rich sandstone which made this area a centre of iron extraction since Roman times.
Battle Abbey. The Harold Stone, ruins and battlefield are well worth spending time here, whether it is to honour the dead, enjoy nature in the garden and fields, or contemplate how one moment can bring about such a dramatic change.
High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The pockets of Wealden woodland encountered here are remnants of the forest that once covered the South East. Coppiced and managed as a living landscape, it is constantly rejuvenated but ancient nonetheless.
Follow the 1066 Country waymarks, except to divert to visit Ashburnham Place, Penhurst and Catsfield Church.
Boreham Street seems a mysterious inclusion on Gough Map’s Old Way itinerary: there is no traditional holy place here, but it may have been a useful place to cross the marshes now since reclaimed for farmland. Places called ‘Street’ usually imply a Roman name ‘Via’, a settlement on a Roman road. Boreham Street offers a B&B, and a great pub (The Bulls Head) with food and camping – the first one owned by Harveys Brewery.
Leave northwards through horse pasture to join a quiet country lane – Henley’s Hill. This turns into Brown Bread Street. The Ash Tree Inn can be found here, also with good food. A detour to Ashburnham Christian Retreat Centre is possible, but requires some backtracking afterward. It is certainly a worthwhile visit – an ancient manor house with amazing gardens and a holy well or two.
The way is shielded by many tall hedgerows and copses along here. As with many thorny trees and bushes the Hawthorn was once considered to stand as a protector to the threshold to other worlds. It produces clouds of white blossom known as May after the month in which it appears. If used outdoors, the flowers bring health, beauty and all the joys of spring, but if brought indoors it could mean deathly bad luck. This may be due to a similarity of its scent to dead bodies. Synonymous with Beltane or the Spring Equinox, wearing a sprig of May might renew your energy and put a spring on your step. If your pilgrimage takes you through the latter end of the season, try a berry or two.
Back on Brownbread Street, follow the 1066 Country Walk along lanes and footpaths to Penhurst and its 14th century St Michael’s Church, situated next to the area’s Manor House. Look also for Penhurst Retreat Centre, where you can rest a while in this ‘spiritual spa’.
From Penhurst, follow the lane south-west to cross the River Ashbourne. Ascend Tent Hill, where William the Conqueror (and his army) slept the night before he defeated King Harold and claimed England. Perhaps stop for a brief ‘wild nap’ here…
Through the tiny hamlet of Ashburnham– where the last of the Sussex iron furnaces was extinguished (in 1813). Iron workings were once a common sight (and sound) of Sussex. Continue into Catsfield. The first church spire you see is a private residence, built originally as a memorial to a successful builder. The smaller, older church remains in traditional hands, and is a short step down the lane. Here at St Laurence Church once stood Sussex’s oldest oak tree, which saw William the Conqueror pass below its boughs. It fell in 1987.
Walk north-east to the site of the Battle of Hastings. Enjoy the peace in this place of once great turmoil. Walk slowly here. This is, among other things, a graveyard. Finally reach Battle, a town built around an Abbey, and an Abbey built on the very spot where King Harold fell to the Norman attack (the arrow in the eye story). The place where he died is now the Abbey’s High Altar. It is quite literally an Abbey of Battle. Much of the abbey and abbots lodgings were converted into a house, now a school, but there is plenty to experience. The surviving Undercroft and Dormitory Range give a feel for this once great abbey and you can sometimes book a tour of the private sections during the school holidays. The Abbey is also worth a picnic stop if you’ve brought food with you: though it can get busy over the weekends, when there are events but there is always a quiet spot in the large open battlefield area or the Walled Garden.
Rather than the Dog Rose or Eglantine that you might find scrambling through the hedges along the path, the roses here are ornamental, planted by the Duchess of Cleveland in the 19th Century. They are appropriate for the abbey though, as many abbey gardens grew them. Beyond their romantic connotations, roses are sacred in many spiritualities. Pagans use roses as decorations to represent their hearts, Muslims as symbols of the human soul, Hindus and Buddhists as expressions of spiritual joy. Jewish mystics explored the idea of a rose as a metaphor for creation, and in the Christian traditions they may represent paradise. Their scent is said to indicate a holy place, so the next time you pass the wild variety, why not stop and see if you can sense something special.
The large Church of St Mary’s is outside the Abbey walls, and was therefore built for common folk. It holds the tomb of the man who demolished the Abbey, as well as a modern extension to the Bayeux Tapestry.
While in Battle, you might take time to search for the now-lost sacred well, alternatively called the”Wishing Well”, the “Holy Well”, and “Dr Graye’s Well”. Her Grace the Duchess of Cleveland’s account of the History of Battle Abbey describes the well as: “a square opening five or six feet wide, enclosed by a massive stone wall nearly seven feet high; a flight of steps led up to it on either side, and at each angle was what he called a vase, or receptacle for flowers and votive offerings. The spring was conveyed to the other side of the church wall.” If pilgrims are interested in exploring the history and stories around this well (with at least two suggested locations,) the Holy and Healing Wells website has a webpage dedicated to it – this is where the BPT first learnt of the well.
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