Bodiam Castle is a ‘dream castle’, invoking all the images of castles you had when you were at school. Towers, dungeons, banquet halls and of course, a moat. Not filled with Piranha or sharks, but with huge carp, making the already pretty water surrounding the castle flash with streaks of gold and silver as they swim around.
Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 to defend the area from a potential French invasion at the start of the Hundred Years’ War. Fortunately there was no invasion, and all remained well until in 1483 the Castle was besieged and confiscated by the King, accusing it current owner, Sir Thomas Lewknow, of treason. It was not until Henry VII accession to the throne that it was returned to the Lewknor household. Being more picturesque than useful, as the risk of invasions subsided, the Castle suffered a slow decline.
By mid 18th Century it was just ruins, with various owners keeping up the minimum of maintenance. It was bought in 1916 by Lord Curzon, who started to make serious repairs and structural maintenance to prevent any further decline. In 1925 it was given to the National Trust, and opened to the public 3 years later.
Parking is to the South of the Castle, in the National Trust car park, but the entrance to the Castle itself is on the North, so visitors get a good view of the Castle and its moat, walking around to get to the moat bridge.
It’s definitely worth taking one of the many guides around with you, as they explain in detail some of the things that you may never have noticed. For instance, the purpose of the holes in the ceiling arch was to drop spears, or flaming oil, down on anyone trying to get in from the moat bridge below. To the untrained eye, it just looked like a great bit of ornate architecture, but as you learn, everything had a practical purpose.
Inside you can stroll around and explore freely, as well as climb up to the top of two of the ramparts.
The views from the top are impressive, but the narrow windy staircases are not for the faint hearted.
As part of the National Trust, there are also walks around the Castle that can be taken, where you are free to picnic and enjoy the glorious views across the 1066 Countryside. The picturesque Bodiam Castle is always in view and makes for a very romantic day out for couples, or open air fun for active families.
Just a few miles down the road is the town of Battle, where the actual battle of 1066 took place, 300 years before Bodiam Castle was built.
The entrance to the event is through the large wooden doors of Battle Abbey’s main gate, they Abbey Itself having fallen to ruins inside. There are 2 tours offered, a long one of 5 miles or so wandering around the fields of battle, or a shorter one just wandering around the Abbey Walls and seeing the Abbey itself.
The audio guides provided give you an excellent insight into the action and events of the time. The audio gives you the options to listen (in 6 languages) to both sides of the battle, and as you walk around the sites you can understand how they used the hills and lay of the land to prepare their attacks and defences.
A dedicated visitor centre also has a full multimedia experience to explain the battle and its events. This may be aimed more at kids, but it had me enthralled and explained a lot of the dull history in exciting and modern terms.
In 1070 Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans to do penance for killing so many people and Battle Abbey was built with the high alter of its church supposedly on the spot where King Harold fell in battle on 14th October 1066. The church was finished in about 1094 and consecrated during the reign of his son.
Battle Abbey, built on the top of the hill, now in ruins, overlooks fields full of sheep and crops and rolling countryside as far as you can see. With the sun out, it really was a peaceful place. But with the Norman invasion in 1066, it certainly wasn’t. This was the exact location of the Battle of Hastings.
There are regular battle re-enactments on the site, as well of jousting tournament, so it’s well worth checking what is on if you are planning to visit. This is a place where you can spend as long as you like, and on a good day, its worth making it last.
1066 Country, sprawling across East Sussex, is only an hour out of London, and easy to get to from the M25. It has everything that anyone wanting a good break could ask for: seaside towns, beaches, steam railways, vineyards, great places to eat, dream castles and loads of history. It is a great location for a day out with the kids, or better still, a long weekend away without them!
The stars of this trip were Bodiam Castle and Battle Abbey, two memorable historic sites appealing in totally different ways, but I know I only scratched the surface of what is on offer in 1066 Country.