As I have alluded to in many-a blog post, I have always been passionate about history. My favorite country's to study is the UK's. Or, to be more specific, England's. It might be a bit hypocritical, because I do not like how dominant England is over the other UK nations, but it's also this dominance that makes me interested in the history so...bit of a double-edged sword, I suppose.
Thus, as an English-history lover, I simply had to get to Hastings. It is the site of one of history's most famous battles: the 1066 invasion of William the Conqueror's Norman army.
An easy day trip from London, I took the train down one July morning. As I sat on the train, news broke that the singer from Linkin Park had committed suicide. As the guy I was seeing at the time was a fan of the band, I spent the rest of the train ride messaging him my sympathies/exchanging Linkin Park memories.
The train station in Hastings is rather small, but at least it had a bathroom, which I was in desperate need of (the one on the train had been...um, well, let's just leave it at men are gross, especially on moving vehicles). As I finished up, I decided to leave the book I had brought with on the sink counter. I had been reading it for nearly a week and hated every second of it. Perhaps someone else would take it and enjoy it more. It's more likely that a janitor simply threw it away, but I have some hope that someone decided to take a chance on a random bathroom book.
I spent the first couple of hours I was in Hastings just admiring the town itself. It had really beautiful seaside English architecture. As I walked, I decided to grab lunch at McDonalds. I'm all about that fast-eating hustle! I ordered my Big Mac meal and ate on the second floor, overlooking a large green space where there were many families out enjoying the sunny day.
I continued west from there, enjoying my podcasts and the architecture. At one point, I found myself next to an impressively large church. It took me a minute or two to actually find the entrance, but then I stepped in and blinked into the darkness. There were several tables set up, with older women doing crafts. One of them stood up and came over, asking if I was there for the women's group. "Oh, no, I just wanted to look around." I said. "Oh, well, the church is closed to visitors on Thursdays for the women's group, so I'll have to ask you to leave." She was rather abrupt about this statement, no sense of sorrow that I couldn't visit a historical site in her town. Ah, that wonderful British customer service, always there to please! (If you're interested and in Hastings not on a Thursday, the church is called the Holy Trinity Church.)
I made my way down to the seaside, headphones solidly back in my ears after that exchange. As the salty breezes wafted into my nose, however, my annoyance drifted away. I sure do love the ocean, even when its a bit too cold to actually interact with.
Hastings has a pier, so I headed down to it. My home state of Minnesota has many lakes and rivers of which we have various leisure activities, but we do not have piers. Thus, I have always been infatuated with the idea of them. They seem so fun, so turn-of-the-century (again, I love history).
The Hastings pier did not have the shops, arcades, and rides that other piers do. What it did have was the best view of a city from any pier I have ever been to. I love British architecture in general, and Hastings struck me as extra great. It was quite lovely to have the entire horizon full of those sharply-tiered buildings. In addition, the sea that day was beautiful. The picture turned it gray, but in person it had quite the turquoise hue.
Once I departed the pier, I figured I had dilly-dallied in the city long enough. It was time to grab the bus and head six miles (10 km) away to the small town of Battle. The bus took about half an hour (and was completely full the whole way, just me and a large group of senior citizens who were all talking about the upcoming movie "Dunkirk". One of their brothers had apparently died in the battle and she had no interest in seeing it, but everyone else was excited).
I got out in Battle, a rather small town for being the site of an incredibly influential event. I approached the gatehouse that houses the office, bought my ticket (£11.80 for adults), and then walked through the doors to the back, large open space.
And open it was. I lived in central London at the time, and while it is easily my favorite place in the world, I did crave nature. Hyde Park is nice and all, but it just doesn't cut it when you love hiking and nature as much as I do.
I gazed out over the expanse, taking in the green. I could actually feel the city stress washing away. I was the only person in sight, which made the visit extra special. There was a path to follow, and I set off down it. I really liked how the entire battle field was set up. It's one thing to see a placard saying "this was where William was standing", or "here is where King Harold's men fled". But English Heritage, who runs the site, had gone a step further and erected life-size installations to allow your eyes to better take in the history.
I really liked these installations. I have seen things like them elsewhere and they often come across as a bit tacky, but the Battle of Hastings site utilized them well. As an example, these two soldiers were relatively near the start of the path.
The path sloped down a hill, and I walked along the trees downwards for a couple of minutes. Even though I had come for the battle site, I was more interested in the greenery in that specific moment. Nature starved, remember?
Once the hill had flattened, the path turned left into the open field. This ended up being the most stereotypical English moment of the day and quite potentially my entire year and a half living in England - I had suddenly found myself in a field surrounded by sheep, with Medieval ruins in the distance.
5,000 pictures and coos over the lambs later, I made my way towards the ruins themselves. As I got closer, it became apparent that it had once been a church. Soon placards began to appear, and I read all about Battle Abbey.
It's history was really fascinating. Less than five years after the Battle of Hastings, the pope ordered the Normans to do penance because they had killed so many Anglos during their conquest. So, William decided to build an abbey right on the grounds of the battle, with the high alter at the exact spot (well, supposedly) where King Harold had fallen.
The abbey was in remarkable condition, and visitors are free to explore every room. My personal favorite room was the Novices Common Room, pictured at right. It was quite large, with many...rib vaults? Is that rib vault architecture? Let's go with that. It was a quite large room with rib vault after rib vault. Pillar and arch after pillar and arch, anyways (seriously, if you know what that's called please comment, I couldn't find it on Google and it's driving me mad).
After a quick stop in the gardens to look at the monument erected by the town to King Harold, I headed over to climb the wall that led back to the Gatehouse. Medieval walls are like my homing beacon, wherever they are I will follow. This was not a wall to keep enemies out of a town however, but merely to contain the Abbey, which was interesting.
Finally, I made my way back to the Gatehouse. It had been built during the 100 Years War, as a way to protect the abbey from French raids. Nowadays, the Gatehouse offers great lunch views, as well as a museum about the battle and abbey.
Once I had gone through the museum, I was content with my history intake for the day. I headed back to the main road in town, caught a bus back to Hastings, and was on the train and back in London by early evening.