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paul@plan-a

My Battle with Hastings!

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My Battle with Hastings!

My wife is an osteopath and as part of her CPD (continual professional development) she has to attend courses each year. Sometimes these are in remote places that give me an opportunity to accompany her for a restful break.

A year or so ago a trip to Hastings on the south coast was arranged, I had not visited this part of Sussex for many years and was happy to join her on the 3-day trip. We stayed at a remote farm in between Lewes and Eastbourne.

The weather was cold and snow was on the ground, the Saturday I had a brisk walk along Eastbourne seafront and then spent the afternoon in the warm watching Rugby on the TV.

On the Sunday I dropped my wife at the venue for her conference and thought I would explore the coast and perhaps find a warm pub for some lunch, my wife’s lectures finished at 4.00pm.

As I drove alone the coast I began to see signs for Hastings and Battle, I opted for Hastings, which was a bit disappointing, it was a cold and dreary and Hastings didn’t have much to offer on a Sunday morning. I saw the signs for Battle Monastery. It sounded interesting and I have always had an interest in the Norman Conquest so I set off to find the car park.

I walked up the town in search of a pub, settled for the 1066 and ordered some lunch, after my meal I took a slow walk back towards the Monastery. The wind had now got up and the temperature had now dropped to around freezing, there were a few snow flurries in the air. I walked back to the car and debated putting on my water proof and my woolly hat, but thought better of it, collected my walking stick and left with my fleece on, I would only view the museum and waste an hour, the time was around 1.30ish.

I entered the Monastery and looked in the small museum, which did not take long, but got me interested in the invasion that William brought with him, and how Harold had done his best to stop us speaking French!

With my interest up I noticed a display offering listening walking talkies that gave commentary of the battle, and information on the characters involved.

I spoke with the fellow hiring these out, he said the program commentary is a guide around the Monastery and also a tour of the Battlefield, noticing I had one leg, (I was wearing my peg-leg) commented that I should stick to the monastic tour and just listen to the battlefield jaunt. The whole tour would take 40 minutes but if I stayed at the Monastery probably half of that time!

It was now 2pm as I took control of my walking talking guide to medieval warfare.

The walking talking device had onboard 13 (unlucky for some!) number press pads. These where linked to a number board situated along the walk, there would be a plinth with a diagram of a situation in the story, you press the walking talkie at the appropriate liaison, matching with the number on the machine and at the plinth point. I had a arrived at number one I pressed the button; actors laid the scene for one of the most historical dates in English history and a date that I wouldn’t forget for a long time either.

Well I’m really getting into the play, the actors are portraying the scene Harold this, William that, soon I’ve passed point 2 and on my way to point number 3.

Then I get to a fork in the tour, the sign reads to the battlefield down a section of steps or straight on to complete the monastic tour. Sections 4 to 9 are on the battlefield!

Now its well after 2 and its starting to snow, but the actors have done such a great job in building the scenario of the pre battle excitement I will not enjoy missing out on the realism of the actual event.

On to the battlefield I descend, this can’t take long I walk down the mulch filled path, the snow is coming down harder now and the wind is getting up, as I leave the protection of the Monastery walls.

I wish I put my hat on and my waterproof but still if I keep moving I shall remain warm.

At point 3 I press the button on the walking talkie, the battle is under way, William is pushing on towards Harold, the Housecarls (Harold’s body guard) protecting their leader. I had now transcended the slope and was approaching point 4 and then on to five which was at the bottom of the hill, pressing the button I got to hear the roar of battle and the sound of arrows in the air, Harold was winning unfortunately I was not……………………..

Once I left the comparative firmness of the mulch, I had started to slip and slide and slowly sinking into the sod, which was the historic battlefield.

William (The B.....D) as he was to be known was also having issues with the terrain but the battle was fought in October, his problem was a few thousand cheesed off Saxons mine was the temperature which with the wind chill was dropping dramatically, the snow which was falling fast and my footing which was fast disappearing into the soggy bog.

I soldiered on towards point 6, slipping and sliding it was taking me longer and longer to make any headway I was getting into dire straits, part of me wanted to return to the safety of the mulch slopes but part of me wanted to get to point 6 and listen to the next episode in the great battle!

I got to point 6 listening to William who had been un- horsed rallying his knights for one big push back up the hill.

Off I set towards point 7, I was starting to get really cold there was not another soul on the walk, and obviously others had more sense. My situation was starting to dawn on me. The further I pushed onto the battlefield the worse the terrain became. Know body knew I was here; the peg leg was gathering mud like a rugby players boot! I was soaking wet and starting to shiver. I had my mobile phone and considered ringing the Police for assistance. Oh hello I’m stuck in the mud with one leg in the middle of the Battle of Hastings battle field would you send a helicopter!! It wouldn’t work they would tell me bugger off and bother someone else.

It is now 3pm, here’s the scenario, I cannot go back the snow and terrain would make that impossible, I have just arrived at point 7 a patch of concrete surrounded by a sea of mud and slush. My body temperature is falling fast and I want to sit down and have a cup of tea, my leg is beginning to hurt and I now have ½ a hundred weight of mud attached to my peg leg!

I must not listen to the walking talkie again or I will end up like Harold did.

Off I set more like Captain Scott than William the Conqueror, I am wearing leather trousers that keep the cold out but they are now covered in mud I slip and slide inching up the slope of the fortified Monastery, I debate crawling and clawing my way to safety things have just got serious!! I jam the bloody walking talkie in the back of my trousers and concentrate on survival, I will find out more on Harold and William once I’m safe, but I am still intrigued how the battle is going, it’s a little like reading Julius Caesar and being surprised when he gets killed!

Slowly yard by yard I emerge from the bog, step by step I get to firmer more solid ground, past points 8 and 9 onwards and upwards I trudge, at last the Mulch reappears like a lit stairway to heaven, I’m saved, I arrive at point 10 and reclaim the walking talkie to find out how Harry is getting on, he’s dead and so are most of his Housecarls the battle is lost, William had come up that hill a lot faster than I had, and stormed the bastion. While listening to this I look up to the battlements of the monastery and notice dozens of cold faces pointing and shaking there heads in my direction, it’s suddenly dawns on me that my whole sorry adventure has been viewed by the amazed normal visitors to the historic monastic site, they have watch as the whole sorry tale unfolded enjoying the disabled madman’s plight.

I decided to walk on as though nothing was amiss, brassing it out they call it in the army. When I emerged onto the monastery-cobbled walkway I realise how filthy I am, I am caked in mud, the mud on my peg leg now is the shape of a flying saucer. The people’s faces are totally amazed their mouths open like they have seen the ghost of dear old Harold.

I slip around the corner knocking mud off on the stonewalls I’m in a shocking state.

I still have to return to the gift shop and hand in the cause of my position the dreaded walking talkie. I slipped into the warm shop my body lapping up the warmth my cheeks redden with the heat and embarrassment. Not wanting to confront the man who had told me not to go on the battlefield, I pretend to look at the cheap nasty images on sale, to prove where Harold got wiped out, Mugs, cups, ties etc.

Slowly limped towards the walking talkie drop off point leaving a trail of authentic Battle of Hastings mud. The look on the curators face was a picture I tried to leave his device without drawing attention to myself, but as steam was starting to rise from my clothing as I slowly dried out, there was no chance in leaving un-noticed. He said nothing just looked me up and down with pity, gawping at the state of this humbled visitor.

I fled to the car park probably as many of Harold’s House Carls had done 1000 years previous.

On reaching the car I took stock of what a retched state I was in. I tried vainly to wipe the battlefield from my person, it was useless I was smothered in clay, I had to get warm as the sleet streamed down soaking my clothing even more. I sat in the car waiting for the engine to warm up feeling pretty stupid, the time was getting on fast towards 4.00pm when I was due to pick up my wife, what was she going to say with me in this state, as I drove back towards Eastbourne I saw a car jet wash, perfect.

I pulled up feed the machine with sufficient funds filled a bucket with hot soapy water, then proceeded to wash my self down, I was already soaked so I couldn’t get any wetter, again I was the source of amusement for passers by, but by this stage I was past caring, my male ego in tatters.

Luckily my wife was late leaving her lecture and I had 10 minutes to gather myself for another onslaught, of what on earth have you been doing…..

Put it this way, if I visit one of our historic memorials again, I shall take a book and find the coffee shop with a comfy chair, that’s one in the eye for English Heritage!

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