Sunday, 20 June 2010

1066 Country Walk Section 1 Pevensey - Boreham Street

1066 Country Walk
A short walk that has been on my radar for some time has been the 1066 Country Walk and an opportunity arose last week to make a start when my wife and I had a rare chance to have a walk together courtesy of my parents looking after the kids for the afternoon.  The 1066 Country Walk visits many of the prominent places in the so-called 1066 Country, the area around the most famous of all English battles.  It starts in Pevensey, the village where William the Conquerors invasion force first landed, and continues to Rye, one of the ancient Cinque Ports.  On the way it passes the battlefield, Herstmonceux Castle, Battle Abbey and the ancient port of Winchelsea.  Ideally it is done in two 15 miles sections with Battle as the break point.  That way, public transport is easy as there are connections to either end by rail, changing at Hastings.
Pevensey Castle

Sadly we didn’t have time for 15 miles today so we found that Boreham Street would be the most convenient break point for the 98 bus passes through here on its way from Polegate to Bexhill via Hailsham.  This meant that we could connect with the train there to get back to Pevensey.  It turned out not to be a bad journey, with an almost instant connection at Bexhill.  As we left Pevensey and Westham station the smell of fish and chips was heavy in the air and being very hungry we couldn’t resist.  Possibly not the best nutrition for the walk ahead but hey ho – it’s not often we get to lunch without children!
Pevensey Levels

Feeling fortified we were ready to tackle this most ancient of areas in Britain.  After walking through the substantial village of Westham we came upon the old ruins of Pevensey Castle ( .  This was originally the fort of Anderitum, founded by the Romans in around 290.  We walked through the outer bailey of the castle, between the original Roman Walls and the later mediaeval castle, which was built on the site in around 1100.  It makes for a fitting start to the walk and I can’t think of too many other long distance walks that start with such a memorable location.
Old Tractor

Once through the castle grounds we came upon Pevensey high street, not so busy these days now that the village has been mercifully by-passed.  Crossing the road was still quite a challenge however, especially as we seemed to have arrived at the same time as a large group of vintage cars that passed through.
Not Quite in Formation

The route unfortunately does not permit a thorough examination of the attractive looking village as it heads off across the fields outside the outer castle walls rather than along the high street.  Once upon a time this whole area would have once been underwater as the Pevensey Levels would have been an inlet of the sea.  Now it is a vast area of agricultural land, with few roads penetrating across it.  We headed across the Pevensey by-pass and shortly after met with the Pevensey Haven, a rather pleasant waterside walk.  This was to be our companion for the next 3 miles or so albeit with some different names later on.  The countryside here is completely flat with low-rise hills ahead of us, forming the low ridge that passes through Herstmonceux and Battle (I am guessing that this is actually the upper greensand ridge, a much more modest affair than the one in the north part of the Weald).  The flat countryside is criss-crossed by drainage ditches, enabling pasture to be created for many many cows (at least that is all we could see!  I always think that flat landscapes heighten the importance of the sky and this was no exception in that regard.  Unfortunately today there was rather more cloud than open sky and so every break that the sun was able to penetrate made it even more special for the few moments of brightness.
Herstmonceux Church

As we continued through Bridge Farm (housing a rather fine derelict tractor by the way) we could three of the landmarks that over-endow Herstmonceux with interest far beyond its size as a village.  The sails of the windmill at Windmill Hill stood out above the treeline while in front of the trees was the rather more ancient Herstmonceux Church, completely divorced from the village that now carries its name.  Not sure of the reason for this, but I suspect that the Black Death might have had something to do with it.  The third landmark was a much more alien interloper in this most English of scenes, the very large globe of the erstwhile Royal Greenwich Observatory partially hidden in the trees.
War Games

We were so focused on the view ahead that we actually missed the turn that would take us up to the church, continuing along the path for rather longer than we should have done.  When we realised we were fortunate to find another path which meant that we could regain the official route in a more roundabout way.  We also realised that there was a very large bull in the field we should have crossed so perhaps it was no bad thing!  After all the flat walking, climbing the very modest hill to reach Herstmonceux Church was a slight shock to the system and both of us feigned breathlessness as we headed away from the flatness of the Pevensey Levels.
Herstmonceux Church

Just before reaching the church we headed through a farm that seemed to be home to a number of vintage army vehicles, not just British but also American.  There were several people working on them but although I tried to make eye contact and find out what the story was, I was studiously avoided.  We had a quick look at the church and couldn’t help noticing that at the back of the graveyard all the grave stones had actually been lined up against the wall – a wartime measure perhaps?  We did not linger long though as we were keen to see the real star of the show today, Herstmonceux Castle (  One of the forgotten castles of Sussex due to its out of the way location and somewhat unrealistic appearance, it has a very interesting history having been originally built in the 15th Century and rescued from oblivion in the early 20th Century.  For the early post war years it then housed the Royal Greenwich Observatory, a rather unlikely setting for such a facility.  Now it gives the appearance of being a fake castle, which is unfortunate since much is genuine, unlike many other more recognisable castles in Sussex such as Arundel.

The view from the 1066 Country Trail is not particularly great but straying off the path a little and crossing the field in front does give a good view of the frontage.  Alas the clouds had returned by now so I didn’t get as good a picture as I’d hoped.  Last year we had visited the castle for the mediaeval festival in August, which was a fun event with lots of atmosphere.  Today though was rather a different prospect with only a few cars out front, presumably for visitors to the gardens, which are open to the public.  Ahead of us was the large dome of the main telescope of the former Observatory.  I assume it is still used although the original telescope I believe was shipped out to the Canary Islands when the light pollution here just got too much.  Sadly the view from the path on the other side of the small valley in from of the castle is the closest that you can get, since it is off limits to casual visitors (although I think it might be open sometimes?)  At the top of the small valley the view across to the now historical buildings of the remaining part of the observatory is much better.  The green domes of the telescope buildings almost blend in with the surrounding countryside, but they must have looked an arresting sight when they were still copper coloured!  This part now houses a science centre and we both remarked on how we should visit as we passed by.  We reached a very busy road at the far end of the observatory grounds , which was a rather unpleasant experience especially as we had to walk along it for a couple of hundred metres before diving back into the countryside.
Herstmonceux Castle

After all the interest of the last mile or so, the onward path to Boreham Street was pleasant but fairly uninteresting.  By now though we were much higher than the land to the south of us, which meant that way off in the distance we could see the English Channel for the first time today.  It was also possible to see how far we had come since leaving Pevensey only a couple of hours beforehand.  That aside, the countryside played second fiddle to our conversations until we reached the car once again at Boreham Street.

This was a satisfying afternoon walk, although I am sure would make for a much better day walk if the second part to Battle were added.  The public transport part of the walk could take quite a long time without careful planning, which might not be worth it given that the walk itself only takes about two and a half hours!


  1. I'm on holiday in Combe Haven next week so will be trying out the 1066 Country Walk - looks like a good one from your photos and description.

  2. Thanks! It is a good one and half finished from my point of view. Will be making an effort to finish this walk off this year. Have a good time - I hope the weather is kinder than it has been this week!