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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Making big battle tours - via Battle, Sussex


This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Here's a look at three of the top UK tourist battlegrounds - Waterloo, Ypres and Battle (for the Battle of Hastings).
 Obviously the one at Battle, in Sussex, is the easiest to visit without leaving the UK! 
Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Window at Battle Abbey (monks' dormatry)
Battlefields in the old sense - a field where history is rewritten by the victor - have always had tourists. The battleground at Waterloo (1815) and at Hastings (1066) have also been used for many re-enactions which also bring in visitors. And then there's Ypres - a town totally destroyed during World War 1 that has been rebuilt exactly as it was, as a memorial to those who died.

For anyone interested in history taking a tour of a battleground is strangely compelling.

You feel closer to the action and you learn a lot of extra facts (especially if you take an audio guide) Often you find yourself taking sides. But the tourists who visit these places aren't necessarily picking the winning side, so there is clearly a huge amount of skill in breaking down the information for modern visitors, in order to take in their age or nationality without dumbing history down or forgetting this is both a memorial site, and a repeatable day trip.

Looking towards the Menin Gate at Ypres
100 years since WW1
At Ypres the In Flanders Field Museum has a sophisticated tour that tells you the story with an angle to suit your lifestory and age. So a teenage boy gets a very different experience to his mum. Every day at 8pm you can go and listen to the haunting notes of the Last Post played at Menin Gate in memory of all those killed - just as it has been since 1928.

>>Visiting Ypres has meant that I spend much more time at WW1 memorials around the UK - reading, thanking those people who died, empathising with their families. So many men, and so many families, were effected by WW1.

200 years since 1815
At Waterloo there's a new visitor centre and the extraordinary hill monument, Lion's Mound, which gives you a bird's eye view of the main battlesites.

>>Visiting Waterloo got me re-looking at the Romantic(ish) view of war presented in War & Peace, Les Miserables and Vanity Fair.

Listening to the audio tour beside the place where the Normans began their
advance up the hill to do battle with the Saxons in 1066.
950 years since 1066
And at Battle - where the Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 - there's a self-guided walk around the steeply sloping battlefield that makes it clear that the Saxons chose the site well (it's on top of a hill) and the Normans must have been very cunning, and brave, to have won by luring Harold's men off that vantage point. I fear that by writing "and brave" you can tell that I swallowed the Norman viewpoint.

Listening to a retelling of the Battle of Hastings in front of
Battle Abbey (now a school).
Now it is 950 years since the Battle of Hastings, English Heritage has put considerable effort into getting more visitors along. There's an excellent film, that audio tour around the battlefield through prettily wooded sheep fields and by the old Abbey - which is still marked by its own stone skeleton - you can listen to shows. We caught a battle re-enactment, done with vegetables so the presenter can work in the joke "William the Cauliflower" which the little kids loved. It was actually quite a detailed recall of the battle, albeit presented with the help of carrot squadrons.

>>The visits to Ypres and Waterloo were very moving. But Battle wasn't a tiny bit depressing, it's very strange. Despite English Heritage's good graphic detail of how the Saxons and Normans fought (they basically swapped arrows and also wore similar types of protective armour if they could afford it) and being in a place where 700 men died on one day, changing English history it just feels a long time ago in what is now a beautiful spot.

Why visit Battle
The best thing about going to Battle (an English Heritage) site is that it has been a tourist hotspot for hundreds of years - so there are great pubs, tea shops and cafes in Battle.There are even places to stay if you want to squeeze in more culture than you can manage in one day (eg, the free Almonry, a local history museum). Battle is also easy to reach by train (Charing Cross to Battle is a quicker route than Victoria to Battle) and there are plenty of buses.

Pilgrims Rest - a garden cafe with very ancient interior (1400s)
which is opposite the entrance to Battle Abbey. As you can see it does a fine milkshake.
Sussex is renowned for it's good food - if that's something that is important to you, then do visit Battle Deli, 58 High Street, Battle, Sussex.

We also enjoyed the offerings at Pilgrims' Rest, eaten in their pretty garden (as well as the search for anti witch symbols on the interior window sill). Pilgrims' Rest was probably a rest house for the original Abbey workers who were commissioned by William the Conqueror to build an abbey on the spot where King Harold died. Apparently this wasn't out of a sense of shame for William I, it was because the Pope told him he had to make amends. As the first of the Normans' abbeys, Battle Abbey becomes the richest in Britain - so not surprisingly was totally trashed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries.  But you can still see plenty of interesting buildings including a turreted gate house, the impressive wall (with a walkway) between town and the abbey gardens and the abbot's house which became a very grand home, Battle Abbey.

What next
I have a mini dream to try walking from London to Battle along the 1066 walk (although strictly speaking I should perhaps start at Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire (25 Sep 1066) where unlucky Harold had to rush back from after defeating another attempt to take the English Crown, from King Harold of Norway and his own brother (families, eh?!). The Sussex countryside looks lovely - very wooded - so maybe it will be something I can get my family to do with me.

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