Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sussex (1066 country)

The year was 1066, and the Anglo-Saxon period was about to come to an end at the hands of the French!. This I am sure sounds like very familiar history to us Brits, and perhaps even to others around the world that had the year "1066" drummed into them at primary school. It was in October 1066 that William, Duke of Normandy (later known as "William the Conqueror") defeated King Harold during the Battle of Hastings, taking the crown for himself.
The modern day location of the battle site is managed by English Heritage, and it is a fascinating site. The ruins of Battle Abbey are part of the site (founded by William), and interpretive plaques around the site recall the timeline of the battle. The Bayeux tapestry in France recalls the battle in picture form.

The lower field where the Normans attacked from

The County of Sussex (meaning South Saxons in Old English) is a county in the SE of England, the geography consists of coastal plain, rolling South Downs, and marshes, the main towns are Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. The county is blessed with not only a diverse landscape, but also a stunning selection of castles and historic properties that rival anything that our close neighbour across the channel has to offer.
Bodiam Castle is one such castle, although primarily just a shell it is absolutely stunning. The castle was built in the 14th-century by a former knight of Edward III to protect against French attacks during the hundred years war.

Bodiam Castle

In the very easterly region of Sussex (and westerly portion of Kent) lies the Dungeness headland, and vast flat landscape made up of marshes and shingle beach. The area is so completely different from the rest of the Sussex/Kent landscape that you almost feel like you are in a nuclear wasteland - maybe slightly fitting since it is home to Dungeness power station. The headland is a great place for bird watching, for cycling, and even for a Steam Train excursion!.

The newest lighthouse on the headland

The vastness of Dungeness showing signs of the past and present

To the west of Dungeness is the beautiful ancient town of Rye, which means island in Saxon, the town is one of the Cinque Ports. Rye sits on top of a hill, with the river Rother and Brede following below it; originally the town would have had a harbour, but storms in the 13th century diverted the river. The town is truly remarkable, although obviously very touristy, but well worth a visit and a wander around it's narrow lanes.

Mermaid Street, Rye

Top of Rye by the Church

East Sussex & Kent are home to many National Trust properties, and two standouts are Scotney Castle (Kent) and Bateman's (East Sussex). Scotney castle is a 14th century ruined castle (now a feature of the landscaped gardens), and a Victorian country manor house. The manor house is not particularly ornate or of historic interest (at least in my opinion), but the location and surrounding parkland is wonderful.

Moated Scotney castle

Scotney manor house

Bateman's house in contrast to Scotney is a wonderful historic 17th century manor house, and the 20th century home of Rudyard Kipling. The interior of the house is a real time capsule from when Kipling lived there with his family, including his original study, desk and books (no internet back in those days), his Nobel Peace prize, and excerpts from his books. The grounds are peaceful and useable, and you can really picture the family living here and enjoying the grounds.

Kitchen garden at Bateman's

Peaceful gardens at Batman's

The last time I visited East Sussex was in 2015, and Kent in 2017, both were a whistle stop visit by bicycle on route to France. This week long visit during September 2023 gave us the chance to see the real Sussex, and it did not disappoint. From spectacular castles and historic houses, to beautiful villages filled with wood-clad houses; Sussex (and Kent) is definitely an area well worth a visit, and has the feel of Northern France (not surprising given the Norman influences).

Useful Information
National Trust-Kent

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