Photo from the highest point of Dover Castle
November 14th, 2016 by C. M. Harald

There has been little writing completed over the last two months and several deadlines have slipped by.  However, I’ve been rather busy in a new job and moving home to be closer to work.

The highlight of recent weeks was a visit to the Battle of Hastings re-enactment at Battle Abbey.  This year was the 950th anniversary of the battle.  Despite bad weather, we set out for Hastings on the Saturday, staying in a holiday home overnight.  It was only as the heavens opened that I was told that the holiday home site had flooded in bad weather last year.  To my amazement, I did’t float away during the night and upon arriving at Battle Abbey, I was impressed with how prepared English Heritage were for the wet weather.

Hastings

Armed with my new English Heritage membership, we slowly looked around the stalls.  Many were selling equipment for re-enactors, but as a teacher, there were several things I was tempted to buy.  To be honest, I don’t think I’d have been been able to get the battle axe under my boss’ nose.  I really don’t think swinging the thing around a classroom would really be an acceptable way to manage behaviour, or demonstrate the effectiveness of the weapon.

The re-enactors themselves were the key draw.  Fascinating as the site is, it is only one a year that a thousand re-enactors are present to entertain.  A series of demonstrations impressed the audience.  Notable were the fifty mounted horsemen who thundered around the arena.  An impressively narrated display of birds of prey was undertaken in the context of the Saxon and Norman eras.  However, the most impressive demonstration was by the foot-soldier re-enactors.  These men and women not only wore period style clothing, but also extensive protective gear.  In a series of competitively fought demonstrations, these re-enactors demonstrated the use of their weapons in a ‘Highlander’ style knock-out tournament.  Not only did these enthusiasts show great skill in fighting, they also took great pride in their acting skills when ‘injured’ or ‘killed’.

Saxon shield wall at Hastings 2016

Re-enactors form a shield wall at Hastings 2016

Ultimately, the main event of the day was the re-enactment of the battle.  Due to the presence of a large, and ruined, abbey atop the hill, the re-enactment took place on the slope below Senlac Ridge.  For the first time I saw a shield wall with more than a couple of hundred re-enactors taking place.  The view was fearsome.  The spectacle of the Saxon axemen whirling their weapons around their bodies was also something I had never seen before.  With over fifty horsemen, the scale of this re-enactment was vast, even though it was much smaller than the original battle.  Likewise, the timescale was condensed to an hour, rather than the day the original battle took to fight.  And to avoid controversy, the traditional schoolboy explanation of the death of Harold Godwinson was offered.

Re-enactors fire arrows at Hastings 2016

Hastings 2016 – a volley of Norman arrows

Dover Castle

To make further use of my shiny new English Heritage membership, I also visited Dover Castle.  Having not been for many years, despite driving past the site almost every week, I was excited to look around again.  They must have known I was coming as they had plenty of Christmas food gifts out for sampling and purchase.  I came away with toffee apple cider and fiery mustard.

Dover Castle, the keep

Entrance to the Keep at Dover Castle

As always, the presentation of Dover Castle is immaculate.  From the Roman lighthouse to the Norman keep, the displays are detailed.  The work in the keep brings to life the old stone walls and helps you to visualise the appearance of an occupied castle.  One treat was finding the restored First World War anti-aircraft gun that is fired every day.  The education officer had told me about the planned acquisition, over a cream tea, about three years ago, but I’d not been to see it yet.

Due to my legs nearly falling off with all the exercise, we put off a visit to the Second World War hospital and the Dunkirk Experience.  I’ll have to go back as I’ve never been around them, and yes I’m also tempted by the special tours of Dumpy.

 

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