Stage 1: Rye to Battle

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rye Windmill

(1) Rye Windmill

West Undercliff, Rye

(2) West Undercliff, Rye

Pumping station, near Rye

(3) Pumping station, near Rye

Footpath between Rye and Winchelsea

(4) Footpath between Rye and Winchelsea

The 1066 Country Walk starts in the medieval town of Rye, where I arrived by train on a very pleasant, almost cloudless morning on the last day of June. I had previously visited Rye at the beginning of March while walking the Saxon Shore Way, so I easily found my way from the station to the Rye Heritage Centre, which stands on the corner of the A259 and The Deals.

A short distance along the A259, the road crosses a bridge over the River Tilingham from east to west. Across the bridge, the 1066 Country Walk officially begins, following a footpath to the right along the western bank of the river. The footpath soon crosses the single track rail line that runs through Rye on its way between Hastings and Ashford. On the opposite bank of the river stands the Grade II listed Rye Windmill (picture 1), built in 1932 on the site of an earlier mill of 1594.

After a few more steps, the footpath turns left to cross an open area of grass to the Gibbet Marsh carpark and then follows the driveway out of the carpark to turn left along Udimore Road. The route follows the left side of the road past houses until a signpost with colourful waymarker discs points along the gated track known as West Undercliff (picture 2).

Before long, the track passes an old brick building with bricked-up windows that indicate it has been converted into a pumping station (picture 3). Beyond this building, the path passes through a metal five-bar gate, and out along the foot of the low Cadborough Cliff with open grazing land off to the left of the path (picture 4).

Interesting street name

(5) Interesting street name

Winchelsea Station

(6) Winchelsea Station

A259 below Winchelsea

(7) A259 below Winchelsea

Path climbs near Winchelsea

(8) Path climbs near Winchelsea

The well-maintained unsealed path runs for around one and a half kilometres before joining a lane by a lonely farmhouse. It wasn't until I reached an intersection a couple of minutes later that I discovered the name of this lane, and I felt the need to take a photo of the street sign, lest somebody should think I made this one up (picture 5).

The 1066 Country Walk turns left at the intersection, following Winchelsea Lane between fields and back to the railway line at the tiny Winchelsea Station (picture 6). Once across the railway line, the road changes name to Station Road and follows a contorted route for nearly a kilometre to join the A259 at a hairpin turn at the foot of a steep wooded slope below the ancient town of Winchelsea (picture 7).

Rather than following the road up to the town, a signpost a few metres to the right points along a driveway, where the route heads through trees just to the right of a small sewage works before emerging into a field. The path follows the field edge as it begins to curve to the left and climb increasingly steeply (picture 8).

Fields below Winchelsea

(9) Fields below Winchelsea

Trig point at Winchelsea

(10) Trig point at Winchelsea

The New Inn, Winchelsea

(11) The New Inn, Winchelsea

St Thomas's Church, Winchelsea

(12) St Thomas's Church, Winchelsea

As the path levels off there are good views over the fields to the north and west, through which the River Brede flows (picture 9). The path continues to curve back towards the town of Winchelsea, passing a trig point which stands on a mound beside the path on the edge of the town (picture 10).

Reaching the first houses, the path joins a rough driveway leading back to the A259, here called Roberts Hill. The route heads straight across the busy road and along Mill Road until the first right turn, Hiham Green, leads one block further to cross the intersection with the High Street, where the large New Inn pub (picture 11) stands on the right and the church of St. Thomas (picture 12) stands on the left.

Town sign, Winchelsea

(13) Town sign, Winchelsea

Ruins of St John's Hospital, Winchelsea

(14) Ruins of St John's Hospital, Winchelsea

Path towards Wickham Manor

(15) Path towards Wickham Manor

Castle gate, near Winchelsea

(16) Castle gate, near Winchelsea

Beyond the intersection, Hiham Green becomes German Street, and after a few metres I passed Winchelsea's old-fashioned town sign and found a bench to sit on for a brief rest by the low stone wall of the churchyard. I took picture 13 looking back in the direction from which I had walked. The sign actually isn't as old as it looks -- it was built for the millenium, as the Roman numerals MM (2000) on the top of the sign indicate.

Resuming my walk after a few minutes rest, I continued along German Street, which becomes Monks Walk after another block as it heads south, soon leaving the houses of Winchelsea behind. Eventually, Monks Walk curves to the right by a lone stone wall that is all that remains of St John's Hospital (picture 14), a medieval almshouse.

Just past the wall, the route crosses a stile by a signpost and descends diagonally right across the field to reach a pair of stiles on either side of the row of trees that forms the field boundary. After crossing the second stile, the path heads for the left corner of the grove of trees ahead (picture 15). There the route joins a more well-defined path along the left edge of the next field, passing by the remains of a medieval castle gatehouse (picture 16).

Wickham Manor

(17) Wickham Manor

Path beside field full of flowers

(18) Path beside field full of flowers

Windmill above Wickham Rock Lane

(19) Windmill above Wickham Rock Lane

Overgrown orchard near Icklesham

(20) Overgrown orchard near Icklesham

The path now heads uphill across the field to cross two stiles just to the left of the leftmost of the buildings of Wickham Manor (picture 17). The path then crosses a large meadow to reach another stile above the hedge-lined Wickham Rock Lane. The path runs parallel with the lane for a short distance before a second stile leads down to the road, and a few metres further on the path heads uphill to the left through a wooden gate and diagonally across another field. As the path climbed gently, there were good views across the flat farmland of Romney Marsh, where I had walked along the Royal Military Canal a few months earlier on the final stage of the Saxon Shore Way, and beyond to the English Channel.

At the top of the field the path bends to the right around a line of trees, passing a concrete pillbox before heading along the edge of a field filled with various kinds of small flowers (picture 18). Two more stiles lead into another field, this time filled with blue flowers. On the other side of the field, a gate takes the path onto Wickham Rock Lane once more.

The road passes a small white house on the left, and just beyond it the path leaves the road via a stile on the right, next to a pair of telegraph poles. The path climbs a grassy hill to pass close by a hilltop windmill (picture 19) before descending again to another stile and onto a lane. A short way along the lane a signpost points through a narrow gap in the hedge and into a rather overgrown orchard (picture 20).

Oast house near Icklesham

(21) Oast house near Icklesham

The Queen's Head, Icklesham

(22) The Queen's Head, Icklesham

Thatched house, Icklesham

(23) Thatched house, Icklesham

Fields near Icklesham

(24) Fields near Icklesham

A short distance along the edge of the orchard the path bears right through the trees, reaching a farm road where a pair of oast houses are visible to the right (picture 21). The route crosses the farm road and turns right through a metal gate to follow the edge of the next section of the orchard past the oast houses and other farm buildings, eventually leaving the orchard and heading through trees to reach Workhorse Lane on the edge of the village of Icklesham.

Following the road to the right, the route soon crosses Main Road and follows Parsonage Lane around the edge of the village. When the lane bends to the left after 75 metres, a driveway ahead leads to the cozy 17th-century Queens Head Inn (picture 22), where I stopped for a hearty lunch and a pint.

Leaving the pub somewhat reluctantly, I continued to skirt around the fringes of Icklesham on Parsonage Lane, passing the last house, a rather attractive thatched building (picture 23), before crossing a stile into a field. The route soon heads downhill past a line of trees and then bears to the right to cross a small footbridge over a ditch at the field boundary and into another large field, this time grazed by a large flock of sheep (picture 24).

Cottage near Brook Farm

(25) Cottage near Brook Farm

Brook Farm

(26) Brook Farm

Snaylham House

(27) Snaylham House

Approaching Lower Snaylham

(28) Approaching Lower Snaylham

The route heads along the left edge of the field to the next corner, where a stile on the left leads past a small farmhouse (picture 25) and along a farm track which climbs towards Brook Farm, where a couple more oast houses can be seen. At the top of the hill, the track bends around beyond the farm buildings to pass the actual front of the farm (picture 26).

The track now becomes known as Broad Street, though it remains an unpaved track and after a short distance it turns left at a junction. After little more than fifty metres the route turns sharply right beside a small cottage to take another track signposted to Snaylham House. The track passes Snaylham House (picture 27) before climbing up over the crest of a hill where there were good views of the surrounding countryside (picture 28).

Footbridge between fields

(29) Footbridge between fields

Lower Lidham Hill Farm

(30) Lower Lidham Hill Farm

Path crosses railway line near Doleham

(31) Path crosses railway line near Doleham

Crossing the Doleham Ditch

(32) Crossing the Doleham Ditch

Soon the track begins to descend towards the hamlet of Lower Snaylham, heading through a gate and to the right of a farm building, then over a stile and downhill across a field of long grass. At the bottom of the field, the route turns right after crossing another stile then heads along to a broken signpost, which would have pointed to the left across the next field. The path follows the left field edge for a short distance before bearing a little right and crossing over two footbridges in fairly quick succession (picture 29)

The route crosses the next field before two stiles take the path into a sloping field at Lower Lidham Hill Farm, where several horses were roaming (picture 30). Here a waymarker pointed vaguely up towards the top of the field but I could see no obvious way out of the field. It took me a few minutes to discover a well-hidden five bar gate in the top left corner of the field, where i had to climb over the gate which was too overgrown by the hedges to open.

The only way to go is along a hedge-lined path which passes by the farm buildings before bending to the left to join the paved North Lane. Heading right, the route follows the lane, which first curves to the left then runs straight ahead for about four hundred metres. When the lane turns left again, the route keeps on ahead briefly, passing through trees before a signpost points to the right down a gently sloping field. At the bottom of the field a signpost points through the trees to a crossing over the same railway line I had already crossed twice today (picture 31).

Emerging from the trees on the other side of the tracks the path heads downhill and crosses a footbridge over the Doleham Ditch, where the 1066 Country Walk's Hastings Link meets the main route (picture 32). From here, the route heads back uphill to cross a stile under the left edge of the clump of trees at the top of the picture and continues ahead across a large grassy field to another stile and past a tennis court and farm buildings to reach the drive of Pattleton's Farm.

Path towards Downoak Farm

(33) Path towards Downoak Farm

Steep descent leaving Westfield

(34) Steep descent leaving Westfield

Woods near Little Westbrook Farm

(35) Woods near Little Westbrook Farm

Path near Spraybridge Farm

(36) Path near Spraybridge Farm

The 1066 Country Walk follows the hedge-lined drive first to the right and then to the left in front of a house where a large black dog came out to make sure that I was headed somewhere else. About a hundred metres further, the drive turns right but the route continues ahead through a gap in the hedge and downhill across two wheat fields (picture 33) before climbing along the right edge of a third field to reach Downoak Farm, though the farm buildings were mostly hidden behind tall hedges.

Near the top of this field a wooden gate in the hedge leads along an enclosed path then across some grass to another enclosed section of path which emerges at an intersection of lanes. The route heads through a metal kissing gate on the other side of the intersection, following a narrow footpath through trees beside the Westfield Cricket Ground, passing close by the corrugated iron structure of the pavilion.

The footpath soon joins a minor road, which in turn reaches the busy A28 on the fringes of the town of Westfield. The route crosses the road and heads along a footpath between fences just to the left, turns left onto Cottage Lane for a few metres and then right into another quiet street. When this street turns left the route continues straight ahead along a signed bicycle path that twists and turns through an area of woodland before turning left along a road called New Cut. Before long the route leaves the road to the left, joining a narrow and overgrown footpath beside a metal gate labelled "Horseman's Cottage" (picture 34).

The footpath soon starts to descend into more woodland, where a series of peaceful enclosed paths (picture 35) curve right to pass by Westbrook Farm and then left to eventually reach a minor road known as Sprays Lane. About fifty metres along the road to the right, a signpost points off the road to the left, along a well-worn path (picture 36).

Footbridge near Great Buckhurst Farm

(37) Footbridge near Great Buckhurst Farm

Kent Street

(38) Kent Street

Norton's Farm

(39) Norton's Farm

Sedlescombe Golf Course

(40) Sedlescombe Golf Course

The well-waymarked path runs through bushland for just over a kilometre, crossing several footbridges (picture 37) before emerging onto the busy A21 at the village of Kent Street (picture 38). After a short walk along the verge, the route crosses the road and follows a short enclosed path to join a lane which leads past an oast house at Norton's Farm (picture 39). Just beyond the oast house, the route heads through a metal gate and along another enclosed path that leads to the edge of the Sedlescombe Golf Course (picture 40), which was almost devoid of golfers despite it being quite a pleasant Thursday afternoon.

Great Wood

(41) Great Wood

Fallen tree, Great Wood

(42) Fallen tree, Great Wood

High Street, Battle

(43) High Street, Battle

Battle Abbey

(44) Battle Abbey

The route follows a cart path across to the far side of the golf course, where the path bears left and heads into the thick forest of Great Wood. The narrow path winds it way gently downhill for almost four hundred metres to reach the main east-west bridleway track through the wood (picture 41), where the route heads west for around one and a half kilometres to the edge of the town of Battle. Along the way, the path was blocked by a recently fallen tree (picture 42), which perhaps accounted for a lack of horses coming the other way on the bridleway.

On the edge of Battle, the route joins Marley Lane, crossing the main Hastings to London rail line after about five hundred metres and then continuing ahead when Marley Lane joins the High Street. Soon the high stone walls of Battle Abbey rise to the left of the road, which passes by the parish church on the right before reaching an open area in the middle of the town (picture 43).

Just to the left stands the magnificent 1338 gatehouse of Battle Abbey (picture 44), which was my destination for today's walk, some 25.5km from my starting point in Rye. It had been another good day's walking, though I was starting to feel a little tired for the last three or four kilometres of the walk. The terrain had been quite different to that of the Thames Path, which I had completed nine days earlier, but had not been terribly demanding. Perhaps I had just enjoyed a few too many pints of fine English ale over the last nine days.

The site of Battle Abbey is one of the most important places in English history. The Battle of Hastings was fought here in 1066 and the abbey was founded here by the victorious William the Conqueror a few years later.