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by Colleen Friesen For Travel Writers' Tales

For the most part, it went as planned.

It was simple really. We would do a three-day walk around the 1066 Battle of Hastings area in the south of England. We'd stroll over rolling green dales, pop into a castle or two where we'd learn the history about the Battle of 1066 (history that I knew was important, but the details of which I had somehow neglected to fully absorb during my spotty education).

I pictured sunny little September picnics before checking in to the next town's B & B.

VisitBritain helped set the plan in motion; an afternoon train from London, a quick cab to the nearby town of Battle, a little history lesson by walking around the Battle Abbey site, an early dinner and then, for the next two days, some good and proper tramping through the English countryside.

And indeed, we stood on the battlefield, listened to the audio guide, read the signs, walked through the museum, and yes, I felt like I finally understood what had taken place and why it was so historically significant (to sum up - the Normans beat the Anglo-Saxons, forever changing laws and adding heaps of castles to the mix).

There was just one thing...

The weather was utterly, and fantastically, miserable.

As we exited the cab at the Abbey, our umbrellas were immediately rendered useless by the howling wind. Rain swirled up our noses, leaving us senseless and gasping. Our silly light shoes were soaked. Why, oh why did we think we wouldn't need good hiking boots?

That night, the rain continued to slop out of the dark, spinning and spewing on blistering winds. We hunkered down in the Lilac Tree Lodge, taking solace by drinking tea and eating lovely oh-so-moist almond-sprinkled cake. The wind continued to batter the walls, providing the sound-track to that long ago war.

Colleen Friesen at Dumb Woman's Lane en route to Rye

But when morning dawned, the sodden garden flowers of the night before were transformed. Besotted with sunshine, we immediately got lost. After a heart-thudding ascent back to the start of the trail, we paid strict attention to the instructions found in Nick Brown's book, The 1066 Country Walk.

It was not the fault of his excellent descriptions, but rather our collective inability to note the ob-vious. Chastised by our error, we began reading more closely and the rest of the morning's walk went as written. So much so, that we managed to meet the author within five minutes of the agreed upon time of noon in a tiny lane near Westfield. We'd bashed off close to eight kilome-tres and had another eight to go.

With Nick at our side, we cruised through stubbled fields and over stiles. Perfect white puffy clouds blew overhead, birds twittered and streams rushed.

Husband Kevin Redl, and Author, Nick Brown

We checked into The Strand in Winchelsea, an inn dating back to the 13th century with a multi-plicity of signs advising us to "Mind Your Head", a reminder that the ever-settling-and-skewed doors and low-slung rafters might present a challenge for anyone taller than five feet.

Breakfast at the Strand

Our final day dawned as bright as the day before. We walked past the flaming yellow gorse, the baa-ing sheep and picked the last of the season's blackberries as we headed to Rye; a city with more historically listed buildings than any other town in England.

In fact, the entire town is listed.

So, it wasn't enough that we were able to walk through every period of architectural history and imbibe a beer at a pub that's had continuous patronage for the last six hundred years, but we also discovered that Rye was (I hope!) the only town in Ye Olde England that has the gibbetted re-mains of a long-ago criminal in their town hall attic (gibbetting, in case, like me, you also missed that bit of historical trivia, was the act of caging an-already-dead-by-hanging corpse so that it could rot publicly as a further deterrent to would-be criminals). It worked. In spite of the dearth of traffic, we were careful to obey each and every crosswalk signal.

Colleen Friesen with local Frank Parsons, in Rye

On your next trip to London, I respectfully suggest you grab a train down to the Sussex area. Take a walkabout and end it by strolling over the cobblestoned streets of Rye. You might not see a ghost of some poor previously-gibbetted soul...but I promise you'll have a fabulous time.

Just don't break any laws and be sure to bring your boots.


When planning your trip:


1. Husband Kevin Redl, and Author, Nick Brown: Photo: Colleen Friesen
2. Colleen Friesen at Dumb Woman's Lane en route to Rye. Photo: Kevin Redl
3. Colleen Friesen with local Frank Parsons, in Rye. Photo: Kevin Redl
4. Breakfast at the Strand. Photo: Colleen Friesen

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