“ Address: Hastings / East Sussex / England „
Castle Hill Road,
Standing proudly on the cliff top, looking out over the glistening sea, with views to Eastbourne and across the channel, the proud ruins of Hastings Castle make a spectacular site, especially on a sunny day . I don't think I can do this castle justice without going into the back story, so forgive me if this review gets a little lengthy.
Hastings was the first Norman castle built in Britain, and its location was a strategic one . Originally built of wood and earth as a Motte and Bailey in September 1066, shortly before the Battle of Hastings, from its vantage point high up on the cliffs, it could watch the channel to welcome in Norman ships, and could also survey the surrounding countryside, and be forewarned of any sneaky attacks from the locals .
Here they could prepare for the forthcoming battle between Harold , the crowned king of England, and William, Duke of Normandy, later known as 'William the Conqueror' . This battle came about because Edward the Confessor, the previous king of England had promised his kingdom to William, but upon his death he changed his mind, and instead entrusted his kingdom to Harold Godwinson , with the words " I commend my wife to your care and with her my whole kingdom ".
Naturally, William wasn't going to take this lying down , and prepared for battle - although initially the tides were against him, and he struggled to make it over to England . The Vikings didn't struggle though - their leader, Harold Hardrada, also thought he had a claim to the throne, after all, the Vikings had ruled in England before. He set off to invade, and landed at York.
Now, Hardrada had a well deserved reputation as a bit of a hard-nut . He once laid siege to a city by pretending he was dead . The priests placed him into a coffin, and the people of the city were so delighted that this man was dead, that they flung wide the gates of the city, motioning for the priests to bring him in - whereby he leapt out of his coffin and massacred them all .
But Harold (the English one!) was nothing if not a shrewd planner . He advanced slowly up through England, accumulating men as he went - ans surprised the Vikings at Stamford bridge, a narrow wooden footbridge that could be defended by one man. A lone Viking, of impressive strength defended the bridge, killing English men left right and centre, until one of them snuck under the bridge, and rammed a spear up the backside of the defending Viking. As he fell, the English raced across the bridge, and quickly dispensed with the rest of the Vikings .
Rather inconveniently , the tides had changed during all this, and the Normans had made landfall in Hastings, and built a Fort . Without any time to rest, Harold marched his men south, to Senlac Hill, just outside Hastings, to face William. Harold was not so lucky this time - although initially his battle tactic of making the men put up shields proved strong, and his men were able to slaughter a fair few Normans while remaining very safe behind their shields. Sadly, his fighters, ordinary farmers called from their work, got a little too excited, broke ranks, and charged the Normans, leaving Harold undefended - and he shortly died, through an arrow in his eye, according the the Bayeux tapestry ( which is in fact, not a tapestry at all, but an embroidery!).
After his great success, William ordered Hastings Castle to be rebuilt in stone, and the Count of Eu undertook this work. But, during the reign of King John Lackland, war against the French took a bad turn for us, and John had the castle destroyed to stop the French getting a base in Hastings .
In 1220, Henry III refortified the castle and in flourished, until months of freak storms in 1287 caused vast chinks of it to collapse into the sea, and also silted up the port of Hastings, turning it from a heaving trade port into nothing more than a fishing town . The castle lay abandoned, and further erosion led to more of it falling into the sea.
Today, a few walls from the old church within the castle, some dungeons, and the castle gates are all that remain - standing sentinel on the cliff tops still. Hastings Castle is the perfect romantic ruin.
Within the castle, there is a Medieval Siege Tent ( at least, that's what THEY call it, I call it a portacabin with a cinema inside, where you can view a short presentation on the history of the castle, explaining what the various parts of the ruins were, showing pictures of how it used to look, and explaining briefly the battle, and the events leading up to and following on from it . The presentation, being so short (only 15 minutes) is a little poor on detail, but does cover the main facts , and is ideal for children and for people who know nothing, or only a little of the castles history.
I enjoyed my visit here very much - I'm a huge history lover, so this was somewhere I had always wanted to visit, and standing amidst the ruined castle, looking out over the channel, it was easy to imagine the way it might have looked, and the power it would have over the surrounding area. I enjoyed looking at the ruins, and there were helpful signs giving more information, such as showing the rate of erosion in the area, and showing how the castle would have originally looked . Stones laid into the ground explained what each part of the castle would have originally been, and it was a strange feeling to be casually walking over an area where an altar would have once stood .
The dungeons were another interesting area - they may have held prisoners, but the more likely use was that they would have been store rooms . They were cold and damp, and I was a little upset to see that people had been graffiti writing on the walls - many names were there, along with some obscenities, which slightly ruined it for me, I feel .
Getting to Hastings Castle is fairly easy . Since the area around it is parking by permit only, I would recommend parking on the sea front and taking the West Hill Lift ( a vertical cable car) up to the castle, which is just on the left as you exit the lift .
Entry prices are £3.50 for an adult, and £2.50 for a child , which I think is pretty reasonable . The castle probably only takes an hour, (including the presentation) to look around, what with so much of it having been lost to the sea . Nearby is the Smugglers Adventure attraction, which is also worth a visit , and there is also a cafe near the lifts .
This attraction has no souvenir shop - well, I guess with it being in ruins, there isn't anywhere to put one
Overall, I would recommend a visit to this wonderful ruin , if only to look out over the sea, the views are astounding. Five stars!
**For anyone interested in the Battle of Hastings, I very much recommend watching 1066 - Battle for Middle Earth, a BBC dramatisation .
The original wooden castle was erected in 1066 straight after the invasion on top of the cliff that now overlooks Hastings