Pevensey and Herstmonceux - majestic castles, stunning countryside
To the west of 1066 Country stands Pevensey on the coast, with Herstmonceux sitting inland, just behind it. Both have picturesque villages set in rural tranquil landscapes and each with a castle steeped in history. Pevensey is famously known as William of Normandy's landing place in 1066 and Herstmonceux Castle as a former site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
Pevensey village is located on a ridge of land, which juts out onto marshland and until the 13th century the marshes were an inlet of the sea. Over time the large bay was gradually cut off from the sea by shingle and today the marshes known as Pevensey Levels, a large nature reserve, stretches for miles behind the shingle beach.
Its long history of visitors starts with the Romans. During the 4th century, a Roman shore fort, Anderida was built here to ward off the Saxons. When the Roman army left Britain the Saxons began invading in earnest and the old fort was left derelict and abandoned. A few centuries later another invader, William of Normandy landed nearby in the still existing bay and turned the fort into Pevensey Castle by building upon the old Roman walls. The castle has been threatened several times since then and during World War II it became a lookout over the channel for German aircraft. Today you can visit the famous English Heritage site Pevensey Castle and experience its long and chequered history through various exhibits and displays.
Pevensey village leads up to the castle entrance and offers an interesting mix of weatherboard and stone cottages, antique shops, traditional pubs and cafes. The Pevensey Court House Museum in the High Street dates back to the thirteenth century. The building was used as the town hall and gaol until 1886. The court room with dock, cells and exercise yard are still intact and the museum also has a selection of local history displays to see.
The dramatic Pevensey Bay lies on the shingle beach. During the 18th and 19th centuries it became involved in the south coast smuggling trade and in 1833 was the backdrop for a violent clash between smugglers and customs men. A number of Martello towers were erected along the bay at the beginning of the 19th century against Napoleonic attack. Pevensey Bay is well known today to all sailing enthusiasts. The local sailing club offers a variety of classes of boats and has a full programme of racing.
The inspiring 31 mile 1066 Country Walk starts at Pevensey Castle, winds its way to Herstmonceux, through to Battle and across the countryside to Rye.
The beautiful village of Herstmonceux was first established in the 12th century. In 1441, Sir Roger Fiennes, treasurer of Henry VI began the construction of the well-known moated Herstmonceux Castle on the site of an old manor house, two miles south-east of the village. The castle wasn't built as a defensive castle but as a grand family residence and it embodies the history of Medieval England and romance of Renaissance Europe. Herstmonceux Castle fell into ruin during the following centuries and was restored in the early part of this century to its present splendour. In 1946 the castle was bought for the Royal Greenwich Observatory and is now owned by Queen's University Canada and used as a study centre.
Today, Herstmonceux Castle is one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England. You can visit the surrounding parkland and Elizabethan gardens and enjoy the walled, rose and herb gardens, woodland trails and lily covered lakes. The Observatory Science Centre is set in the buildings once home to the Royal Greenwich Observatory and has over 100 interactive exhibits and restored telescopes that, during special events, can be used to gaze at the cosmos. Inside the centre, visitors learn about the story of the original observatory, force, gravity and time, optics and the earth.
Near Herstmonceux Castle is All Saints Parish Church, an impressive building with its 12th century west tower and 13th and 14th century nave, chancel and aisles. Herstmonceux is famous for its Sussex Trug, a type of basket made from chestnut and willow and in the village itself there are antiques and independent shops, pubs, restaurants and tea rooms.