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Romans and Normans at Pevensey

Visit a Norman castle within a Roman fort and experience the atmosphere of the eerie Pevensey Levels on this fascinating walk.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths, brief stretch of road and riverside, 4 stiles

Landscape Low level former marshland, flat and watery landscape

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 124 Hastings & Bexhill

Start/finish TQ 645048

Dog friendliness Under control on farmland and minor roads

Parking Pay-and-display car park by Pevensey Castle

Public toilets At car park

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1 On leaving the car park, go straight ahead on the bend and keep the Priory Court Hotel on the right. The castle walls rise up on your left. Bear off to the right just beyond the hotel to follow the 1066 Country Walk.

2 Cross the A27 and keep on the trail, following the sign for Rickney. Go through two gates and follow the path as it bends left. Continue between fencing and hedging; keep Martin's Ditch on the left and pass through a galvanised gate. Make for a signpost and veer off diagonally right, leaving the 1066 Country Walk at this point.

3 On reaching the riverbank footpath sign, at the confluence of the Pevensey Haven and the Chilley Stream, continue for a short distance to a footbridge. Cross it and aim half left, making for a house. Head for a gap in the line of bushes and then cross rough, thistle-strewn ground to two stiles in the corner by some trees. Bear right to a galvanised gate, then turn left and cross the field, keeping a house on your left. On reaching a gate, turn right and walk along the track to the road.

4 Swing left at the lane and follow it until it curves right. Go through a gate on the left here, reaching a second gate just beyond. Follow the path to some gates and pass through the right-hand one. Keep ahead to a gate in the field corner and continue, keeping the boundary on your left. Make for a footbridge on the left. Cross it and bear right. Follow the edge of the pasture to two stiles and exit to the road.

5 Keep left and walk along to the village of Rickney. Avoid the 1066 Country Walk as it runs off to the north and cross the little road bridge. Bear left at the sign for Hankham and immediately cross a bridge. Swing left after a few paces and follow the 1066 Country Walk.

6 Go through a galvanised gate and follow the path as it heads for the Pevensey Haven. Make for another gate and continue beside or near the water. On reaching a gate, keep ahead and look for a finger post, indicating a path on the right. Avoid the path and continue ahead, still on the 1066 Country Walk. Retrace your steps to the A27, cross over and return to Pevensey.

The great harbour here silted up long ago, leaving Pevensey stranded inland, 2 miles (3.2km) from the sea. It was from here that William, Duke of Normandy marched inland to defeat King Harold and his Saxon army in 1066. What took place represents one of the most significant events in English history.

The exact spot where William came ashore can never be identified, as the coastline has shifted and altered so greatly down the centuries. What is known, however, is that 800 years before the arrival of William, the Romans chose this site to construct the fortress of Anderida as part of their defence of the Saxon Shore. Pevensey was one of a series of fortifications along this coast and the remains of the outer walls of the castle survive. Standing up to 30ft (9m) thick in places and enclosing an oval area of about 10 acre (4ha), the walls are considered to be among the finest examples of Roman building in the world.

In 1066, centuries after the Roman invasion of Britain, William, Duke of Normandy crossed the Channel and came ashore at Pevensey. Determined to claim the English crown, he expected to be met with some resistance at Anderida. But William found the fort undefended, enabling him to consolidate his position immediately. Harold and his men were elsewhere, fighting his brother's Danish army in Yorkshire and expecting William to sail via the Isle of Wight.

The Normans immediately set about erecting one of three prefabricated timber castles they had brought with them, constructing it on a mound of earth within the fort. It was as if they were intent on taking the place of the Romans who had occupied this site so many years before them. Without opposition, the Norman army travelled almost casually through the Sussex countryside, taking food from local people and burning and looting whatever they could find. Following the Battle of Hastings, William gave the stronghold to his half brother, Robert, Count of Mortain. It was Robert who built the Norman castle, the remains of which we see today. A keep and bailey were subsequently constructed and in the 13th century a formidable stone curtain wall and gatehouse were added.

Further work took place in the 14th century but by now the castle was sturdy enough to defend itself and its inhabitants from the strongest opponent. Pevensey was prepared to defend the coast from the threat of Napoleon and even as recently as 1940, pill boxes were installed into the castle walls should German forces invade.

This wonderfully atmospheric walk starts at Pevensey Castle, which the tourist blurb aptly describes as 'a battle-scarred witness to 17 centuries of turbulent history.' After a brief tour of Pevensey, with its picturesque houses and cottages, head out across the lonely, evocative Pevensey Levels, once covered by water and now reminiscent of the fenland country of East Anglia.

Where to eat and drink

Priory Court Hotel near the car park has a selection of hot and cold food, as well as a restaurant and beer garden. Cumberland sausage, lasagne, steak and kidney pudding and chilli con carne are among the dishes. The Royal Oak and the Smugglers also serve food and the Castle Cottage Restaurant and tea room is very popular.

While you're there

Take a stroll through ancient Pevensey and visit the Court House Museum in the High Street, once the smallest town hall in England. In 1882, under the Municipal Corporation Act, Pevensey lost its status as a borough and in 1890 the Pevensey Town Trust was established to administer the Court House. Inside, you can see the Court Room, Robing Room, cells and exercise yard. There are many exhibits and displays, including a silver penny of William I, minted at Pevensey.

What to look for

By the Pevensey Castle car park entrance is a plaque to commemorate a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 28 October 1966 and the landing of William, Duke of Normandy on 28 September 1066. A former coastal inlet which was drained mainly in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Pevensey Levels have their own individual character. This is a haven for wildlife, plants and insects, as well as home to a great variety of birds, both in summer and winter. Redshank, plovers, snipe and wildfowl visit in winter, while skylarks and kestrels are found here throughout the year.

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