Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Apparently it really is sunny...

in the south. That is in the south of England, where the boy and I spent the long weekend. 'The South' in England is a somewhat elastic concept. For those who wish to be considered from 'The North' as diametrically opposed to 'The South', the said South begins anywhere below the particular latitude of their hometown. However, visiting East Sussex we were definitely in 'the South', as confirmed by local pub-goers who seemed to regard anything north of the Thames as the wild North. Eejits.

We were visiting a friend who works and lives at Herstmonceux castle, and it was a weekend of much eating out and visiting sites of historical interest, don't you know. The only downside was that we ate as if we were teenagers on a growth-spurt and moved as if we were shuffling off to live in Bexhill-on-Sea. That aside, it was a great weekend, where we:

1. Spent some time in the British Museum 'doing' the Assyrian galleries, Africa and some of Roman Britain (before we got turfed out). I found the lion hunt displays a bit relentless in the Assyrian galleries. In the African gallery I'd recommend the 'Tree of Life'.

2. Splashed out on National Trust membership for a year and put it to good use by visiting Bateman's (Rudyard Kipling's house) and Bodiam castle. The latter is so liberally provisioned with fireplaces its primary use must have been as grand manor house rather than for defence of the south coast, whatever the introductory video might say. Watch this if you ever go though, if only for the shot of a knight apparently making his fortune in the Hundred Years War by riding down a fleeing peasant.

3. Visited Lewes, scene of the Montfortian victory over Henry III in 1264, which was unfortunately mostly shut. The castle was having its walkway renovated, and the priory remains, although some attempt had clearly been made in the past to open them up and turn a penny from them (there were faded information boards and instructions that you could obtain leaflets from the ticket office), were shut away behind a fence topped with barbed wire. This seemed a shame, but apparently money is on its way to open the site up. All in all we appear to have visited Lewes too soon. In compensation we went to 'Anne of Cleeves' House'. A triumph of marketing over content because although given to Anne of Cleeves by Henry VIII she never went there. So, unless you want to see a local history of Lewes museum, you may not want to part with your gold. One display did catch my eye though: a series of firebacks made from local pig-iron. My question to you is, who would want a fireback of Protestant martyrs being burned at the stake? But this is a town with a fierce Bonfire night tradition (indeed, bonfire societies) with flaming crosses and (until recently) burning effigies of Pope Pius IV. This, I suppose, is what happens when your town suffers Marian persecution under Queen Mary.

4. Obviously looked around Herstmonceux castle and its grounds, including an embryonic archaeological dig, examining a purported moated manor house.

5. Shuffled along the sea-front at Eastbourne and its pier. Having never been on the 'traditional' English sea-side holiday I'd rather anticipated that all such resorts had tat shops selling 'Kiss Me Quick' hats and the other assorted junk a-plenty, but apparently Eastbourne is a little more classy than that.

6. Made it to the heart of '1066 Country' with a trip to Battle. English Heritage haven't done too bad a job here - your entrance fee buys you admittance to the battlefield and the remains of the abbey. It's not necessary to watch the video as you will hear the text again on your audio-guide. I found it a little hard to envisage the battle as you go around with your audio-guide as, of course, the terrain has changed and you don't get a full appreciation of the incline of the hill as the abbey buildings cut this off. (Tradition says that William had the altar of the 11th century church placed on the spot where Harold was killed, and this is some way up the abbey complex).

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