950 years ago, Westminster Abbey was at the centre of events that would change England forever. New Year’s Day, 1066, and Westminster Abbey was newly consecrated but within days there would be a royal funeral followed by the coronation of Harold.
Later in the year, the King would set off from the Palace first north to York and Stamford Bridge and then south towards Caldbec Hill and to face William’s Norman threat.
Imagine following in Harold’s footsteps to walk along the same Roman roads and ancient ridgeways, through the great forest of the Andreasweald, crossing rivers and valleys, to pause at the old hoar apple tree on Caldbec Hill and look out over the battle field at Senlac Hill, now the site of Battle Abbey.
The road from Westminster to London Bridge would have followed the high ground of The Strand. There was possibly a second crossing, a causeway or ferry at Thorney Island where the new Westminster Abbey had been built next to the Palace. This link to Watling Street would have been across the marshy south bank of the Thames and it seems likely that Harold would have taken the high ground if only to gather support from the City.
The River Thames was lined with safe havens for shipping of all sizes, the safest of which were the inlets of rivers that flowed into the Thames and we pass Billingsgate, Dowgate and Queenhithe remnants of London’s wharves.
In Saxon times, the wooden London Bridge was still firmly linked to the old Roman road network and especially with Watling Street, the road to Canterbury and Dover along which Harold and his army are most likely to have marched to Rochester.
Today, the Embankment and the Thames path provide an easier walk to Greenwich with a pint at The Mayflower at about the halfway mark or The Dog and Bell a little later on. What could be better on a glorious but cold January day.
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