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For bohemians everywhere

David Clarke

The Last Ten Miles

The Last Ten Miles. Thursday, 13th October 1066. A few King’s men had followed Harold to York and back and had now marched south to Caldbec Hill, an epic, historic journey written into the folklore of The Battle of Hastings, 1066, a date etched in the memory of every school boy and girl in England.
Many of the soldiers had started from London, refreshed and ready for the challenge ahead, trained and well prepared, but most of the army would join on route. Men of the fields, strong but more used to village life, enthusiastic but untrained in soldierly ways, wife and children left behind, picked from the village as the ‘chosen’ ones to serve the King.
At Bodiam, crossing the Appledore Estuary was like crossing the Rubicon into another world of battle and death, but there was no turning back. Perhaps there was a shimmer on the water and an early morning mist rising into the trees. Eastwards, this inland sea seemed to spread as far as the eye could see as the sun began to rise in the sky. It was a wild and desolate place with a strong breeze already pulling at the water as men and horses prepared for the final few miles to Caldbec Hill.
South, across the water, the old Roman road drew the eyes up the hill between the trees of the forest, an arrow pointing towards the imminent battle. Deep water discouraged other crossings and as the army moved across the narrow causeway, Harold, his brothers, his closest officers and his bodyguard rode away, anxious to rendezvous at the ‘old hoar apple tree’ and to look across to William’s camp.
I came by bus to conquer this final stretch with time for a last glance at the Castle and if lucky, it will seem to rise out of its moat in an early morning ghostly thrall. Occasionally, after heavy rain, water can still reclaim this land and I can imagine being back in Saxon times. There can be no finer view to start a walk.
But this is no October day and the sun is shining on me as I cross the fields and meadows. Clapperboard houses abound, seemingly isolated farms are hidden in valleys, streams meander and the landscape is still dominated by trees and woods, memories of the great Forest of the Andreasweald.
This walk is a collection of images. Guinness fields and steam trains along the Rother Valley, bringing families to the fields on the ‘Hoppickers’ Specials’. Lord Baden-Powell starting a new scout troop at nearby Ewhurst Place and the thought of countryside primed for a best-ever ‘Wide Game’. Charcoal burners clearing forest greens to practise ancient arts and turn wood into charcoal, smoke drifting lazily upwards through the trees. Perhaps Colliers Green was one such clearing settled centuries ago. There are many such greens in this part of Sussex.
There are still broad-leaved forests to walk through to Sedlescombe and in the valley is a squat, towered, stone church set against a backdrop of trees. It is such a beautiful setting to look down on, sitting on the hilltop green bench, that it is worthy of a small prayer. Behind the church would have lapped the Appledore Estuary, so wide it needed a ferry to cross. Great Wood is to the south, Petley Wood to the north and a final steady climb to the rendezvous at ‘the old hoar apple tree’, Caldbec Hill. Friday 13th October 1066, an ominous date for that last camp on the eve of the Battle of Senlac Hill.

 

1066, The Battle of Hastings and The Malfosse

“Tomorrow will decide the future of England. This battle will be remembered forever. We will be remembered forever.”

Keep the line and we will win
Keep the line and we will win
Keep the line and we will win

“The second army will arrive later.
They are battle hardened.
Their experience will turn the tide in our favour.”

Just hold the line and we will win
Hold the line and we will win
Hold the line and we will win

“May God speed and save us all tomorrow”

Long Live King Harold
Long Live King Harold
Long Live King Harold

I heard it over and over again:

“Keep the line and we will win.
Keep ranks.
Support all around you.
Listen to orders.

We have the high ground.
Fighting uphill is difficult
And tiring.

Defend this hill with all your might.
They have to come to us.
No matter what happens, do not charge.”

Keep the line, we will win.
Keep the line, we will win.

They were like dogs after a hare
Once they got the scent
There was no stopping them
Down the hill they ran
Faster
And faster.

They thought that they had won.
They thought that they were proper soldiers.
But they just didn’t listen.

We could see what would happen
From the top of the hill.
We knew what would happen
At the bottom.

They gave William the upper hand
As we fell back to defend the King.
Runners told us the Second Army was close
But the King was hit
His brothers too
And the word was given.

Fall Back,
Fall Back,

To the forest, to the Andreasweald, to the Malfosse.

To the ditch that is ‘Malfosse’.

It’s late. It’s dusk.
The Second Army’s here,
At last.

We join the line they’ve formed
At Malfosse,
At Malfosse we whisper.

It’s darker now
And on the Normans come
The sound of horses and cries in French
Louder, Louder.
Closer, Closer.

They are the dogs now after the hare
They have the scent of blood.
We are stronger now and we stand defiant.
We urge the Normans on.

For we can win here
For we can win
For we have Malfosse!

And win we did.
In the name of Harold and Saxon England.

Horses and Normans piled high in the ditch.
The ditch that was Malfosse.

And then we disappeared,
Into the night,
Into the Andreasweald.
Ghostly figures between the trees

Remember Malfosse,

A victory, but a hollow one,
For we have lost our country
For we have lost our King.

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