The air is dense with wood smoke. An occasional whiff of charcoal smoke breaks through, but it is quickly overwhelmed. Around the field groups huddle around campfires, the hot flickering flames protecting them from the chill of the late spring evening. Muted conversations drift in and out of earshot with the changes in wind direction, laughter is frequent and somewhere close by someone is singing.
We stoke our small fire with more wood.
The Dutch oven hangs above the fire, a chicken stew simmering in the heat, infusing with the rich smokey flavour of the fire. People pass by with armfuls of deadwood for their own fires. We might not really need fires for light, warmth or safety in this modern age but they still bring us joy as we stare into them, the flames dancing, the embers glowing brightly and all the while tendrils of smoke rising up into the sky.
Camped a few miles from the East Sussex town of Battle where the William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, King of England fought the Battle of Hastings in the year 1066, it had been the first long run for the van since the engine had been rebuilt. We’d taken a leisurely drive down, stopping en-route at farm shops to pick up food for the weekend. With cupboards and fridge bulging we’d settled in at Buckhurst campsite, nestled among country lanes and numerous oast houses.
From the campsite it was a relatively easy walk into Battle, following part of the 1066 country walk route, a well marked bridleway. Unfortunately we needed to make our way up a busy road that had no footpaths in order to join the route, so we decided to take a slightly indirect route to significantly reduce the amount of time we’d need to walk along the A road. This, of course, led to us getting a bit confused and ending up in the wrong place, but getting lost often results in unexpected finds and we stumbled across a sculpture being reclaimed by the undergrowth.
Eventually on the right path it was a pretty walk through woodland that was bursting with life, with surprisingly few people around.
Arriving in Battle we discovered they were holding a medieval fayre, complete with court jester and a coconut shy. Battle itself is an old and pretty town, with attractive buildings along the high street and at its centre, Battle Abbey which was built to commemorate the battle – it’s high altar placed on the spot where King Harold fell.
Back to the campsite the fire was relit and dinner cooked on the hot embers – cooking on a wood fire does something magical to food, a simple meal of sausages and baked potatoes transformed into something special.
Before making the journey home we headed towards the coast a little, to the historic Cinque Ports town of Rye. The town is perched on a hill, the church it’s highest point. Walking up Mermaid Street takes you back in time and many of the house names are pretty literal and worth reading. Names like House with Seat, which had a seat on the porch, or House Opposite, which was opposite the public house…but who was bringing unwanted attention to themselves at Smugglers Cottage?