Today is the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Assandun when the armies of Edmund and Cnut rocked up in an Essex backwater to fight for kingship of England.
To celebrate this occasion I walked from my home to the alleged battle site at Ashingdon and this is my account of the journey.
My walk started in Prittlewell, crossing Priory Park and passing through the ruins of Prittlewell Priory. Leaving the park I made a quick diversion to salute the Prittlewell Prince’s burial site then I headed off towards Rochford.
It was a mild but clear day with a little light drizzle. The wind gently buffeted me, carrying voices that had travelled far. As I approached Rochford the land began to rise, hinting at the journey ahead. Scores of wagons and people passed me by, all unaware of the gathering spirits.
As I reached Rochford I stopped in the market square for provisions and noticed that the rain has stopped and the skies were beginning to clear.
Every step felt like I walking a little bit further back in time, moving from 2016 towards 1016. I walked past my first home as a married man and I found myself retracing my own timeline with St Andrew’s Minster marking my wedding and Canewdon claiming my birthplace. But this journey wasn’t about me, it was about going back 1000 years and imagining the stories of countless others who came before me.
As I got closer to Ashingdon I found it hillier and noticed that the clouds were closing in. It seemed a calmer place than Rochford and I really felt as if I was at the threshold of the ‘old country’. I became unnerved when I noticed that there were no birds to be seen or heard. Maybe a storm was coming.
My legs were getting sluggish as I reached the summit of Ashingdon hill but I knew the walk up to the church would require further effort. Skirting the church I looked over the hill to Canewdon church and then looked down to the woodland that concealed Cnut’s army. I walked through the churchyard and at last heard birdsong from the trees beside the path.
I left the bounds of the church and hobbled across the field towards the woodland. The wind whipped around me and almost knocked me over. As I walked through the wood I was struck with the enormity of what the armies must have faced. I was sobered and humbled to think of their commitment and the fears that must have raced through their minds.
I left them in peace and turned back towards Ashingdon.