When I asked the Maldon Tourist Information Centre staff about the Battle of Maldon battlefield, I was greeted with blank looks.
“Oh, there is a statue,” said one of the ladies, “but there’s nothing there.”
“I know,” I respectfully replied.
“No, there is nothing to see,” she continued.
“I know,” I said, yet again.
“But there is nothing there,” she tried to convince me.
“That’s the point,” I argued.
With a shrug of her shoulders, she took my 60 pence, payment for a brochure they found about the battle and she dismissed me as a stupid Australian, a weirdo or both.
“It’s a good 30 minute walk from the office, depending on how fast you walk,” she said to me as I thanked her and went on my way.
Armed with my new brochure, camera bag and water bottle, I strode through the streets of Maldon to the battlefield. As I walked, I pondered why the tourism services in the city knew almost nothing about the Battle of Maldon? There is a definite audience who would visit the site and with a little planning and funding, the site could be made into more of a tourist attraction, which would translate into dollars for local businesses.
Anyway, after 10 minutes I was surprised to find a statue of Earl Byrhtnoth on the banks of the River Blackwater. Didn’t that lady say it would take be 30 minutes to get there?
The imposing statue commemorates the battle in AD991 and I to my displeasure, I discovered it did not mark the battlefield, instead it looked out across the flood-plain towards that site. So, after another 10 minute walk out along the seawall I found the plaque to mark the battlefield. Standing on the sea wall, with the City at your back, you have to turn right once you reach the junction of the seawall and the causeway road. Down the road there is a slightly overgrown battlefield carpark, where a National Trust plaque is secured to a farm gate.
Maldon is the oldest registered battlefield in the UK and the placement of the plaque just didn’t seem to do it justice. I took a photo of the plaque and it is included below.
I then walked back over the sea wall to the causeway where the first part of the battle was fought. It was low tide and the river becomes a wide mudflat with only a narrow causeway, which joins Northey Island to the mainland.
The Vikings had landed an army of 3-4000 on Northey Island, to the East of Maldon and the Saxon army cornered them there. It was high tide, so there was a shouted negotiation between the armies. Byrhtnoth refused to pay the invaders to depart and challenged them to battle . As the tide fell the Viking force attempted to cross the causeway, but a small band of Saxons held them back. Needing to bring the enemy to battle and defeat them, if he was to protect East Anglia from further destruction, Byrhtnoth withdrew and allowed the Vikings to across to the mainland. Formed up in a shield wall the Saxon army waited for the Viking advance.
It is easy to see how the Saxon tactic could work. The mudflats are quite extensive and the causeway is really the only way to cross, even at low tide. Although it is no Thermopyle, the tactic is similar, funnel the enemy into a small area where he can’t brings numbers to bear and he can’t maneuver. The question as to why Byrhtnoth allowed the Viking army to come ashore to do battle, has been hotly debated and I’m not an expert to say why he did.
When you stand at the causeway and look to either side you’re greeted by very rough ground, which would not allow any type of movement besides skirmishers, but that would still be muddy and hard going.
Once you move back inland, over the sea wall and into the farmland that is the battlefield today, the geography immediately gives clues as to where Byrhtnoth may have withdrawn to in order to form his shield wall.
I walked around the area and tried to soak in the feeling of what it may have been like, but to be honest, it is difficult as you can’t go onto the farm and the existence of modern man-made structures in the area doesn’t help improve the atmosphere. The walk however, is highly recommended.
|Guido on New Saxons|
|Guido on Guido’s Picts|
|Beccas on Guido’s Picts|
|scullmeister on Where’s my motivation?|
|Beccas on Where’s my motivation?|