Great Britain is scattered with battlesites that have changed the course of history. You can wander across many of them, either by yourself or on guided tours that are sure to stir the imagination (and tingle the spine). Some sites have award-winning visitor centres that captivate everyone from schoolkids to grandparents alike, thanks to a blend of antique and high-tech exhibits. Here are the six of the most evocative battle spots.
1066 - a date etched into the memory of every Brit thanks to their school history lessons. It was the last time the country was successfully invaded, when the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, defeated the Saxons, with their king Harold vanquished with an arrow through the eye. The so-called Battle of Hastings actually took place in Battle, a little village edged by lush, rolling hills 10 kilometres inland from the south-coast seaside town of Hastings. You'll learn a lot from the audio tours around Battle Abbey - around which much of the fighting took place - and also from the visitor centre's interactive displays. But for the most memorable experience, come for the thrilling battle re-enactment that is held here every October.
Another usually-calm slice of English countryside that finds itself over-run with (pretend) soldiers, wielding shields and swords, is Leicestershire. Staged each August, the Bosworth Medieval Festival includes a re-enactment of the pivotal 1485 battle of the Wars of the Roses, which sparked the rise of the Tudors - the dynasty that birthed two of England's greatest monarchs, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Situated 20 kilometres west of Leicester, Bosworth heritage centre charts the brutal battle with hands-on displays and unique war objects unearthed by archaeologists, and also runs guided battlefield walks. The tomb of Richard III - the defeated king killed in the battle - in on show at Leicester cathedral. He was reburied after his body was discovered beneath a city-centre car park in 2012.
British history is littered with civil wars, but the most groundbreaking took place in the mid 17th century. Spanning nine years, the English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political manoeuvrings between Parliamentarians (or Roundheads) led by Oliver Cromwell and the Royalists (or Cavaliers) of King Charles I. The 1645 battle of Naseby in Northamptonshire was the war's turning point, with the Royalists routed, setting in motion the chain of events that led to Charles being deposed and beheaded, and the temporary end of royal rule. At the battlesite - which nestles amid peaceful countryside 50 kilometres south of Bosworth - the Naseby Battlefield Project offers public tours and has launched a trail with 12 viewing points and colourful interpretation boards at key battle locations.
On the idyllic outskirts of the city of Stirling - an easy side trip from both Glasgow and Edinburgh - looms the towering National Wallace Monument. It was erected in fanciful Victorian Gothic style to honour William 'Braveheart' Wallace, who inspired the Scots' famous triumph over the English (or the 'Auld Enemy') at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. The bridge collapsed during the battle but you can stand by its stone replacement, which arches over the River Forth, before discovering more about Wallace's heroics - and admiring his mighty broadsword - at the monument's exhibition.
On a clear day, from the top of the Wallace Monument, you can cast your eyes over another epic battlefield: Bannockburn. Located 4 kilometres south of Stirling, this was where Wallace's nationalist rival, Robert the Bruce, led the Scots to victory over the troops of King Edward II in 1314, destroying England's imperial ambitions north of the border and sealing Scotland's independence - for a few centuries, at least. As well as ambling beside the often-windswept battlefield, you can pop into the revamped Bannockburn visitor centre, which brings the battle to life with a state-of-the-art 3D experience.
The 1746 Battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle on British soil - and dramatically re-enacted in the hit TV drama Outlander. The grassy, flower-speckled highland battlefield - a war grave site, outside Inverness - is an eerily beautiful place to stroll around, while visitor centre audiovisuals reveal exactly how the army of King George II crushed the Jacobites, who were aiming to put Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) on the British throne. You can also peruse excavated weapons and displays that explain how the battle transformed Scotland, 'taming' the Highlands, dismantling the ancient clan system, suppressing tartan, Gaelic-speaking and bagpipe-playing - and heralding widespread immigration to the New World.
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