Monday, 28 March 2011

Roundabout Towton

On Sunday I went for a walk around the battlefield of Towton. You can get maps of the battlefield from the Battlefield Trust. The plateau the battle took place on is now cultivated private farmland so you cannot gain access. You can however follow the roads around the plateau, the modern roads follow the same path as the medieval roads.

Having parked at the Crooked Billet to the South West of the battlefield I followed the B1217 north. This would have been the journey taken by the Yorkist soldiers who camped in the area around the Crooked Billet on the morning of the battle, 29 March 1461. The first thing you notice when looking in the direction of the battlefield is how quickly the land rises, you can see only a few hundred metres.

As the road rises you come out to where the west end of the Yorkist line would have been. In the east, about 1,000 metres away, you can see the Hawthorn Tree that marks where the east end of the Yorkist line would have been. The tree acts as a reference point as you walk around the plateau. The point at which the photo was taking is where a lot of the initial fighting took place as the Lancastrian right advanced and the 200 spears ambush came out of Castle Hill Woods.

Continuing north you feel and see the dip in the ground that runs between the two armies starting positions. Unfortunately I was unable to capture this in a photograph. You arrive at cross marking the battlefield which is situated just behind the initial position of the Lancastrian right flank.

At the cross there is a path that allows you to walk a hundred metres towards the Cock River. Here you see the steep slopes down which the fleeing Lancastrians struggled, many meeting their deaths in the slippery conditions.

Looking back south you can how the plateau of the initial Yorkist position extends to the west right up to Castle Hill Wood where the ground suddenly drops off down to the river. Though there are no contemporary accounts of an ambush the wood looks like a good position for one. It also explain why the Lancastrians did not deploy on the south end of the plateau. The south end looks a much better position than the north end, however by deploying at the north end the Lancastrians make the Yorkists advance on them exposing their flank to the wood.

Walking back to the Cross you follow the B1217 north into Towton. At the far side of Towton there is a track known of the London Road which runs for half a mile to the Cock River. This is the site of the supposed Bridge of Bodies, where the dead piled high enough that you could use them to cross the river. Today a small wooden bridge marks the spot.

Walking back into Towton, you follow the A162 south down the east side of the plateau. There is not much to see down this end of the battlefield. The marsh that marked the eastern end of the battle is now a golf course. What is interesting is that you ground rises so steeply that you lose sight of the Hawthorn Tree. It is only a few metres back from the east of the plateau but you cannot see it from the road.

Once south of the plateau you can turn east towards Saxton. This road gives an excellent view of how the Yorkists would have seen the plateau as they advanced.

In the centre of Saxton is the church with the tomb of Lord Dacre standing outside. I need to learn more about Lord Dacre, all I can tell you is that he fought for the Lancastrians and apparently died from a crossbow bolt through the neck having removed his helmet.

Following the road west out of Saxton you reach the B1217 again and the Crooked Billet can be seen slight south down the road.

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