Sunday 6 November 2011

The Battlefields Trail

Trying out and reviewing walks for various publications and societies this year means I have covered almost seven hundred miles since the spring. Of course I prefer a circular route for walking back along the same path, albeit offering a different viewpoint, is a little tedious - as I found when having to return to the car when researching Ley Lines Across the Midlands and later The Salt Routes. Yet discovering the leaflet advertising the Battlefields Trail I was instantly attracted.

Here three of the most significant battles on English soil were linked by a twenty-mile route through the south Midlands. Each site is clearly marked and information boards provide details of the combatants and how events unfolded. The trail starts in Chipping Warden and the route is stated clearly in the dowloadable leaflet known as the Battlefields Trail, hence here we just touch upon the history.

On July 26th 1469 the Wars of the Roses moved to Edgecote Moor. Here Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick led the Lancastrians against a Yorkist army.

A quarter of a century earlier at Cropredy Bridge another engagement took place in the small village of Cropredy Bridge. This place features as a point on one of the routes in my book Ley Lines Across the Midlands.
Just to the northwest of the delightful River Cherwell, Cropredy Bridge was named as an ancient river crossing, a ford across the shallowest part of the river. Indeed this point is also where two leys cross, the other known as the Waterstone ley. Despite the name of the village, as far as we can tell the first bridge was not constructed here until 1312.
The most famous moment in the history of Cropredy Bridge happened on 29th June 1644. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Sir William Waller, whose other claim to fame is as the man who proposed the formation of the New Model Army where professional soldiers fought under trained officers. Prior to this the troops were composed of any able fighting men, led by aristocrats whose only qualification to lead a war was through their bloodline. Opposing Waller were the Royalist forces, under the command of King Charles himself.
Here reports are conflicting. Some speak of a fierce battle, while others maintain it was only a minor skirmish. However both agree that the Royalists were victorious and marked a milestone in English history for this was the final battle won on home soil under the command of the reigning monarch. These differing accounts come about because they were written by different sides. The ferocity of the battle is exaggerated by the Parliamentarians, defeated they wished to tell of how bravely they fought. However their opponents describe a virtual walk over where hardly a shot was fired in anger.
So which is correct? The answer is found in the addendum to the Royalist record. It speaks of their disappointment at how their victory realised so very little, for their prisoners were not the cream of the fighting force and the captured equipment well-nigh worthless.

The earliest of the three barttles was fought at Edgehill on 23rd October 1642, indeed it was the first serious confrontation of the Civil War. The encounter is well covered by the Battlefields Trust leaflet. Again this battle features in the pages of one of my books, this time Paranormal Cotswolds where the story is told as follows:
At the northern edge of Cotswolds is Kineton and a famous moment in time. On the 23rd of October in the year of 1642, one of the greatest battles in English history was fought here, the first major engagement of the English Civil War.
Had there been a decisive victory for either side the conflict further bloodshed may have been avoided and thereafter resolved over the negotiating table. That the battle of almost 30,000 men resulted in 500 dead and 1,500 wounded from each side of the equally matched forces probably accounts for it seemingly continuing long after the mortal combatants had left the arena.
Early in 1643 a report was published by a London printer, sharing the tale of Christmas 1642 in Kineton. A group of shepherds, journeymen and a number of locals were abroad walking the lanes in the first hour after midnight, the first hour of the last Sunday in Advent. Suddenly they were aware of the sound of distant drums, the groans of dying men and the sounds of battle. They watched transfixed as the battle was renacted against the backdrop of the dark winter skies overhead. not daring to move should they be mistakenly be attacked amidst the carnage all around them.
For three hours they watched the slaughter until they considered it over and safe to move. They ran to Kineton's JP and minister, Mr Wood and Mr Marshall respectively, and told them of the horrors they had just witnessed. The skeptical well-educated gents returned to the scene 24 hours later and stood open-mouthed as they witnessed the battle re-enacted once more.
Rumours spread and reached the ears of the king himself, who had been present at the battle. He sent six men, a colonel, two captains and three men of high birth to investigate and, when Saturday night came around once more, the battle was again witnessed in the skies. They watched as men they had fought with, died once more slain by a sword in the hands of an opponent.
Twice more the ghostly battle has been reported. In the first days of 1643, and again around the early Victorian era when a group of newspaper reporters were on hand. Since that time only sounds of the battle have been heard, although there have been reports of Charles I's nephew and right-hand man at the battle, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, being seen astride his white charger directing the Royalist Army.

The leaflet states this can be travelled in three stages, although the twenty miles is manageable by experienced walkers in a single day (assuming the weather is kind and there are sufficient hours of daylight).

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