Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Battle of Maldon

Maldon has an ambience reminiscent of North Norfolk or Cornwall rather than Essex. The half-hour bus journey from Chelmsford feels like you’re going into another land and the sense of otherworldliness is compounded by the fact that on the bus are two people with backpacks returning from teaching in Africa.

We meet my old school friend Alison in town and walk to the Blackwater Estuary. Here there’s pubs, mudflats, seabirds, Thames sailing barges, a playground, funfair and much else to delight my kids such as chips and cheese.

The Battle of Maldon of 991 is still big here. In the Plume Library at All Saints’ Church there’s the Maldon Embroidery commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle. Essex’s version of the Bayeux Tapestry.

There’s a statue of Saxon loser Lord Byrhtnoth at the end of the Blackwater Estuary. We pose for a picture underneath the sword wielding Saxon.

Alison tells us the story of how the Vikings were trapped on Northey Island, out in the river. The Norwegian Olaf’s forces couldn’t get across the small causeway to the mainland so Olaf sent a messenger to Byrhtnoth asking him to allow his warriors on to the shore for a fair fight.

Showing all the military acumen of Harry and Joey Essex, Byrhtnoth agreed to this and the Saxons duly got hammered, with poor Byrhtnoth losing his head. Rumours that his descendents later managed West Ham can’t be discounted.

There’s history in Maldon, and of course a New Year’s Day mud race across the estuary. The day ends with a pint of Maldon Hotel porter in the Queen’s Head. Not great at battles in Maldon, but they do know how to brew a nice beer.

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