It’s become somewhat of a tradition for me and my two hiking buddies. I am talking about the annual commemoration of the Battle of Hastings fought in 1066. It’s celebrated with much gusto in the coastal town in East Sussex. This year, for the third time in a row we will be among the many revellers and watch the mesmerising torch parade meander through the ancient streets after which the grandest firework show in the region concludes the evening. It’s quite an intriguing night out, some might say a bit rowdy, but it’s something you have to see at least once. The only thing I don’t understand is why the English would celebrate the fact that they were beaten to a pulp by some French dude.
I remembered learning in school that William the Conqueror set foot on the coast of England not very far from what is now the town of Hastings and beat the English army led by Harold II. After this battle, which actually took place in the town of Battle and not in Hastings, William took control of the country. So really, there are not many reasons for the Brits to celebrate this event if you ask me. So our mission this year is to find out why the people of Hastings are partying so hard on this particular day.
We start by interrogating the B&B. With a heavy Asian accent he explains that he has only lived here for 7 years and has no idea. So we dump our luggage in the room and head down to the old town to find a good spot along the route of the parade. There are already loads of people around and the whole atmosphere in the town centre is very buzzy. The many bonfire societies from Hastings and neighbouring towns are practising their routines and then at around 7pm the whole thing kicks off.
Six runners run up to Beacon Hill where they light their torches and bring down the fire to light all the other torches. There are 1066 in total in the entire parade to mark the year the invasion took place. The parade consists of men and women dressed in a variety of outfits. There are pirates, witches, ladies of pleasure and I even spot a Henry VIII. The parade follows a route through the old town and then follows the beach line down to a massive stack of wooden crates on the sand. I reckon it is about two stories high and when the villagers start throwing in their torches the fire reaches so high and is so powerful, that we can feel the heat from the flames glow on our faces fifty metres away. The people around us are cheering loudly. One elderly man strikes up a conversation with us, so we pop our burning question. Why celebrate a defeat? I’m not sure if the gentleman actually hears this, but he shrugs and mumbles something about Guy Fawkes and the Parliament.
We decide to move a bit closer to the fire as the firework display is about to start and it’s supposed to be the best show in the region. I’ve never seen any other firework display in the region, but I have to admit that we are treated to a pretty awesome show. After the grand finale of an orchestra of bangs and colours we move onto the beach and move closer to the bonfire. It seems to have burnt out a bit and is now surrounded by what looks like the entire teenage population of Hastings. Maybe we’ll get an answer here. As soon as we sit down and open up our bottle of wine, we are accosted by a toothless Glaswegian who is more interested in our bottle of booze than anything else. He says that he doesn’t understand the reason for this yearly event either. ‘But then again; who cares? It’s a good reason to get extremely pissed,’ He says. And with these wise words, we decide to rest the case and just enjoy the atmosphere of the party on the beach, which goes on until the wee hours of the morning. Surely we’ll be back again next year.
Author : Jaklien