"This year Cynegils and Cwichelm fought at Beandun, and slew two thousand and forty-six of the Welsh."
|Map showing the Battle of Bindon on the Devon - Dorset county border|
Time and again, the sources for our analysis of what happened, when, where, between who and why are either so incomplete, non existent or so contradictory as to make many potential facts completely opaque to the modern eye.
My preface to this post is simply echoing most other commentators on this period of history and is merely to state that very often the accounts we have today are most times an educated guess at best and should be considered with all the caveats that statement implies.
|Old Parish map showing the remains of the pre -Roman hill fort on Hawkesdown Hill above Axmouth|
Inspired by my recent post looking at the Iron Age hill fort at Woodbury and the subsequent discussion about "The Bible Book Rebellion" I thought it might be interesting in looking at some of our local battle sites and the eras they were fought in. Of course this is a wargaming blog and thus it would be appropriate to consider these battles from a wargamers point of view and so I may stray occasionally into thoughts about scenario creation.
|Satellite picture showing the area of the battle. The road nearer the coast to Dowlands passes over Bindon Hill|
The battle arose as part of the continuing struggle between the native Britons and the more recently arrived Saxons, which since the Roman withdrawal from the islands, had seen the native populations either gradually assimilated into the Saxon occupied areas or pushed back to the extremities of the mainland to form major strongholds in modern Wales and here in the South West with Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, home to the Dumnonians.
The battle may have occurred as part of a grander plan by the British tribes to drive back the West Saxons of Wessex under King Cynegils, with a combined pincer attack from their forces in Wales under King Nynnio ap Erb ruler of Gwent and Glywysing advancing into Somerset and those in Devon under King Clemen forming the other pincer advancing into Dorset.
The Devon Britons are often described as Welsh, a derivative of a Saxon word that means "stranger" or "foreign" and not the more modern meaning as inhabitants of the great nation of Wales.
|Battle Map - Based on Rupert Mathews map - the supposed area for the attack of the West Saxons on the Britons army in Bindon. The circled points show where my pictures were taken|
|Position 1. - Looking from the road up to Hawkesdown Hill. The hill fort is in the woods on the top and commands views of the River Axe valley.|
The Dumnonians advanced from Exeter along the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, towards the River Axe on their way towards Dorchester. On crossing the Axe at Bindon, the ground rises steeply with the prominent feature of Hawkesdown Hill and its pre Roman hill fort commanding views out over the river. It seems likely that any Saxon scouts would have taken advantage of this prominent piece of high ground to observe the invaders.
|Position 1. - Looking along the route taken by the Britons into Bindon as they marched towards Saxon territory|
|Position 2. - Slightly further off the battle map above than shown. The view from the road on Bindon Hill, looking back towards Hawkesdown Hill, left centre, with the valley where the battle was fought in between where the ground drops away.|
|Position 3. - Where it is thought that King Cynegils formed his Saxon army up before advancing down the valley into the head of the Britons column of march|
The small hamlet of Bindon would have been only a few small buildings and much less extensive than its modern counterpart and together with the few buildings at Axmouth formed a small habitation across the river from the old Roman harbour town of Seaton.
|Position 4. - Looking the other way into Bindon, where the main fighting is thought to have taken place|
Given the Britons advantage in mounted troops, how could Cynegils mask his approach and proximity to the Britons and allow his infantry to take advantage of the close country and their uphill advantage that they clearly had in the early fighting?
On reaching the eastern bank of the Axe you would think that Clemen would have secured the Hawkesdown Hill camp and chased off any Saxon scouts and then combed the ground of his proposed advance with cavalry scouts. The view from the opposite side of the combe on Bindon hill would have given the British cavalry patrols plenty of warning of any advancing Saxon force.
|The tidal River Axe that would have barred the escape of the fleeing Britons and where many of them probably died in the rout.|
Either way, on returning to the River Axe down through Bindon, I could only think that I was glad it was 1,400 years after the event and I was not being chased by hordes of victorious yelling Saxon warriors, with my path of retreat presenting me with the problem of learning to swim and quickly!
|The River Axe, looking towards the mouth of the river and Seaton, top right.|
Sources used in this post:
Battlefield Walks - Devon, Rupert Mathews