Descent to Stamfordbridge

The road from York is nearly flat, with a slight rise, as far as Gate Helmsley, a village a mile or more west of the river. From this point the road gradually descends to Stamfordbridge. An army therefore advancing from York would be able to make the greater part of its march unseen by the enemy. An army encamped on the lower ground immediately on each side of the Derwent might easily, if somewhat careless guard were kept, remain unconscious of the enemy's approach till they had begun the descent from Helmsley. The events which followed lead us to believe that the Northmen, in the full consciousness and pride of victory, were encamped on both sides of the stream, most likely in no very certain order or discipline. If a neighbouring royal dwelling-place at Aldby formed one of the motives for the choice of the position, it is possible that the head-quarters of the Norwegian King were placed at that point. At any rate, the bridge itself and the ground immediately right of the river were kept by an advanced detachment. It would seem that the whole of the army which had received the submission of York, and which was expecting the submission of all Northumberland, withdrew from the banks of the Ouse to the banks of the Derwent. The ships still stayed in the larger river, seemingly at their original landingplace at Riccall, still guarded by Olaf and the Earls of Orkney. Meanwhile Harold himself, with Tostig and the main strength of the army, awaited the coming of the hostages at Stamfordbridge. They waited for what they were never to receive.

Of the details of that awful day we have all heard how the Northmen, rejoicing in their supposed victory, were going forth, light-hearted and careless, unprotected by defensive harness, to take full possession of their conquest. That very morning King Harald of Norway was to hold his court, and to assemble his new subjects, within the walls of York. He was there formally to take the government on himself, to dispose of offices, and to proclaim laws for his new realm. On his march a cloud of dust is seen afar off; before long shields and arms glistening like ice are to be seen beneath it. It is the host of King Harold of England. The heart of Tostig fails him; let them hasten back to their ships, let them gather their comrades, and put on their coats of mail. Not so the hero of Norway. Messengers on swift horses are sent to summon the party who are left by the ships, and meanwhile Harald Hardrada marshals his army for the fight. The shield-wall is formed in the shape of a complete circle, with the Land-waster waving in its centre. -- Freeman