ON A bitterly cold day in March 1461 the longest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil took place.

It was fought on Palm Sunday, here in Yorkshire, close to the village of Towton near Tadcaster, and left a reported 28,000 men dead.

The most fierce battle in the long-raging Wars of the Roses, it involved two English rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, associated with a red rose, and the white rose of the House of York. It was a fight for the English throne.

More than 550 years later, it is possible to visit the site, picture the lines of battle and imagine the horror that ensured. Towton Battlefield Society has devised a Battlefield Trail, skirting the areas of conflict, that takes you on a journey back to that horrific event.

The three-mile circuit is punctuated by superb information boards telling the tale of the battle, the history behind it, the positions of each army, the weaponry used, the casualties and the outcome.

It offers a chilling insight into the harsh conditions and the savagery inflicted by man upon man. With biting cold easterly winds, the day we visited it was easy to envisage the harsh reality of that day.

On reaching the battlefield, the Yorkists found themselves heavily outnumbered. Part of their force under the Duke of Norfolk had yet to arrive. The Yorkist leader Lord Fauconberg took advantage of a severe blizzard and with the wind on his side, his archers easily hit their mark.

The one-sided missile exchange, with Lancastrian arrows falling short of the Yorkist ranks, provoked the Lancastrians into abandoning their defensive positions. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat lasted hours, exhausting the soldiers.

The arrival of Norfolk's men reinvigorated the Yorkists, leading to heavy losses on the Lancastrian side. It was a brutal encounter. Many Lancastrians were killed while fleeing; some trampled each other and others fled towards Cock Beck, to be slain or drowned in its freezing, fast flowing water.

Survivors were reported to have crossed the beck on bridges of their fallen comrades.

It is said that for several days the water flowed red with blood, which seeped downstream into the River Wharfe.

Looking down towards the beck, in its peaceful valley setting, it was hard to imagine such a vicious exchange involving so many. But we were given a little insight as to how it felt - it was freezing, with a searing wind. We were mad enough to take a packed lunch and were forced to shelter in the lee of one of the large information boards to eat it.

The route is fairly level, and wide - an easy circular walk across countryside that has seen so much bloodshed. There’s a sense of history around you and under your feet.

The centre of the fighting is marked by a series of mass graves along the valley bottom. No bodies remain - they were exhumed in 1484 and reburied in sanctified ground by order of the newly-crowned Richard lll, the last Plantagenet king.

Easy to follow, the information boards also contain details of the armour used and who wore it during the Wars of the Roses, and of artefacts unearthed by the Towton Battlefield Archaeological Project.

It’s fascinating, and will spark the interest of all ages, whether fans of history or not.

The outcome of the conflict brought about a change of monarchs in England, with the victor, the Yorkist , who became King Edward IV, having displaced the Lancastrian King Henry VI and drove the head of the Lancastrians and his key supporters out of the country.

A leaflet containing a map of the trail is available at local pubs. It also contains details of a second three mile walk at the village of Saxton, a couple of miles away.

You pass through what would have been part of the Yorkists’ encampment and come close to Castle Hill Wood where it is believed that the Lancastrians concealed a large force intending to turn the Yorkists in a certain direction. But this is not thought to have happened.

The highest point on the walk offers a panoramic view from the Yorkist perspective.

There, in Saxton churchyard, lies the grave of Lord Dacre, who commanded the left wing of the Lancastrian army and died in battle. Rumour had it he was buried upright, mounted on his horse - a fact confirmed when workers restoring the tomb in the 19th century discovered their skeletons.

Another point of interest is the 12th century Church of St Mary, the sole surviving building in the village of Lead near Saxton, where soldiers may have taken sanctuary. Protected by The Churches Conservation Trust, it is a little gem - one of the loveliest places of worship I have ever visited.

*The Battle of Towton trail map is available for £3 from The Rockingham Arms, Towton, The Greyhound Inn in Saxton, the Crooked Billet, near Saxton and the Ash Tree in Barkston Ash: Also visit: towton.org.uk; battlefieldstrust.com