The English army probably deployed on the north side of the ford which lay between and gave its name to the adjacent villages of Gate Fulford and Water Fulford. Here the road crossed a small stream, known today as the Germany Beck. At Fulford the Beck cut through the sand and gravel bank of the former glacial moraine, along which the road ran south from the city.
This may have long been chosen as the strongest defensive position where an army could stand against an attacking force. At the ford the moraine was no more than 400 meters wide. But most importantly, a marsh lay immediately to the east, stretching off towards Heslington, while on the west were the tidal waters of the river Ouse, protecting the left and right flanks of the English army. It was almost certainly here that Edwin and Morcar formed their defensive shield wall, across the narrow frontage of slightly higher ground immediately north of the ford, awaiting the Viking army which was approaching along the road from the south.
It is believed that this was a short but fierce battle in which the English troops initially had the advantage. However it seems that Hardrada may have eventually outflanked the English position, perhaps using the old Roman road which is thought to have crossed the marsh several hundred meters to the east of the ford. His forces then drove back the English troops, some drowning in the river Ouse, others being killed in the marsh. Up to a hundred priests who accompanied the army are said to have died. But despite this rout, many of the English troops must have reach the safety of the walls of York.
York seems to have surrendered to the victorious Viking army but Hardrada did not occupy the city. Instead he fell back upon his camp and fleet at Riccall, leaving instructions for the burial of the Viking dead. But a rendezvous was set for hostages and tribute to be brought several days later to the Vikings at Stamford Bridge, seven miles to the east of the city. The scene was now set for one of the most dramatic and decisive battles of the Viking era.