Wednesday, 16 December 2009


1812 was a very mixed year for Wellington, as indeed it was also for Napoleon. And for both it ended in a terrible retreat. Wellington started the year with the capture of Cuidad Rodrigo, quickly followed by Badajoz. Then his stunning victory at Salamanca, which led to his liberation of Madrid. Then came the siege of Burgos.

Due to variety of circumstances, such as a strong fortress, a determined garrison, a lack of suitable siege materials and a strong French army of relief Wellington would end the year back at Cuidad Rodrigo on the border of Spain and Portugal.

Burgos was the first of our Walking Napoleonic Battlefields for our third visit to Spain. Unlike most of our battlefields the city of Burgos is well established on the tourist trail. The ruined castle was our main interest, but the city also has a beautiful cathedral containing the bones of El Cid.

You can read about our visit here:

Friday, 11 December 2009

Northern Spain and the Pyrenees

Our fourth holiday Walking Napoleonic Battlefields was for 10 days in June 1995.

We would cover 1200 miles and visit 13 battlefields including Burgos, Vittoria, Roncevalles, Maya, Vera, Bidaossa, San Marcial, The Rhune, The Nivelles and The Nive.

I have started a new blog to cover this holiday and you can read the first entry which covers the planning for the holiday here

Saturday, 5 December 2009


was the last stop on our second visit to Portugal and Spain to walk Wellington's battlefields. It started at Lisbon, the first city of Portugal, and finished at Oporto, the second city.

Oporto is a lovely city, but we did not see it at its best. Due to a map reading error on my part we entered the city on the wrong road, and were soon completely lost. I had a city map and the booking slip with the name of the hotel, but I could not find any of the suburb roads we were driving on.

Neither of us spoke any Portuguese, so we had a real problem. In desperation we just stopped at the next road junction, showed the booking slip to a pedestrian and following their hand signals. After about an hour of this we were no closer to finding the hotel, indeed we had passed one square twice.

We parked the car and set off on foot. We soon found the hotel, and that it was in the middle of a pedestrian only zone, which we had been driving around for the past half hour or so.

The rest of the visit was spent on foot. But the hotel was very central, and we could easily find the main locations we were looking for. And there is no better way to explore a city than on foot.

You can read about the visit and see the photographs at:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Return to the Coa

This is one of those battlefields which reward plenty of time to wander and ponder or just sit and think or read. Our previous visit was with a coach load of tourists, when we had little time to appreciate the finer points of the battlefield.

This time we had a full afternoon and evening, and we came prepared with many descriptions of the battle, including some first hand accounts. We also had time to ramble around the area and take lots of photographs.

You can see them all here:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Jan and I returned to Almeida and spend a couple of days exploring the town and surrounding area. To read about the visit and see the photographs taken click on "Walking Portugal and Spain Two" on the right

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fort Conception

This week deals with our visit to this isolated and abandoned fort on the Spanish and Portuguese border, which was a temporary home to the Light Division between 1810 and 1813.

You can read the blog by clicking on the link to Portugal and Spain Two on the right.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cuidad Rodrigo

We had enjoyed our first visit to Cuidad Rodrigo that we included it in our second visit to Portugal and Spain. This time we were on our own, and had more time to explore the town and the area where the allied guns were positioned to bombard the town.

This is the first new blog since I reorganised the Walking Napoleonic Battlefields blog. You can read about this visit by clicking on Portugal and Spain Two on the right

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

New Links for Walking Napoleonic Battlefields

When I started the blog I did not realise that it would be running out of space so quickly, but I now find that I have already used 75% of the storeage capacity for photographs on this blog. One of the main reasons is the large number of photographs on the Walking Napoleonic Battlefields blog. So I have started a new blog for all future reports. I have also taken the opportunity to move alll of the old ones, and arrange them in three seperate blogs as follows:

Walking Waterloo

Quatre Bras
La Haye Sainte
The Left Flank

Walking Portugal and Spain with Holts

Elvas and Fort Christoval
The Coa
Fuentes de Onoro

Walking Portugal and Spain on our own

Torres Vedras
Poco Velho
Fuentes de Onoro
Cuidad Rodrigo
Fort Conception
The Coa

Northern Spain and the Pyrenees

I will continue to use this blog to announce each new battlefield covered, and with a link to the new blog concerned.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Fuentes de Onoro - Again

This was our second visit to Fuentes de Onoro, we had been there with Holts three years earlier. At the time I felt that I would have liked to spend more time rambling around the narrow alleys, and this would be my opportunity

We had more trouble finding the village than I expected. We found Vilar Formoso, which is on the Spanish-Portuguese border, easily enough, and Fuentes is shown on the map at being on the right off the Salamanca road. Despite this we missed it, and had to return to the border and ask for directions. As often, it is a matter of starting on the right road!

Once you find the village, the clapper bridge is easy to locate. It was the ideal place to have our picnic lunch, and out came Jac Weller with the sandwiches and cold drink. We spent a pleasant half hour reading the section on the battle. Then Jan got out her pencils and sketch book, and I went to explore. If you look very closely at the above photo you will see her sitting in the shade of the wall sketching.

And this is the sketch she did that day.

I made my way to the top of the village, which turned out to be much larger than I had remembered. There are many new buildings, but enough old walls and cottages to give the village a real “feel” of what it must have been like in 1811. At the top of the village I came to the church, which was the centre of the fighting. It has obviously been rebuilt, but presumably in the same location. Certainly the descriptions of the battle place it at the top of the village, and that is where this one is.

Climbing out of the village you continue along this road to the ridge behind the village. This is not much mentioned in descriptions of the battle, possibly because the French never got this far. They only reached the church, and were then pushed back by a counter attack. But it was now obvious that this was a very strong position, with a typical Wellington ridge behind it. The village was intended to break up the French attack, and they would then have approached this even stronger position completely disordered.

Many of you will have read Richard Cornwell’s Sharpe books. I read them all when they were first published. But Sharpe’s Battle, which deals with Fuentes de Onoro, was not released until 1995 – the year after this our second visit. I am in the process of reading them all again, and by coincidence have just finished Sharpe’s Battle. If any of you should visit Fuentes do take Jac Weller, Napier or Oman. But make sure you also take Sharpe’s Battle. Because of all the descriptions I have read of this battle, the one in this book is one of the most vivid and descriptive. I wish I had been able to take it for my last visit. And I will make sure I do take it for my next – because if there is one site I would like to visit again Fuentes de Onoro is surely it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Poco Velho

The battle of Fuentes de Orono was fought over three days in May 1811. Wellington fought
the battle to prevent Marshal Massena from taking supplies to the border fortress of Almeida. The first day of the battle was fought in the village of the same name. However two days later the French tried out ouflank Wellington by a surprise attack against the allied left flank. The attack swept through the village of Poco Velho

The village lies in a very open plain about three miles south of Fuentes de Onoro. When we arrived we had a coffee in the tiny bar in the main square opposite this very “Hovels like” building.

We then walked around the village and a short distance to the west, the area where the French launched their surprise attack. It was a very hot afternoon as we settled down in the shade of a small woods. Jan did this sketch of the trees.

At dawn on 5 May 1811 a French infantry division stormed this tiny village, which was held by two battalions of the newly formed 7th Division. The attack would have come down this road. The French infantry were supported by masses of cavalry.

I took this photo with the intention of making a model building for use on our wargames table. Jan later made a model, and it performed well over many years and through many wargames. Unfortunately it was a little large in scale, and we sold it before we came to Spain. I wish I still had it; I could have taken a photo for comparison.

As always Jac Weller’s “Wellington in the Peninsula” was put to good use. There is an excellent description of the fighting which took part in this area, which I read aloud to Jan
whilst she did her sketch of the trees.

This quiet and unassuming battlefield can not have changed much since May 1811. Nor the tiny village of Poco Vehlo. Both are well worth a visit, particularly is you can spare the time to wander around and soak up the atmosphere.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Busaco ridge is almost ten miles long. On 27 September 1810 Wellington held it with 52,000 men, almost half of them Portuguese. Massena attacked it with 66,000. This was a big battle fought over a wide area.

Parts of the battlefield are easy to find, particularly the monument which was erected on the northern part of the ridge where Wellington spent most of the battle. When we arrived there was heavy fog, and you could see nothing from this splendid viewpoint.

This was the first major battle for the reorganized Portuguese army, and is celebrated every year with parades in period uniforms and festivities to commemorate the distinguished part played by the Portuguese troops in this victory.

There is a small, but very interesting, military museum. Jan and I spent a few hours looking around waiting for the weather to improve

When we left the museum we were delighted to find the mist had cleared and it was bright blue skies and a warm sunny day. We returned to the monument to orientate ourselves and admire the view. We then drove across the valley to the site of Massena’s Windmill, where he commanded the battle.

While I read extracts from Wellington in the Peninsula, Jan did this sketch of the Massena monument. We also had our picnic lunch here as it has such good views of the ridge.

Jan sketching, with the ridge behind

Driving back towards the ridge we came to the village of Maura. This was the staging area for Marshal Neys VI corps, and the point from which the main attack was launched.

Just in front of Maura we found a convenient log to sit on to read about Ney’s attack and study the route he took on the ridge opposite

We followed the road from Maura towards the ridge and soon came to the village of Sula. During the battle this small village was held by 1400 men of the 95th Rifles and 3rd Portuguese Cacadores.

I don’t suppose the village has changed much since that day. Wandering the narrow streets it was easy to imagine the hand to hand fighting as the French used their overwhelming strength to clear the allied light infantry from the buildings and push them up the hill before them.

We followed the road to the top of the ridge, and found the spot where the light division waited for the arrival of those same French infantry of Loison’s division. This windmill marks the spot where general Craufords famous division was deployed.

It was quite awe inspiring to stand at the very spot where Crauford unleashed the Light Division and defeated the first French attack. There could be no doubt that this is the exact spot, there is Crauford’s engraved rock to prove it

We sat for an hour or so beside the rock and I read Wellers description of Neys attack on Busaco ridge. Throughout that whole time we had the spot to ourselves, not one other visitor in sight. It was one of those magic experiences which I will always remember.

A short distance along the ridge we came to Wellington’s second command post. A stone pillar crowned with a star marks the spot, which was the position of Pack’s Portuguese brigade. From here there is a magnificent view of the village of San Antonio, from where Reynier led the second attack on the ridge.