We started our first day with a very hearty breakfast in our hotel right in the centre of Torres Vedras. The whole holiday was planned around walking on battlefields, and we didn’t want to have to find somewhere for lunch. So after breakfast we had a quick walk around the town and bought some fresh rolls, a chunk of cheese, a few apples and a couple of cans of pepsi. This would be the format for each day, a good breakfast to start and a picnic lunch at a suitable spot on the battlefield with
No problem parking - we were the only visitors
But first we had to check the plan and make sure we had everything ready. For each planned stop I had prepared a folder, containing a road map, detailed directions and photocopies relating to the visit. The directions consisted of a photocopy of the relevant pages from Julian Paget’s book “
For detailed information about each battle we were relying on Jac Weller’s “
One of the photos we used to orientate ourselves
We had planned that each visit would follow the same routine. We would find the general area with the road map, then find each spot recommended in Paget’s book. We would find somewhere suitable to sit, and read the chapter from Weller’s book. I find his style easy to read and easy to understand. His descriptions of battles are very detailed and he quotes quite a lot from histories and diaries. So it is an ideal book to write on site. He also took photographs of most locations, and our aim was to find the same spot with the same view. Finally I had photocopies from various books relating to the particular battle we would visit.
The Lines of Torres Vedras
The Lines of Torres were built entirely by Portuguese labour but supervised by 18 British engineer staff. Every possible obstacle was constructed, using natural features where possible. Rivers were dammed, ravines blocked and the hills crowned by forts. They were not a continuous line like
Our first visit was to the strongpoint of
Sentry patrol path and garrison strong point
The fort was completely empty when we arrived and we were free to wander wherever we wanted. Not only the walls, but also the accommodation, storage and administration buildings, have all been reconditioned. It was so quiet and in such good condition that you could easily imagine that you were a Portuguese militiaman on sentry duty on the walls.
The forts dominate the surrounding hills
The fortress dominates the whole area, and you could see the outline of more forts on the hills stretching to left and right. Even with the sketch map it was easy to orientate yourself, and explore the area the French would have to pass to approach the fort.
We spent a couple of hours walking around the walls both inside and outside, and exploring the many buildings. We sat on the wall with the photographs reproduced here and tried to identify each one. We read extracts about what garrison duty was like here, and what a surprise Marshal Massena had when he discovered them. He was completely unaware of the whole system of defences until he saw approached them and saw them himself.
Jan makes friends with a "local"