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.

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