Friday, 25 June 2010


The bridge at Orthez

Orthez is a battlefield we had long wanted to visit, and one which I had done more preparation prior to our visit than normal. I had managed to get hold of a very good map showing not only unit locations but also contour lines. So I felt confident that we would have a successful and enjoyable visit.

However it proved less than a complete success. We managed to find the church of St Boes and the main French position. We also found the Roman Camp, which had been Wellington's command post during the battle. From here I had planned to follow the route of his attack. Unfortunately the Roman Camp was completely covered by a dense woods and a thick undergrowth. Despite walking around the base of the whole hill we were unable to make our way to the summit or indeed any point which would give us a view of the battlefield.

We expended so much time and energy on trying to reach Wellington's command post that we had little left to explore the rest of the battlefield. By mid afternoon we had enough, and settled for a visit to the town of Orthez instead. It had not played any part in the battle, but is a very attractive and interesting town in its own right.

More photographs, and a description of our visit, at:

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Return to Bayonet Ridge

We had planned to visit Orthez, but changed our plans due to light drizzle which promised to turn to heavy rain. Instead we decided to revisit the Bayonet Ridge above Vera. It would be just as wet, but would be a much shorter drive.

The ridge is now home to a collection of duty free shops, and has an excellent car park. Last time we climbed the hill behind Vera and followed the route taken by the Light Division. This time we took the route followed by hundreds of visitors to the duty free shops each day.

The path from the car park was appropriately called Commissari Ridge, and leads to the scene of the fighting in 1813. By the time we arrived the rain was heavy, and soon joined by thunder and lighting. We returned to the car park and a much needed hot drink.

Not for the first time we had to abandon a battlefield walk due to bad weather.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Roncesvalles Pass

Redoubt de Chateau Rignon

This was our second visit to this battlefield. On our previous visit we had parked on the Pass itself, where roland had fought his famous rear guard action in 778, and explored the scene of the major fighting on 25 July 1813. This was between the Pass and the Altobiscar hill.

For our second visit we wanted to follow the area of the French advance, and explore the intiial contact at the Redoubt de Chateau Rignon and then the light infantry action at Pic de Leizar Atheka.

This involved a long drive from St Jean de Pied de Port to the crest of the Pyrenees. There is a very good road, but narrow and very winding. At the end of this road we reached the Redoubt de Chateau Rignon

We were tempted to follow the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella which follows the French advance from St Jean. But we estimated it would have taken about 5 hours from St Jean to the Pic de Leizar, and then the same distance back. We considered this was just a little too long to walk, particularly as it would involve a steep climb. However when we saw how beautiful the countryside is, we were quite sorry we did not do so. Perhaps we will return in the future and try again.

The diary entry for the day, and some more photographs, are at:

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Amotz Bridge and Ainhoa Redoubt

Today the bridge is in a sad state of repair and overgrown with weeds. It is now only used by local farmers. There is a new road from Sare to Ainhoa, and a new brigde over the river Nivelle. The reglected bridge is well back from the new road, and can easily be missed when travelling between Sare and Ainhoa by car.

In 1813 it was a different matter entirely. This bridge was the only communication link between the left and right wings of Soult's army during the battle of the Nivelle. Its capture by the Third Division forced the French to withdraw to their next line of defence on the Nive.

Walking the five miles from the bridge to the line of redoubts overlooking Ainhoa is a delight. The path is a rutten farm track and throughout the day we spent there we only passed three young men on mountain bikes.

The area must look exactly the same as it did in 1813, and enjoying the peace and quite we had plenty of time to relfect on the battle and how difficult it must have been for Marshal Soult to exercise control over his army over such a wide area.

Diary entry and more photographs at: