Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Summary of Our Tour of Portugal and Spain

battlefield tour of Portugal and Spain had been very enjoyable, but this one convinced us that we could do even better on our own.

We visited many of the same battlefields that we had been to with Holts, but this time we had time to spend as much time as we wanted on the field. In particular Salamanca and Fuentes de Orono had been well worth a second visit.

Then there were the new ones. I will remember Busacco because it was the best sign posted of any we have visited, but also walking around the village of Sula - plus of course standing on Crauford's rock. Torres Vedras where we had the whole fort to ourselves, as we did also at Fort Conception.

The smaller battlefields of Rolica and Vimerio, each of which only required half a day to fully explore. And the city of Oporto, where we could have spent a week. Returning to Cuidad Rodrigo and Almeida to spend many hours exploring the streets and walking around the town walls.

We were right to be concerned at taking on a fly-drive battlefield tour of two countries when we spoke not a word of either Spanish or Portuguese. And there were times when the lack of the local language proved a huge problem - for example Oporto! But it proved that with sufficient research and good planning it could be done. What's more it could be very enjoyable. Indeed it is much more rewarding to do it yourself than to sit back and let a coach tour take the strain.

We had now done Wellington's battlefields of central Spain and Portugal pretty well. Our next venture would be to explore the northern battlefields and the Pyrenees.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Oporto was the scene of Wellesley’s daring crossing of the river Oporto and defeat of Marshal Soult in 1808. It was also the last battlefield to be visited in our second round of Peninsular battlefields in 1994.

This is the same view taken by me in 1994. It is taken from the north (French held) bank of the river, looking towards the site of the seminary. We could not locate the seminary, but believe it may be the large white building downstream on the right in both photographs.

A similar view taken in 1994 and showing the new rail and road bridge. Again the monastery is shown on the right, and we visited it just after we took this photograph. It is very easy to locate the place where Wellesley set up his artillery and his headquarters. It looks down on the city and offers excellent views of both the north bank and the river both upstream and downstream.

Jan is standing on the bridge and looking towards the monastery. The whole area is just another part of Oporto now, but the building is original. It is easy to find, and there is even a sign to “to the monument”. The bridge is modern, but is built on the same spot as the one destroyed by Soult in 1809. The long red and white buildings belong to the port firms which were as famous in 1809 as they are now.

This is the exact spot where Wellesley’s guns were positioned. You can see what an excellent view they had of the city. We also explored the warren of narrow streets which you can see gathered around the river. They must be pretty much as they were in 1809 and we could well imagine the panic and chaos the artillery fire must have caused amongst the civilian population.

We drove to Oporto from Almeida and I had what I thought were clear instructions to the hotel. However we somehow entered the city on a different road from the one I thought we were on, and were soon completely lost. Neither of us speak any Portuguese, but we stopped the car at each road junction and I jumped out with the address of the hotel and followed the direction pointed by helpful pedestrians. We seemed to drive all over the city, and indeed we actually passed the same square twice. After about an hour driving around in desperation we parked the car in a multi storey car park, showed the attendant our hotel address and set off on foot. Fortunately it was quite close, and it was only then that we realized that it was in the centre of the city – which is a pedestrian area! We had driven around the whole car free zone at least once! For the remainder of our stay we explored on foot, and only collected the car when we were ready to drive to the airport for our flight home.