Sunday, 11 November 2018

Exploring Napoleonic Battlefields

Jan and I had spent many a happy summer holiday walking Napoleonic battlefields throughout Europe.   This had been partly inspired by reading Don Featherstone’s book “On Campaign with Wellington and Featherstone”.   This excellent book has a chapter on each of Wellington’s campaigns and battles, and a short summary of Featherstone’s visits to each of the battlefields.

Having started the two blogs about our current interests, I thought it would be a good idea to record our visits to the battlefields.   I had kept a photo album of each of the holidays, together with notes of the battlefields, so it would be relatively easy to create a blog of each holiday.

Waterloo 1971
This was our first visit to a Napoleonic battlefield.   We were serving in Germany at the time, and Waterloo was only four hours drive.   We had been wargaming (and married) or two years, and had just seen the iconic film Waterloo.   I had done months research and we had a great holiday.   This was a  good one to start with, because it was also the easiest battlefield to explore.

Spain and Portugal 1991
Twenty years later I read Don Featherstone’s book and was determined to follow in his footsteps to the Peninsula.  But I was not confident enough to do it on my own.  So we booked the holiday with Holts Tours.   An expensive way to do it, but well worth every penny.   We drove from Lisbon to Madrid by coach and visited many battlefields on the way.  

Spain and Portugal 1994
The Holts Tour gave me the confidence to plan a self-drive holiday.   This was before the days of easy internet access and booking online.   We had to book accommodation through a travel agent and were restricted to 4 star hotels and Parador’s.  Again expensive, but a great experience.   We flew to Lisbon, collected a hire car and drove north to Busacco, east to Salamanca and back to Oporto to fly home.   The holiday was “interesting”, as we spoke not a word of Spanish or Portuguese.  And we were far from southern Portugal favoured by the UK tourists.   But it did give us a lot of confidence to carry on with the project.

Northern Spain 1995
We took our own car to Santander to drive north to explore Burgos, Vitoria and the Pyrenees.   Again we had to use expensive Parador’s which seemed a waste, because we only slept in them.    The Pyrenees proved much more difficult than expected.  For me at least it proved impossible to work with historical and modern maps.   In particular we spent a very frustrating day trying to follow the progress of the battle of Roncevallies.

The Pyrenees 1996
Better prepared we returned to carry on our explorations of the Pyrenees.  This time we drove through France to the border village of Sare.   We had a great holiday and spent many happy hours walking through the Pyrenees.  But on the way back we had a traffic accident with a coach, which could have ended in disaster.  It happened on the last day as we drove to the ferry.  Within an hour of leaving our Gite we had written off the car, but fortunately we were both ok.  

Austerlitz 1998
We booked a coach tour with Midas Tours for this holiday.   A more budget holiday than Holts Tours, but a much more like minded set of fellow travellers.  Unfortunately we had terrible weather.   We had personal experience of how difficult it is to move through the sticky mud of Austerlitz.   We felt very guilty arriving at our hotel in Brunn each evening covered in mud and dripping all over the carpets

Germany 1999
We booked again with Midas Tours for this tour of eastern Germany.   Fantastic list of battlefields from Jena to Bautzen to Leipzig.  Unfortunately the lack of knowledge and preparation by the tour guide was very obvious, and reduced our enjoyment of the holiday.   We had to wait hours at Prague airport whilst he drove to Berlin to collect two tourists.   Then we were left to our own devices half way through the tour whilst he did a recce of Bautzen.   Despite this it was interesting to see the battlefields, but it would be the last time we relied on someone else to prepare a visit.   It guess it is true that you get what you pay for.

Italy 2000
This one was inspired by a book called Castiglione 1796 written by Bernhard Voykowitsch.   We met him at a book exhibition in London where he was selling them.   He told us that it was the first of a series he had planned to cover all of Bonaparte/Napoleon’s campaigns. He had funded the whole thing himself, and was hoping that he could make enough profit to continue with the series. I never heard of any further publications.   It’s a shame because though a relatively cheap paper back it had excellent illustrations and covered the campaign extremely well.  There was also a short chapter about visiting the battlefields.   We booked a caravan on the edge of Lake Garda and spent a fantastic two weeks exploring the area.

Aspern/Austerlitz 2002
When we were at Austerlitz in 1988 we visited The Posthouse, where Napoleon had his headquarters the night before the battle.  It is now a protected historical building, but has a very modern motel attached.   Because the weather had made the earlier visit such a problem, we were keen to return.  Again we would arrange the whole thing ourselves, and would start with Aspern/Essling.   We flew to Vienna, collected our hire car and drove to a hotel within sight of the church at Aspern.   We had arranged to hire cycles for this first part of the holiday and found them very suitable to explore the large, flat expanse of the Marchland.   A great holiday, and a fitting end to our project.

Walking Napoleonic Battlefields
I started “Walking Waterloo” in May 2009, and finished “Walking Italy” in February 2011.   Each Blog followed the standard layout of one blog for each holiday, and an index of each battlefield visited.   We covered 98 battlefields in those nine blogs, though some were visited and covered twice.

I wanted to make them to be as easy to find as possible, so I decided to do a final blog.   “Walking Napoleonic Battlefields” would be an index to the whole series of blogs.   There would be a short description of each blog, and a link to each one.   I completed this final blog in May 2011.   Two years after I started “Walking Waterloo”.

It is difficult to determine how many visits all of the blogs have had, because there is a counter for each one.  I had never totalled them all before, but I did so for this post.   The overall total visits is 210427.   By far the most visits have been to the summary which has had 77313.

I am really pleased to feel that this project has been read by so many, and I hope that it may have encouraged them to try it themselves.   For any wargamer there can be no greater thrill than walking the actual ground his model soldiers fight over.   And it is a huge learning experience to do so.

But even more than pleasure at the number of visitors is the knowledge that all of the blogs are still visited regularly.

If you would like to find out more you will find a link to “Walking Napoleonic Battlefields” on the right, under My Blog List.


  1. You have certainly visited a lot of Napoleonic battlefields Paul, it's something we have on our 'to do' list for the future. We are just beginning to explore the Spanish transport system to see where we can get to from here.

  2. Hi Lee

    Thanks for your comments.

    We both really enjoyed our time discovering and exploring the battlefields.
    We found that the more research you do beforehand, the more enjoyable the experience

    We have not used the Spanish transport system much, but hear good things about it.

    It would be a shame not to visit at least some of the Napoleonic battlefields in Portugal and Spain. Unfortunately all of Wellington's are some distance away. This area saw a lot of fighting, but mostly v the Spanish army and guerrilla. I had hoped that I might be able to explore the north east area, but have found it impossible to find sufficient detail to do so. No doubt available in Spanish with a little work, but nothing in English.

    However if you are interest in the Spanish Civil War you are very well placed to visit those battlefields.

    Good luck with your efforts, I am sure you will find it rewarding and great fun



  3. Hi Paul,

    I just want to thank you for all of your work and effort you have put in here over the years. I am retired US Army, living up in Fairbanks, AK. I have been collecting and painting 28mm Napoleonics since the 60's (a spin off of my decades of HO scale model railroading layout building that I couldn't move without tearing everything apart all the time being transferred frequently in the military.) I have done a lot of painting and collecting but had never really gotten a working rule set that fit my ideals and goals of large scale battles to use my masses of troops and built scenery to my satisfaction.

    Your work (and Covid lock downs) have really inspired me to get back into my goal of writing my on set of custom rules that are simple for new players I meet, can be adapted to solo games when no one is available to play, and to be able to increase complexity and historical accuracy as things develop.

    You are a lucky man to have a partner who shares your life and interests. May God bless and protect you both! I hope you continue to keep up sharing your great work and experiences! You are inspiring and helping people even on the other side of the globe!


    Bob aka

  4. Hi Bob

    Thanks for your comments

    I just saw your post today. It is dated today, but was made on an older post. Sorry if it has been missed. I always check the comments at least once a week, so I think it is probably recent.

    We have a lot in common. I also started collecting and painting in the late 60s, and I also had to move my collection each time I was posted. In the British army we used to use large wooden boxes to move our personal possessions. On my first posting the figures took up a small part of one box, by the last posting it was two or three boxes.

    I am pleased that you find my blog useful. I do it mostly for my own satisfaction, but it is very nice to think that some might find it useful.

    I fully appreciate how lucky I am to have a wife who shares my hobby. She always has and it has proved particularly useful now that we are retired. We had vague plans to start a wargame club when we moved to Spain in 2006. But it didn’t work out, and we have played together since 2007.

    I would strongly recommend writing your own rules. It is the only way you are guaranteed the type of games you like to play. And because you write them yourself, they are easy to amend when you have problems with unforeseen game situations.

    I wish you all the best of luck with your endeavour, and if I can ever be of any assistance just let me know.


I have set the settings for comments to come to me before posting so that I will not miss any