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12th Caçadores
12th Caçadores
 
 
48th Northamptonshire
48th Northamptonshire
 
 
According to the present Duke of Wellingon, writing in the foreword of Norris & Bremner’s ‘The Lines of Torres Vedras’, the outcome of ‘the spectacular nature of this defeat has never been fully appreciated by military historians’. This is what we aim to show you during a half-day, full day or two day tour of the Lines. We can demonstrate not only their strategic importance, but also how Wellington and his chief engineer, Colonel Richard Fletcher, managed to make use of the natural layout of the hills north of Lisbon to construct a defensive line of forts and obstacles whilst enabling the field army to manoeuver freely between the Lines. We visit several of the 152 forts and redoubts that constitute this amazing and vast engineering work that was carried out by a small group of engineers and the local population in a remarkably short period of time. To help alleviate the pace of the tour we introduce you to some of the local wines and gastronomy during the lunch break.
 
Wellington's HQ at Pero Negro Fort 40 Fort 41
Wellington's HQ at Pero Negro
Fort 40
Fort 41
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  Roliça and Vimeiro
 

Roliça, during the first campaign in 1808, was the first of many battles fought and won by Wellesley in this and later campaigns of the Peninsular War. It was made famous by Colonel George Lake’s spontaneous action of charging up a gully in the hills behind Columbeira that led to de Laborde’s retreat. We visit the monument at the very spot where he fell and then move on to Vimeiro where the subsequent victory led to the end of the first of the three invasions of Portugal by the French. It was at Vimeiro that Wellesley’s first proved that the line displacement of his troops was superior to the French columns and was also the first time that howitzers were used in battle. Here we sample some of the local fare and wines as well as visit the walled town of Obidos, where Wellesley spent the night before Roliça.
 
walking the Battle of Roliça Col. Lake's memorial at Roliça Street plaque at Vimeiro
Walking the battle of Roliça
Col. Lake's memorial at Roliça
Street plaque at Vimeiro
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  Bussaco
 

The importance of Bussaco cannot be overstressed as this was the first battle after Talavera over a year before and put Wellington in confrontation with Massena, Napoleon’s favourite general. Bussaco was also an opportunity to put the Beresford-trained Portuguese troops to the test. We walk the ridge and visit Wellington’s Command Post, the Military Museum, Crawfurd’s mill and Memorial. We also have the unique opportunity of inspecting at first hand a Brown Bess musket that was found on the battlefield. We taste the local famous Bussaco wine at the Palace Hotel next to the monastery where Wellington slept the night before the battle.
 
Memorial at Bussaco Museum at Bussaco
Memorial at Bussaco
Museum at Bussaco
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  Elvas, Badajos, and Albuera
 

Elvas is one of the finest examples of 17th Century military fortifications in Europe. Our visit starts at the outlying Forte de Sta "Luzia", now converted to a military museum. From there we drive to the great barracks which cover 15 hectares and where we can see details of the fortifications, preserved unchanged by the army since its construction in the 18th Century. A stiff walk brings us to the charming British Cemetery, with its graves from the Peninsular War. After lunch at a typical restaurant, we visit one of the two ‘Quintas’ used by Wellington as his headquarters during and after the second siege of Badajoz. We can then visit one or both of the sites of cavalry actions that took place during this period, depending on time.

This great fortress at Badajoz, commanding the Spanish side of the southern invasion route, defeated two attempts by the British army in 1811. In 1812 the British army under Wellington, having just captured Ciudad Rodrigo by storm, moved once again on Badajoz. The soldiers had briefly tasted the delights of rape and pillage in Ciudad Rodrigo and were prepared to endure any danger with that as a prize. Our tour highlights the difficulties they faced and the ingenuity and determination of General Phillipon and the French defenders. You then see where the 4th and Light Divisions assaulted the Sta Maria and Trinidad breaches forty two times and failed to gain entry. Next we look at the castle, where Picton’s 3rd Division managed to scale the walls against all odds and move on to the bastion of San Vicente, where the other diversionary attack by the 5th Division also succeeded. Lunch will take the form of tapas and a glass of wine in the square of San Francisco.

One of the very few battles in the Peninsular War where Wellington was not in command, Albuera is reckoned the bloodiest of them all. It was fought to prevent the French relieving Badajoz. Beresford, in command, showed that despite his many admirable qualities, he was not a great commander on the battlefield. The battle was won principally by the dogged courage of the British infantry. Marshal Soult paid them the highest compliment: “They were beaten but did not know it, and would not run”. This appreciation would affect his judgement for the rest of the war. The battlefield has changed little in the last 200 years and we visit several parts of it to give you an impression of how it felt to stand on that ‘fateful’ hill. We stop for a typically Spanish lunch in the Venta Rosario.
 
Fortifications at Elvas Castle walls at Badajos Site of the Battle of Albuera
Fortifications at Elvas
Castle walls at Badajoz
Site of the battle of Albuera
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  Ciudad Rodrigo, Fuentes de Oñoro, Almeida and the Coa
 

At Almeida we visit the perfect star-shaped fortress and the site of the massive explosion caused by a lucky shot from a French mortar that blew up the magazine in 1810, leading to the fort's surrender by the British. Later in 1811 the fort was in turn besieged by the British and we trace the steps of General Brenier’s miraculous escape with 1,300 men over the river Agueda. We also visit the grave of Beresford’s nephew who was killed serving with the Connaught Rangers at the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. Nearby, we visit the famous Roman bridge over the river Coa, where Gen Craufurd led his light division in a fighting retreat from Ney’s troops in 1810 whilst trying to hold the frontier.
 
Fortress of Almeida Bridge over the Coa
Fortress of Almeida
Bridge over the Coa
 

Ciudad Rodrigo is the site of the Spanish fortress that guarded the northern crossing into Spain. It is a beautiful town and its walls and castle remain little changed in 200 years. The Cathedral still bears the scars of the British siege. We visit the breaches and the greater Teson, site of the breaching batteries. Walking around the town, we point out Wellington’s headquarters, now a private house and the memorial to General Craufurd, the irascible leader of the Light Division. Accommodation will be at the impressive Parador, sited in the historic castle.
 
Ruins of Fort Concepcion Main breach at Ciudad Rodrigo Scene of fierce fighting at Fuentes de Oñoro
Ruins of Fort Concepcion
Main breach at Ciudad Rodrigo
Scene of fierce fighting at Fuentes de Onoro
 

Fortunately the village of Fuentes de Oñoro has changed little and we take you up its narrow lanes and past the stone-walled enclosures where fierce hand to hand fighting on the 3rd and 5th of May 1811 left the dead and dying in heaps several feet high. To the south we go over the open country where General Craufurd and his Light Division conducted a parade ground fighting withdrawal, watched in admiration by half the Allied army. It was here too that Captain Norman Ramsay delayed limbering up his two guns of Bull’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, which then had to cut its way through a swarm of French Chasseurs, before reaching the British lines to thunderous cheers.

Of all the fortifications along the Spanish/Portuguese frontier, Fort Concepcion must be the most romantic. Conceived in 1663 during the War of Portuguese Independence, it was completed in 1735 to oppose the Portuguese citadel of Almeida. During the Peninsular War it was first occupied by the Napoleonic forces and then by the Anglo-Portuguese army. In 1810, at the start of the withdrawal to the Lines of Torres Vedras, having being vacated by Gen. Crauford and his Light Division, it was blown up by Captain Burgoyne of the Royal Engineers along with officers of the Portuguese Engineers. From that day to this it has remained untouched, except by the cattle that graze around it. As you explore these magnificent ruins, you appreciate that in its day, it was one of the finest 18th Century forts in existence. Although the Light Division did a workmanlike job, the layout is still clear – the magnificent bomb-proof stabling, the ditch in which water still runs, the bastions, ravelins, drawbridge, barracks and parade ground are still easily discernible. It takes little imagination to envisage what it must have been like during its short life of service.
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© 2006 British Historical Society of Portugal