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.
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.
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.
An extension can be made to visit Salamanca and the impressive battlefield nearby.
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