We had the pleasure of taking a full day tour of the Lines of Torres Vedras with Mark Crathorne, our BHSP guide. It was an excellent experience that combined great scenery, history and culture. We benefited from Mark‘s many years of experience leading field trips to the Lines. Mark conveyed information with an easy-going and engaging style. The tour was thorough and we discussed all the military aspects of the Lines. The morning coffee and lunch stops were also a very nice experience.
"Absolutely one of the best tours in Portugal I have experienced! Mark is a superb host. He is a natural storyteller and brings to life the personalities and events of the Peninsular War. He reaches a wide audience from casual history buff to more serious student of the period. The amazing views of the Portuguese countryside and the sampling of local cuisine make the experience one to remember."
“Mark Crathorne is an Englishman who has lived in Portugal for many years. He speaks Portuguese fluently. He is an ex-Army officer with a great knowledge of the Peninsula campaigns and a soldier's understanding of what they involved. He gave us an expert tour of the Lines of Torres Vedras, incorporating into it side trips to highly-interesting locations that gave us insights into Portuguese history and architecture and which complemented the military experience perfectly. We enjoyed our day so much that we asked Mark to organise a further excursion to see the palaces at Sintra and Mafra and then to Cabo de Roca and the Estoril coast. The day became much longer than first planned and Mark was exceptional in seeing to it that all our goals were accomplished, though it was dark before he finally delivered us back to our hotel. We were very much impressed by his professionalism. As a final comment, I should add - he's excellent company!”
“Having experienced a day tour of the Lines of Torres Vedras under the expert guidance of Clive Gilbert, we are very happy to recommend this event to others. The Lines and their fortifications make a gigantic footprint on the Portuguese countryside, and the terrain in and around the lines is challenging to explore. Without an expert’s eye many of the interesting features could remain hidden to your gaze, as identifying 200-year-old features (even if well-maintained) in such a large landscape is difficult. Enjoy the tour, walk by the key fortifications, visit the visitor centre/museum and drive past the British HQ buildings of 1810. Luncheon was a welcome retreat from the sun. Our favourite sites of the day were the majestic views from Mount Socorro (c400m), and its enchanting little chapel.”
“Thank you Clive for giving us such a revealing tour of the Lines of Torres Vedras last week. You have such a depth of knowledge of Portugal - a country we were visiting for the first time. You enabled us to visit places we wouldn't otherwise have been able to reach, and I have to say the lunch was the best we had during our week. I have had an interest in military history throughout my life and I had read of the Lines, and have long wished to see them for myself. They were one of the most significant fortifications in European history, and I am glad that the Portuguese authorities are beginning to preserve and interpret them for visitors. Thank you once again for a memorable day.”
“Our guide, Mark Crathorne, was perfect. My wife had little interest in the war sites and I had far more enthusiasm than knowledge. So we asked for a "mixed" tour and Mark served up a beauty. We saw the works and learned about them, but also had a marvellous tour of an off-the-beaten-path monastery. Throw in a lovely lunch with great conversation and what more can one ask? Highly recommended."
“What a beautiful, interesting, memorable day you gave us. We feel as if we had taken a real journey in time and space and learned a huge amount along the way. We are so grateful for all you did to make everything as perfect as it was, from the reading material so carefully chosen and prepared, to the choice of itinerary and of course the Lucullan meal with your very nice friends.”
“Well executed, with a passionate and very well informed guide, the 11 Signal Brigade Battlefield Study to the Lines of Torres Vedras was both an excellent medium for professional development and hugely enjoyable.”
“Just a note to say that I have heard nothing but praise from all of our party for the excellent job that you did as a guide for our trip to Torres Vedras. The choice of restaurant and menu was also highly praised.”
“In order to properly understand Wellington's defensive lines, which run for many miles over the hills around Lisbon, it is highly desirable, if not essential, to have a well-informed guide. Luckily in Clive Gilbert, from the BHS of Portugal, there is someone who mixes depth of knowledge, with humour and a very good lunch... “
“I booked my family on a half-day tour of the Lines and we all enjoyed the visit immensely. We especially appreciated the excellent explanation by the guide, Clive Gilbert, as well as the pleasure of his company. He also gave us extensive information on suggested reading. Thank you.”
We both thoroughly enjoyed the trip, it was not only informative and interesting, but Mark’s insights brought the history of that particular part of the Peninsular Campaign to life. We also very much appreciated seeing parts of rural Portugal that would escape the notice of most casual visitors. The trip to the village coffee shop and the restaurant where locals ate were particular highlights! We very much hope to undertake further tours with you in the future.
"I would like to thank Mark for making the extra effort to make the day-tour so interesting and action-packed. The tour was tailored in a way that it was possible to experience two different campaigns in just a day. I enjoyed immensely following exact troop movements of the Battle of Vimeiro and even experiencing the different perspectives of opposing generals from respective vantage points. A coffee break in a lovely village and quick lunch were integrated seamlessly into the lovely day. In the second half of the day it was very gratifying to find out a lot that had puzzled me about the Lines of Torres Vedras. I would also like to thank Mark for having the foresight of taking extra hats and water for the hapless visitor!"
"Thank you for a very well planned, informative, and enjoyable day learning about Wellington in Portugal. I appreciated your suggestions for readings before the trip, which made seeing the ground more meaningful. I hope to have an opportunity to visit more of the Peninsular battlefields. If I do, you will be the first person I call."
Please accept this more formal expression of thanks for the two days which our ¨Gang of Four¨ spent with you earlier this month exploring the battlefields of Roliça, Vimeiro, and The Lines of Torres Vedras.
Your thorough briefing materials with photos, narrative, and maps gave us an excellent preparation for the visits to the sites. Once there, your explanations of what we were seeing filled in the rest and indeed made the situation come alive, as it did when we stood at the place where Colonel Lake fell on the heights of Columbeira. The extent and complexity of The Lines of Torres Vedras, with their strategic value to Wellington´s campaign, became evident as we saw their scope and heard your explanation of what lay before our eyes.
I should also mention the pleasure of seeing the villages and byways of that part of Portugal, our pleasant lunches and the surprise visit to the Monastery of Varatojo. We especially appreciated the care you took with our less mobile friend.
Our group had a most interesting two days, truly value for money in every sense of the phrase, and would recommend The British Historical Society of Portugal Tours, and your guiding expertise and professionalism to other visitors.
“Our tour with Mark was the highlight of an excellent holiday. Calling it 'a tour' was rather like terming an Aston Martin 'a car', technically correct but totally inadequate. Think rather of spending a day with a good acquaintance who just happens to be a fine raconteur. He brought the Peninsular War to life, taking us up tracks we would never have essayed in a hire car and highlighting viewpoints we could never have discovered with a map guide. We packed in Óbidos, Roliça, Vimeiro and the Lines of Torres Vedras all in one day, but nothing was rushed and we never felt the clock was being watched. We 'saw' the first phase of the Peninsular War from the initial contact at Brílos (seen from the walls of Óbidos), through Roliça's gory gullies, the landing beaches, and on to the bolder sweep of the Vimeiro battlefield, and thence to the Lines of Torres Vedras, where some forts have been restored. No book, no map, no Google earth aerial photograph can bring home the reality of the battlefield of Roliça, as can standing at the low wall from which the French decimated the 29th. By contrast, Vimeiro had a strangely sweeping grandeur, the scene of a death dance formed of several set pieces. Our day ended by visiting points along the Lines of Torres Vedras, and the headquarters of Spencer, Wellesley, and Beresford. We fortified ourselves with some of Wellesley's favourite local white wine, and were dropped back at our hotel in Lisbon, feeling privileged to have seen both our own military history and Portugal as is really is, beyond the tourist sites.”
“Overall Tour Experience: Five star, and highly recommended for anyone looking for a tour with a personal touch. The basic arrangements – transport, accommodation, meals – ran like clockwork, while the tour booklet neatly encapsulated the events in each day’s schedule. The guides knew the campaigns and the country over which they were conducted in the detail that only comes from exploring both on the ground for a number of years, and they communicated that knowledge very effectively to the group. Being locally based, they were also able to introduce us to people and places beyond the scope of other battlefield tours, and to share their wider knowledge of Portuguese history, cuisine, wines and wildlife. All in all, an unforgettable experience and one I’d be happy to repeat.”
“Highly recommended. The Battlefield Tour was tailored to our special interests, well planned and efficiently conducted. Our guide was enormously knowledgeable about the Peninsular War and was able to explain clearly how the battles and related history unfolded. Seeing the terrain and having his explanations brought alive to us the battles in which our ancestor participated. We are very glad that we found out about the British Historical Society of Portugal and that you were able to arrange a tour for us. A thoroughly enjoyable and educational day.”
“Clive and Mark were superb guides and hosts. I can't imagine more informed guides for the Portuguese portion of the Peninsular War, including visits to unique sites seldom visited by others.”
“Both guides used their detailed knowledge of both the events of the time and the country in which they happened to take us off the beaten track to locations other tours haven’t reached. Their readiness to tailor the tour to include sites of particular interest to our group was also much appreciated. As a result, I now have a much better understanding of the parts of the Peninsular campaign that we covered. The trip coincided with a number of events to mark the start of the war. Thanks to their local knowledge, our guides were able to deliver us to the right places at the right times to view the events at Columbeira and Vimeiro, as well as to local exhibitions of contemporary material which added another dimension to the tour as a learning experience.”
"Mark Crathorne was our guide on two one-day battlefield tours of Torres Vedras and Bussaco. He took us to locations and monuments which were critical to our understanding of the battles, giving us an insight into Wellington’s and Massena’s strategic and tactical thinking as well as the challenges facing division and company commanders, not to mention the gruesome reality of fighting with muskets, bayonets and cannon. We could not have found these places for ourselves without extensive research. Mark brought the battles to life with enthusiastic and knowledgeable commentary, answering many questions on the spot and sometimes following up later with further input from his network of experts. In addition to all this, he gave us excellent advice on the possibilities for further visits in the area and importantly, places to eat. Many thanks for two memorable and enjoyable days."
“My battalion officers and I had the absolute pleasure of being guided around a number of the key battlefields of the Peninsula Campaign by Mark Crathorne of the British Historical Society of Portugal. Far more than a mere tour guide, Mark assisted my team in the planning and local liaison for the entire trip, where his local knowledge absolutely was the difference between just a battlefield tour and a really outstanding learning opportunity for all of us. Mark brought to life each location, and his deep understanding of the campaigns and more importantly the personalities involved in each action were of immense benefit. What was particularly impressive, however, was his ability to engage with trained military officers at a deeply tactical level – we shared our own experiences and between us were able to make comparisons between Wellington’s campaign and those of a more contemporary nature. Friendly, unquestionably knowledgeable and utterly reliable, Mark became a member of the team in short order. I would have no hesitation in recommending wholeheartedly Mark and the British Historical Society of Portugal to any military or civilian organisation looking to arrange a truly rewarding tour of the Peninsula Campaign battlefields.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed both days and learnt an enormous amount not only about Bussaco and the Lines, but the whole campaign - your extemporised summary of the Peninsula on the drive up to Bussaco was remarkable! Added to that your local knowledge and contacts made possible other highlights, including the visit to the farm that was General Brent Spencer’s HQ and access to the French HQ - not to mention the excellent lunches.”
“Mark, as our tour guide and a companion, was excellent and that he went over and beyond the call of duty to do everything he could to make the visit of our group of eight a success. He really did bring the whole experience to life and the advice on hotels and restaurants and lunch venues was excellent. It was such privilege to be on the site of Albuera and to see exactly how it was fought - so much more revealing even than the video on YouTube, and the same for Torre Vedras which was vast. The importance of the Peninsular War came across as a crucial battle for Britain's survival, rather than some sort of side show as I had previously imagined, and here thanks to Mark's vivid and highly professional presentations.”
“A short note to say thank you for the most excellent service that you provided to my team and me. Your knowledge was boundless and you really provided great value during our Battlefield Study of the Peninsular War. My whole team commented on your professionalism throughout and how the insight you gave at each site truly brought their studies to life. As Royal Engineers we learnt a great deal from the engineering works that we visited and how the engineers of the day adapted to the environment in order to solve problems. Again, your knowledge was excellent and I am sure that this will help us all in the future when we may find ourselves in similar circumstances. Your local knowledge was also invaluable and the places we visited, often away from the normal tourist routes, gave us a true flavour of life in Portugal. Overall, a most memorable visit for which I extend my sincerest of thanks.”
“I cannot thank you enough for a really special tour. We all enjoyed it tremendously and I was particularly taken by how you pitched the talk perfectly to the audience giving the boys enough information, yet keeping me interested. We would never have been able to find the lines of Torres Vedras without you. Elvas was a delight particularly as it is so well preserved, the contrast with Badajoz is stark. Our bacon was saved because our guide checked and discovered that the car rental company in Badajoz closed for the weekend at 1pm, an hour before our agreed pickup. The guide then changed the itinerary to allow us to pick it up early.”
“We really enjoyed our time with you all. We appreciate your effort in organising our whole tour and the obvious work you put in to ensure our trip was a success. Your genuine interest in our wellbeing and your personable approach when guiding brought the Peninsular War to "life" for us. For this we are grateful and will we certainly recommend the BHSP to anyone interested in seeing Portugal or Spain from a different perspective. Once again thank you for your time and effort in making our holiday in the Peninsular a very memorable experience.”
“Being on the spot at Elvas, Badajoz and Albuera brings the history to life in a way that books simply can't do. For me it was not only standing on the Fatal Hill or the ramparts of the forts at Elvas and Badajoz, it was also being surrounded by the descendants of the soldiers who so bravely fought there, and also the Spanish and Portuguese who would have been at their sides. You were such an efficient guide - keeping to the agenda like clockwork, and all the research and preparation you had done told us so much about the places we were looking at. The hotel was wonderful, the food a treat in both countries and the sunshine, though hot, was a mighty restorative after our long English winter!”
“Having found out about the tour and made arrangements only at the last minute, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have such a memorable time. Clive and Mark fit in as much as possible in one day and drove across the country and back, so I managed to see three of Lord Wellington’s haunts. Among the many unforgettable experiences of the day was my first walk through an underground tunnel. Both guides were very well-informed and read out eye-witness accounts so you could actually see the hell in the Badajoz ditches. They were also the first people to identify my ringtone from Sharpe’s Rifles! This tour was the highlight of my Portugal trip.”
“The British Historical Society recently organised a one-day trip to some of the most notable and still complete battlefield sites of the Peninsular wars, namely to Elvas in Portugal and Badajoz in Spain. The tour guide Maj. (Retd.) Nick Halidie was superb. He was not only supremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but was able to bring the subject alive with his many anecdotes of the time. It was amazing that so much was covered in one day and the time flew by, but for me the highlight of the day was standing before the main breach at Badajoz, in the actual ditch where so many had so valiantly fought and died. A truly humbling experience and the conclusion to a memorable and amazing day.”
“Mark Crathorne planned our battlefield tour meticulously and escorted us to as many of the key places as time allowed. Mark gave us all the historical detail with enthusiasm and with an eye to detail. We could not have enjoyed our trip more.”
"The Peninsular War is a unique and fascinating period in British and Continental European history. Mark from the BHSP brought it to life for us with great skill and knowledge. His story telling, use of first hand accounts and understanding of the battlegrounds is first rate. His enthusiasm for the subject is infectious. Would strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in military history and/or understanding more about Portugal and it’s special relationship with the UK."
“A friend and I, both with an interest in British military history, requested the British Historical Society of Portugal to design and provide us with a six-day tour of a number of battles fought during the Peninsular War. We were very pleased with the experience. We toured the sites of Rolica, Vimeiro, Almeida, the River Coa, Fuentes de Onoro, Bussaco, the Lines of Torres Vedras, Ciudad Rodrigo, Albuera, and Badajoz. Our guide, a former officer in the Royal Horse Artillery who has lived in Portugal for many years, gave us detailed accounts of the battles and sieges. We were highly impressed by his knowledge of the local terrain and his descriptions of the fighting culled from contemporary British and French soldiers who participated and wrote their memoirs. We had both read a fair bit about the Peninsular War, and had reviewed maps of the various phases of the battles, but we came away from the tour with a much better understanding of the terrain, strategy, and tactics, and with an ability to imagine the stubborn courage and sacrifices made by the British soldiers under Wellesley. Our guide selected good local restaurants and hotels, and the food and accommodation were excellent. I would not hesitate to recommend a tour organized by the British Historical Society of Portugal.”
“Our visit to Portugal was inspired by the story of my 3 x great grandfather, William McCraw, who was a Lieutenant in the 71st Regiment of Foot in the Peninsular War. Diaries written by two soldiers in his regiment give details of their involvement in the war and other army records show that William was slightly injured at the battle of Fuentes d’Onoro. The British Historical Society of Portugal’s website offered a visit to this area so we contacted the Society and booked a two day tour. Mark Crathorne led the trip and he made every part of the visit informative, interesting and enjoyable. We also managed to fit in birdwatching on our way to two battle sites and a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Foz Côa, which has outstanding prehistoric rock carvings. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and would recommend the British History Society of Portugal to future travellers wanting to learn about the history of this area.”
“A really fun and informative trip which we can absolutely recommend. Mark is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide and helped bring to life the battles and the human drama of the Peninsula Wars. He dealt with our tirade of questions with unfailing good humour. The fact that the trip took us through some pretty parts of Portugal was a bonus. Highlights of the trip included the battlefield of Salamanca, Ciudad Rodrigo, the Bussaco Ridge, the River Coa, the memorial ceremony at Elvas and the lunch at the Palace Hotel at Bussaco. Thanks Mark for a memorable few days!”
“‘Our four day trip with Mark and Clive was the highlight of a six week European holiday in 2013. It was great to be in the company of two people who were not only highly knowledgeable about the history of the Peninsular War, but were also enthusiasts. The insights to the conduct of various actions, the opportunity to put eye-witness statements in context in remarkably unchanged landscapes (eucalyptus trees and wind turbines not withstanding) and the capacity to explain what happened and why was exceptional. The accommodation, lunches and good company all made this a great experience way exceeding expectations. A tour highly recommended for anyone with an interest in this piece of the Napoleonic wars, and whose wife is willing to tag along. For further comment feel free to contact us at: email@example.com."
“Thank you so much for all those little ‘extras’. Seeing little villages and meeting the local historian was something special. Your contact in Madrid for visiting the battlefield site of Salamanca was very helpful and he put me in contact with a local guide who had played over the Arapiles as a child! Thank you again, the whole tour was a great experience. I’d recommend it!”
“We want to say how much we enjoyed our British Historical Society of Portugal tour. You put together a programme that suited us ideally and we had a delightful and most interesting week in Portugal.”
“I would like to thank you for the time that we spent with you at Óbidos, Porto and Elvas and all the other battlefields. Your enthusiasm and passion for the battles I found to be very informative and interesting and has inspired me to develop a greater understanding of the Peninsular War. We greatly appreciated your company throughout the tour and the dinner at Porto by the Douro River will remain one of my fondest memories of our holiday. Thank you once again for making our trip to Portugal and Spain such an unforgettable experience. Thank you also for taking us to Fátima and the Temple of Diana, which were not part of the Peninsular War tour.”
“We had such a great time, Mark. Our time with you was certainly the highlight of our whole trip. The care and professionalism you displayed when organising the trip was greatly appreciated. Your friendly, flexible approach and knowledge put us at ease and we enjoyed your company throughout the trip. The whole idea of ‘Massena’s Retreat’ was a great theme for the trip. So many minor actions and interesting places to see. I’m still raving about Pombal, Foz de Arouce and Fort Napoleon. We were able to get a real feel for the environment and a better understanding of the challenges faced by the combatants. The accommodation was terrific. Fort Concepcion is an impressive overnight stay - people at home don’t believe we stayed in an actual fortress! The visit to Gouveia to see where Col. Collins spent the last weeks of his life was intriguing and being shown the remnant of his headstone was quite sobering. I really enjoyed our discussions at Sabugal and the hunt for Capt. John Uniacke’s grave at Gallegos. Almost ringing the doorbell at Massena’s HQ in Condexia and the visit to Fort Napoleon were all great fun. Kabita was really moved by Badajoz in the dark. Barroso the holiday resort was interesting. We enjoyed Cadiz, where the sunset was breath-taking.”
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