Saturday, August 8, 2009


Our first view of the battlefield was from just outside of Calvarassa de Ariba. Jan and our guide Julia Page are well wrapped up, because it was a very cold morning. It would be difficult to find a better spot to view the battlefield.

I like this map, because it is not cluttered and gives you a very clear idea of the battlefield. The Arapiles is 6 miles from the city of Salamanca. About half way down the map, on the right, is our first viewpoint at Calvarassa de Ariba. The Lesser and Greater Arapiles are just below together with the village of Los Arapiles.

This photographs was taken from the view point at Calvarassa de Ariba. The Arapiles are in the plain with the Greater (French) on the left and Lesser (British) on the right. This would have been what Marshal Marmont saw on that morning of 21 July 1812 as his troops raced to reach the Greater Arapiles ahead of Wellingtons men. From here he would have seen the two armies marching down the valley, French on the left British on the right.

After half an hour on the viewpoint we were all frozen, and glad to head for the only restaurant in the valley, just outside the village of Los Arapiles. Over a welcome hot cup of coffee we were told that this was the location where Wellington was having breakfast of chicken leg when he was told that the French had overextended themselves in trying to outmarch the British. He is reputed to have said "By God, that will do" as he threw away his chicken leg and rode off to issue orders for the attack on the French.

Jan and I sitting in the garden where Wellington is said to have received news of the French error and where he decided to order the attack. No idea whether it is true or not, but it is easy to believe as there is a good view of the battlefield from the garden, and there are no other substantial buildings nearby.

This is the view from the outskirts of the village of Los Arapiles looking towards the two Arapiles - Lesser on the left and Greater on the right. You can see how flat the plain is, and how these two strange hills are like islands in the middle of a flat sea.

Looking towards the Greater (French) from the Lesser (British). The buildings in the centre are an abandoned railway station. The Lesser is the smaller of the two, and more rounded than the Greater, which looks like a wargames hill with its flat top. Apparently the British got one gun up on the Lesser, which must have been quite a job.

This was the end of the tour, and the coach was heading back to Salamanca for a free afternoon to explore the city. I wanted to stay and see more of the battlefield, but was told that I would then have to make my own arrangements to get back to the city. The landlord had told us that there was a regular bus service, so Jan and I decided to stay and explore some more.

We walked across the valley towards the Greater Arapiles. This is the view from the bottom, and the monument on the skyline is the centre of the hill. This is where the Portuguese attacked the French. They were not allowed to load their muskets, in case they would stop to fire and then refuse to advance. However when they reached the hill, they found it too steep to advance up, and they had to break ranks and scramble up the wall like rock. As they did so the French lined the top and fired down into the helpless mass. Not surprisingly the Portuguese broke and ran back, followed by the French.

Sitting on the top of the Greater Arapiles there is an amazing view of the whole battlefield. This is the spot where Marshal Marmont was wounded at a critical point in the battle.

A view of the Lesser Arapiles from the Greater Arapiles. Reports of the battle state that Marmont was mislead as to allied intentions because he was unable to see what they were doing. Yet this hill was held by the French throughout the battle, and its hard to see what would have hid the British and Portuguese from the French.

Having spent a full day walking the battlefield, we returned to the restaurant for a coffee and snack. In broken English the owner directed us to the bus stop, which we found without difficulty. He had told us there was a bus every half hour, but after a good half hour wait we were cold and decided to start walking, and flag down the bus when it came. It was a long 6 miles, especially after a full day walking the battlefield, and not a single bus passed us throughout the journey. However it was well worth the effort to spend an extra four hours walking the battlefield. At least I thought so, not so sure about Jan!

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