The Latest News & Updates
2021/22 Tour Planning, 2020 Tours, 2019 Report
Its always great to hear from current and prospective tour guests, so please do give me a call or email. I'll be happy to chat over our latest research, current and planned scheduled tours and bespoke offerings, indeed anything Napoleonic, and these days anything Covid!
2021/22 TOUR PLANNING
Old Favourites, New Specialist Tours & Extending our Reach
Covid permitting, you can be sure that 2021 will feature our traditional favourites in Portugal and Spain, plus Waterloo, as Scheduled and/or Bespoke trips.
In Portugal we're taking a themed approach with "Rifles in the Peninsular". On tour I'll be joined by Contributing Experts Bob Burnham and Rob Griffith. If you want to see just where the 95th and 5/60th Rifles made history, including all of my favourite 'Light Division' spots along the exceptional Spanish border country, then this is the tour for you!
We continue to indulge in wider history and great landscapes, with superb culture, hotels, food and wine. A little luxuriating goes a long way to draw in enthusiasts' partners who wouldn't always be keen on what they may fear, or have experienced elsewhere, in a 'battlefield tour'.
This approach will be much in evidence on our "Wellington Advances into Spain 1809-1812" tour, from Talavera to Burgos, including some splendid little actions in beautiful countryside that I'm adding for the first time. As with Portugal, we'll be here in May, when the countryside is at its lush and verdant best.
Our June Waterloo Anniversary tour which faced the '2020 Covid cut' is re-energised. I'll be joined by Contributing Expert Andrew Field to share his French Perspective. We enjoy the full Campaign in depth, sharing our speciality of what you won't find in the history books.
In July we're adding a "Wellington crosses the Pyrenees 1813-14" tour, featuring the battlefield of Vitoria, numerous stunning Pyrenean mountain passes, the delights of San Sebastian, actions in France, the wines of Rioja and much, much more.
Covid has delayed our Napoleon's 1814 campaign in the Champagne region, so we'll aim for 2022. Please read our Covid News section below for updates.
Our tour guests are always coming up with stimulating ideas. We have a few more in the 'dreaming of' phase, and we're always open to more. So please do get in touch to discuss any tour ideas, or elements of tours that you may be particularly interested in. You can influence tours during the planning stages so they truly focus on what you'd really like to enjoy.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Robert Pocock, Founder - Director - Guide
Image: Looking down from the Maya Pass, 1813 battlefield, Pyrenees, Oct'19
LATEST COVID19 CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION
Covid has highlighted the distinction of travel companies who promptly treated their clients well, in understanding the threat, communicating informed views, offering and making immediate and full cash refunds. That's just what we did. So besides setting out our future response, you can see how we performed, right here.
Update 4th November 2020 re 2021 /22 Tours
Wrestling with Reality
There are so many twists and turns, highs and lows on the Covid 'snakes and ladders'. We maintain a sense of perspective on what is likely to be safe and realistic for our tour guests in 2021. The latest details below will bring you up to speed with our latest thinking.
Back in the Spring we were busy researching as much as we could, placing our faith in Vitamin D3, Copper gadgets, Nano-silver gels and sprays. Now there is talk of multiple vaccine roll-outs; how events have evolved!
On the plus side, the top hotels that we use have responded superbly, with new cleaning, sanitising and disinfection protocols, food safety certifications, changes to public areas, technology, training and screening. Their capabilities have really come to the fore.
The rather anti-social issue of social distancing is of constant fascination. For our small groups on the battlefield it is easy. Yet whilst it is quite legal to transport guests together, we must maintain bio-security during impromptu comfort and café breaks. This, whilst testing masks, from N95 to linen, cotton, multi-layer and vented models, considering which work best in warmer weather, is all part of our role now.
We've been closely following events in the countries that we love. The recent cycling La Vuelta d'Espana was useful, looking for signs of co-operation across national borders, between regions and the impact of sudden local restrictions. There were both good and bad signs, but the tour successfully completed with zero Covid positives.
The ever-evolving factors of vaccine roll-out, efficacy, testing, false positives, flight corridors, self-isolation prior to travel, on arrival and on return, wildly varying regulations and lockdowns mean that whatever we do, it may have to be undone, and at short notice.
Its not just about how much our own home nations achieve in eliminating the virus, but also how our destinations make rapid progress. Despite all the hope this is very unpredictable, certainly for 2021.
Our journeys offer the very best in hospitality on top of the truly expert historic experiences that we deliver. We have high standards and won't cut corners, so if we have any doubts it would be wrong to pretend.
How we are responding for 2021
We know from experience how travel so enriches the mind, body and soul. So if we can go, we'll go, whilst caring for our tour guests, the people we meet and the regions we journey through. Our small-group tours, with their fresh safety arrangements, are exceptionally well suited to the challenge.
We’ve been ahead of the curve throughout the crisis, and fully intend to remain so. So for 2021 we offer our full array of tours, both scheduled and bespoke, but will run them only once I am fully confident that we can deliver an anxiety-free experience to our very highest standards.
I hope to travel across Europe in March 2021 to see, in person, how the latest safety measures and regulations are working in practice. I’ll share the results with all who have reserved their place on our tour short-lists. Only once both you and I are fully satisfied, armed with the latest virus and vaccine knowledge, and happy to travel, will we seek any deposit.
Unlike many tour operators who have a constant need for cashflow month by month, simply to survive, we are small, nimble and secure. This gives us the freedom to take the long-term view, to do what is right, sharing our passion for the places that we love, but we'll only finalise plans and request commitments when the time is right.
So whilst I am full of hope for the Spring and Summer of 2021, if events conspire against us then we’ll simply roll our plans to later in the year, into 2022, 2023, or whenever we can travel in confidence and safety, happy and free of concern.
Without any commitment on your part, please contact me to reserve your place on our 2021/2022 short-lists. The earliest contacts will receive priority if we need to cap our already small group tour numbers in response to our own or any imposed safety or regulatory criteria, so do get in touch.
4 Wheel Drive Guided Journeys
For our highly personalised bespoke tailor-made tours we've added a "convoy" option. We can now lead you in our own 4WD, whilst you follow, self-drive, in your own vehicle or one hired for you. This is ideal for those who wish to enjoy the full benefits of a tour, whilst remaining protected within your own bubble.
Out of Season Weather-Watch Tours
If the defeat of Covid takes longer than we hope, then we can take you touring later in the season. From years of experience we plan our scheduled tours for when the weather and landscapes are at their very best. Yet we've also had some superb off-season tours and research trips, when the weather has been just right.
Our solution is to plan ahead. If you're flexible, we can shorten the odds by watching the forecasts with you, then booking last-minute journeys to maximise the chance of clear blue skies.
There's a new trend in town, perfect for those who can't commit blocks of time to constant touring. It is to take a break with a few days holiday, then a half, full or couple of days of work, then another few day of holiday, break for work, holiday and so on. We can do this; on your work days we're happy to invest our time in even deeper research around the places we go. So do talk to me.
2022 and onwards
Whatever happens, we'll be here for you. So whilst we all want to crack on, to get out and see the world, there is no need to rush into a 2021 tour. But please do contact us to get your name onto our short-lists, so we can prioritise you for 2021 or 2022, without any commitment on your part.
Remember, we're here to do it right and to take the long-term view. I’m here to chat over any thoughts or queries, so do get in touch.
With best wishes to you all,
AHEAD OF THE CURVE: OUR ORIGINAL ANALYSIS
Paragraphs below last updated 28th February 2020 - and still very relevant today
Since January I've been watching the inexorable march of COVID19 Coronavirus towards Europe. Now with numerous cases across Europe we need to get serious. We may hope that this will all blow over as the virus weakens and as warmer weather arrives, but even so travellers may face disruption, inconvenience, an inability to start or complete tours, and the risk of serious illness whilst in a foreign country with language barriers, or upon return home.
By way of background at the time of 9/11 I was a Director of a large chain of travel companies in the UK. I led the response for staff and clients, and was one of the first to fly from London to Boston when Atlantic flights recommenced. So I have some experience of risk management in the tour industry. COFID19 is of course very different, but we need to be open and honest about how it might impact on our and your tour plans in as yet unknown ways.
What we do know is that this serious public health issue is most likely to affect the more mature who are most likely to tour with us, particularly those with pre-existing medical weakness. Human bodies are remarkable things in keeping us alive and kicking, but many unfortunate people won't be so lucky. We must consider not just the risk of illness, hospitalisation and fatality, but also the evolving impact of both voluntary and imposed efforts to slow the spread.
Let me firstly reassure you that Campaigns & Culture will go above and beyond accepted good practice. As a small operation with no staff to pay we can simply do what is right for our tour guests. If that means scrapping the whole 2020 tour programme, should that ultimately be necessary, that's really not a problem, and we can pick up where we left off later this year or in 2021. Our tour guests are not just clients but also our friends; we'll simply respond to the facts and, working with you, do the right thing.
I shall be updating this section of the website as we learn more. It is no substitute for official WHO or Government information, but please feel free to check back, and if you have booked, or are thinking of booking, do please contact me so we can have an informed dialogue before you make any payments to us or any further commitments such as booking flights.
Amongst the risks, many of which are already impacting travellers in parts of Europe, we may face;
* Flight disruption, suspension or cancellation, both inbound and outbound,
* Flight restrictions on individuals displaying signs of illness,
* National advisories against travel leading to insurance policy invalidation if you decide to ignore the advice,
* Non-essential travel bans,
* Cultural sites, venues & events closed to the public,
* Hotels locked-down in quarantine, unable to check-in or check-out,
* Localised staff, food & fuel shortages,
* Prevention of travel between regions, imposed by national or regional authorities,
* Enforced isolation within a foreign country or on return,
* Hospitalisation in a foreign country,
* Inability to obtain rapid repatriation in the event of illness.
Whilst we rejoice in the delights of landscapes, battlefields and vineyards in remote, rural & lightly populated regions of Portugal and Spain, we also visit the major Cathedral cities of Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto, Toledo, Salamanca and Burgos where, with larger populations, our itinerary is more likely to be forcefully curtailed. At Waterloo we are close to Brussels, the nerve centre of the EU.
At one end of the scale we will encounter hotel, restaurant and other staff who themselves may be concerned about their own health and those of their families and colleagues. At the other end younger generations for whom the impact of COFID19 may be relatively mild may well continue their day-to-day activities, as many will have to do, unaware that they are carriers, unwittingly infecting those more susceptible to serious risk. Perhaps the majority of us will all catch it over time, but do consider whether you would prefer to suffer at home, or find yourself seeking intensive care abroad.
In terms of the tour experience, a healthy tour guest and guide is everything. If one of us goes down it'll ruin it for everyone. It'll be bad if tour guests are fearing for their health rather than enjoying their holiday.
So what does this mean?
For those who have already booked, we’ll speak to review options, but in short;
* We can discuss an objective risk analysis based on the latest available data,
* If you prefer to watch events unfold before making your final balance payment then that’s fine, the usual timelines for balance payment are suspended.
* For our scheduled tours, if you have already paid your balance then decide to cancel, or if you/we are forced to cancel you will receive a full refund. Your non-returnable deposit will also be fully refunded.
* For our bespoke tours, if you have already paid your deposit and/or balance then decide to cancel, where we have already incurred direct costs for you (such as non-returnable hotel bookings) we will refund any surplus that we still hold, and seek refunds for you on the rest. If we cancel your bespoke tour you will receive a full refund of deposit and balance.
For those who have yet to book, please don’t use the online booking facility without contacting me first. We’ll discuss the latest information as objectively as we can before you take any decision.
For those tour guests who have already booked flights, as events unfold governments may advise against or enforce travel restrictions, triggering your insurance rights. Your flights may also be cancelled by the airlines, and we will encourage you to secure refunds through the airline or payment provider channels. Throughout we'll keep talking and supporting you.
What happens if the 2020 tour programme is scrapped?
Let us hope that this will not be necessary. But if it is, we will look to recommence as soon as it seems practicable to do so. So we may offer to run your tour, or a personalised bespoke tour just for you, later in the year or in 2021; it will be entirely your decision to join or not to join, just as you wish.
We will also focus on planning our 2021 tours now, well ahead of time, with many exciting scheduled tours planned (Rifles in the Peninsular, Waterloo Anniversary, Wellington across the Pyrenees etc...) so you'll have good forward visibility of the options available.
We are happy to help keep your travel options as open and flexible as possible. We don't want to disappoint anyone, but we should have sensible conversations ahead of time rather than at the last moment. In an ideal world all tours will go ahead and complete as scheduled, but at this stage none of us know whether that will be possible.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and we'll work through this together.
Robert Pocock, Founder - Director - Guide
PREVIOUS UPDATES & THE LOSS OF A FRIEND
Quick update 15th June 2020
And on it goes.
My April update referred to a friend who was fighting Covid. As fit as a fiddle, he sadly lost this fight. The world has lost a champion. Yet this experience absolutely sharpens our drive to do things right.
We want out tours to be great fun, as well as delivering the very best of history. Our conversational and convivial style is important. So we're taking measures to ensure we continue to do what we and our tour guests so enjoy. We will keep an open enquiring mind, just as we do with history, so we can adapt and evolve.
Our great quality hotels through Portugal, Spain and Belgium are introducing extensive changes to how they do things, applying clear and exacting standards for guest and staff safety. I am deeply impressed, and will be testing them in person as soon as allowed, sharing more information with you as these practices unroll.
For 2021 there remain a number of uncertainties, not least government guidance and travel restrictions, insurance and Brexit. So we're making huge changes to how we will build interest, confidence and ultimately bookings on our tours, all to be announced soon. If we can't do tours safely in 2021, we'll roll them into 2022, and we'll be here to serve you.
Elsewhere in the travel industry, sadly, far too many holidaymakers have been badly let down, believing in impressive brand-names and consumer protection logos that mean very little when the tide goes out. For consumers to be faced with confusion, prevarication, vouchers and cash losses is just plain wrong.
It's a big reminder to only ever deal with a tour operator who holds client money absolutely distinct from their own. We are few, but it's a standard we rigorously applied from day one, and, as a result, both we, and our 2020 tour guests, have had a good Covid.
Wherever you are, enjoy Waterloo Day 18th June 2021.
Quick update 10th April 2020
The severity of the lock-down across Western Europe now exceeds the wildest of our imaginings. From border closures to movement prohibitions and lifestyle restrictions we must hope that activity can and will return to measured normality once the enormous pressure on our health services is reduced.
A dear friend of mine is right now in intensive care. It truly brings home the nature of this virus when it is so close to home. He is a fighter and is now stable. This so reinforces the need to protect ourselves so we may enjoy together the good times that are yet to come.
Our tour planning for 2021 will soon be shared. We plot our course in anticipation of a 'new normal', with cutting-edge changes to the way we work which I believe will be a first for our industry. We may focus on the historic but we can still push the boundaries of the future!
In time I will write more on the way that different travel companies handle their clients' monies. Not all travel companies are the same. Witnessing some of the shoddy 'fully bonded' industry practices of 'voucher refunds' going on right now is anathema to me. I take pride that Campaigns & Culture have always held clients' monies in a distinct bank account, from which we made full refunds to every one of our scheduled 2020 tour guests long before it became necessary.
Small, but perfectly formed.
Enjoy the Easter weekend.
Quick update 27th March 2020
The Waterloo re-enactment weekend planned for 20th & 21st June has now, unsurprisingly, been officially postponed until 2021. We are now contacting all our 2020 Waterloo tour guests to agree their preferred course of action, having already secured our superior hotel room and transport bookings for 2021.
Our very best wishes to all our friends in Belgium, we are with you in mind and spirit. Bon chance mon braves!
Quick update 14th March 2020
Sadly, our Covid19 guidance back in February now seems remarkably prescient; there is not a single word I would change. The personal tragedies spreading across the western world are now fully in the public gaze. The last few days have also seen British Foreign Office guidance against non-essential travel to many areas of Europe, the US announcement of trans-Atlantic flight restrictions, the declaration of state and regional emergencies, bans on gatherings and events, museum and restaurant closures, quarantines, self-isolation and tough moral choices being made by those living in affected areas.
Your safety and the quality of your holiday experience means everything to us. So we have cancelled our Portugal April 2020 & Spain May 2020 tours and provided full refunds to all tour guests. It seems to be only a matter of time before the same occurs for Waterloo June 2020, but at this stage, at the request of our tour guests, we watch and hope. All our Bespoke tours have, at our clients' request, been deferred until later in the year or 2021.
We remain happy - indeed delighted - to discuss travel plans with future tour guests: If we are all spending more time at home this is a great chance to plan ahead, and 2021 looks set to be a very busy and exciting year!
We are also very happy to use and share our personal experience in travel crisis handling to advise other tour operators.
So, do give me a call or ping me an email.
In the meantime, if I am fortunate enough to escape illness, I look forward to spending the Spring and Summer with my collection of old English roses in the garden, whilst re-visiting my huge library of Napoleonic books and the all important wine collection! I am sure that you find something equally positive to do.
With best wishes to you all,
Wellington Advances, Napoleon Retreats!
I've had tremendous fun planning our 2020 tours. The many years of visiting wonderful sites across the Peninsular and even more frequent hops over to Waterloo adds a real excitement and pleasure to sharing such great history precisely where it was made.
All this benefits our 2020 and future tours, and helps to differentiate our offering from other tours. I've also been busy personally testing out new hotel and restaurant selections, and the best cultural sites, to ensure that we continue to enhance what I believe to be a unique approach to quality battlefield tourism that attracts and rewards experts, enthusiasts and their partners alike.
In the Peninsular we've upped the ante with a few 5-star hotels, superior rooms in most of the 4-stars, adding even more character and style to the tour experience. We've also found some great new vineyards, tasting experiences and restaurants to share. Historically and culturally we also have far more to share than ever before.
At Waterloo we've extended our full campaign tour to nine days. We've taken advantage of the battle anniversary dates and the planned re-enactment events, added Namur, Brussels and an extra full day walking Waterloo. On tour I'm joined by "French Perspective" expert and author Andrew Field who will be sharing his wisdom and unique insight. This should truly be the Waterloo tour that all Waterloo aficionados have been waiting for!
I've also been asked to lead some bespoke trips, including "Women at Waterloo", which I reckon is pretty unique in touring circles, and also "Cavalié Mercer's & G Troop RHA's march on Paris". These will be a special pleasure, and if you would like to join any of these, or have an idea or request for your own bespoke trip, then please do get in touch.
Now, as any military person will tell you, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Our best laid plans must now take note of the threat of Coronavirus. You'll find a fresh section below, please read, and I'll be happy to discuss the ramifications.
Robert Pocock, Founder - Director - Guide
Image: 1809 Battlefield of Talavera, Spain, Oct'19
Copenhagen, Waterloo & Peninsular Tales
During 2019 we welcomed greater numbers than ever on our Small Group tours with both repeat and new tour guests. It is always a delight to enjoy the good company of ladies and gentlemen from across the globe, from Australia to the UK, the US and, once again, Europeans wanting to learn more about 'their local battle'. The depth and range of our tour guests adds real pleasure to the touring experience, and I thank them all for their excellent companionship.
Our tour guests tell us that our 2019 tours were a wonderful experience. We aim for, and mostly achieve, the accolade of "Outstanding", and it is hugely rewarding when both new and experienced tourers recognise our unique quality, style and approach.
Picking out a few events, Waterloo saw both our Anniversary and a few Bespoke tours in June. New to our schedule was Copenhagen in July (featuring both Nelson & Wellington) led by our Contributing Expert Gareth Glover, for which I thank him enormously. A number of private research tours bulked out the diary, and we've added more great locations to our 2020 tours as a result.
From Copenhagen I flew into Bilbao, for enjoyment, exploration, rest and relaxation. Joined by an influx of Guild of Battlefield Guide members, I was promptly whisked away for a journey around our Contributing Expert Graeme Cooper's favourite Peninsular sites. Great fun, and always good to compare and contrast my own favourite locations with those of others.
In September I set off on a solo 6,000 mile road trip from across Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Portugal and back, returning home at the end of October. What a journey it proved to be.
At Waterloo I was joined by friend and outstanding Dutch historian Pierre de Wit as we criss-crossed the territory and battlefields sharing knowledge, sites forgotten by time and the history books, whilst introducing new local contacts and research material to each other. Pierre's huge strength is his multi-lingual skillset, delving into original archives, uncovering fresh sources, never taking anything in the history books for granted, and his decades of on-location research. All this will benefit our 2020 and future tours, further differentiating our tours from the rest.
Onward across Champagne and Burgundy to the French Pyrenees, enthralled by the beauty of Tarbes and Orthez before climbing Roncesvalles Pass into Spain and across to Portugal. Blessed with glorious weather at grape harvest time, the scents wafting through the air along the Portuguese Douro, Spanish Ribera del Duero and eventually Bordeaux were a treasure.
I always reckon that as a guide one needs to visit battlefields and fortifications at least three times before they fully come to life. Even after so many previous visits it was delightful to still be uncovering fresh perspectives at Talavera, Badajoz, Albuera, Olivenza, Elvas, Torres Vedras, Buçaco, Porto, Ciudad Rodrigo, 'Light Division' border country, Salamanca, Vitoria and the Maya Pass. Of course on tour we visit many more places that we know well and love to share.
My theory is often proved as I bump into DIY travellers struggling to find, let alone make sense of a battlefield, and I do my best to point them in the right direction. Its a useful reminder of how inadequate my own first visit to Waterloo was all those years ago. Repeated visits to far-flung places allow us to check out the latest theories, analyse different maps, seek fresh approaches from the perspective of all combatants, search out new vistas, constantly pushing the boundaries of knowledge to share on tour.
Some of you will know that in January '19 I was hospitalised for over a month, truly life threatening stuff. Life is surely enriched by experience, so once restored by the magnificent skills and care I encountered along the way, I literally had a mountain to climb in preparation for Waterloo's Lion Mound in June, all 226 steps. My determination to focus on sharing my passion for history, landscape, culture, food and wine has led me to drop the vast majority of my business interests. For me touring in 2019 was very much a personal triumph, and one that, happier, healthier and fitter than ever before, I look forward to doing much, much more of in the future. To those who helped me through, and to those who encourage and support my touring, thank-you, it means the world.
Robert Pocock, Founder - Director - Guide
Image: Portugal's Douro Valley (one of our vineyard hotel stops) Oct'19