The Latest News & Updates
2019 Report, 2020 Tours, 2021 Tour Planning
This is just a summary of our latest news. You're also welcome to join our News Club.
Its always great to hear from current and prospective tour guests, so please do give me a call and I'll be happy to chat over our latest research, current and planned scheduled tours and bespoke offerings.
You are also welcome to follow our occasional witterings and wonderful photos on social media.
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 another of our Contributing Experts' 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 of the market.
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 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, all 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
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: Battlefield of Talavera, Oct'19
2021 TOUR PLANNING
Old Favourites, New Specialist Tours & Extending our Reach
You can be sure that 2021 will feature our traditional favourites of Wellington's Peninsular in Portugal and Spain, plus Waterloo, as Scheduled and/or Bespoke trips.
We're also adding a Wellington Pyrenees tour 1813-14, featuring the battlefield of Vitoria and many more besides, numerous stunning Pyreneean mountain passes, the delights of San Sebastian, the wines of Rioja and much, much more.
Also in planning for 2021 are "Rifles in the Peninsular" including all of my favourite 'Light Division' spots along the delightfully unspoiled Portuguese Spanish border, plus Napoleon's 1814 campaign in the Champagne region.
Our tour guests are always coming up with stimulating ideas, so we have a few more in the 'dreaming of' phase, and we're always open to more.
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: Maya Pass, Pyrenees, Oct'19
COVID19 CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION
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,
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