The Latest News & Updates
2021/22 Tour Planning, 2020 & 2019 Reports
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.
Whilst I never give up hope, we have to be realistic about touring prospects in 2021. Even if we can travel from a well vaccinated country, there seems no guarantee that this will prevent illness, merely reduce the severity. Many of the rural regions we journey through are likely to suffer from the fact that Europe has ordered insufficient vaccines for the population, and ordered late. So 2022 seems a sounder reality to work on.
If we can go in 2021 it may be on tailor-made autumnal 'weather-watch' tours, which have often been amongst my finest travel experiences; offering crisp air, clear skies, lower hotel prices and fewer tourists. So do let me know where and when you fancy travelling, and we'll discuss how we can fulfil your wishes!
Covid has delayed our Napoleon's 1814 campaign in the Champagne region, so we'll aim for 2022 or 2023. 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 10th January 2021 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 we have multiple vaccine roll-outs and events continue to evolve.
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 which masks work best in warmer weather, is all part of our role now, although I do not wish our tours to become like scenes from the 'Mask of Zorro'.
We've been closely following events in the countries that we love. The 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, mutations, 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.
It is 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.
How we are responding for 2021
We know from deep experience just how travel can enrich 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 as soon as it is proper and safe to do so, 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 commitment.
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, only finalising plans 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 in the hotel we're happy to invest our time in deeper historical research, picking up the tour again when you are ready. 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
Wellington Advances, Napoleon Retreats!
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
(A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
For me, a year that dawned with the creation and announcement of a cracking new word, “Napoleonicist”, quickly descended into an avoidance of bio-hazards, a flurry of home baking and crazed home-exercise biking. How the chips have fallen this Covid year!
In these times the lessons of history are so important, but all too often are set aside in the rush to be seen to ‘do something’. King Canute knowingly demonstrated the vain limits of power back in the eleventh century as he staged an attempt to hold back the tide; something that politicians, technocrats and their ever-willing functionaries who now seek to control every move of nature and humanity would do well to remember.
Too many lessons from economic history have also fallen by the wayside. Sustaining Wellington’s armies and the coalitions against Napoleon greatly depended upon gold and silver, often the only trusted currencies at a time when little else could be relied upon. History may soon start to rhyme given the debasement of everything around us. The follies of economic history and the importance of sound money are, alongside Napoleonic matters, ones that I am always happy to engage in.
Here in the UK, aside from Covid inspired chaos, we’ve also experienced a year in which history, culture, enquiry and common sense have been under constant attack. Those who seek to impose their narrow vision on others show little understanding of the persons and events whose reputations they seek to desecrate, with no thought for the inevitable but unintended consequences of their actions. In response it becomes ever more important that history, with all its rights and wrongs, is openly revealed and sustained in all its complexity rather than deliberately obscured from future generations. How else will they learn?
I’ve taken the opportunity this year to further the breadth of my interests into many other aspects of history and geography, seeking what might influence or at least rhyme with the future. From the archaeology of ancient sites to the founding of the Smithsonian, the integrity of history is of vital importance wherever we look. We are the products of the past, a past that is well worth appreciating, questioning, understanding, treasuring and preserving.
Whatever the state of the nation and the world, it has been a pleasure to chat with past and future tour guests to hear of your hopes and sharing your news. I always welcome such contact, so do get in touch.
Here’s wishing you all a wonderful 2021, a year that we hope to be part of, if not we’ll see you in 2022!
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