The Latest News & Updates

IN BRIEF

2022/23 Tour Planning, Annual Reports

& 'The Show Must Go On' Information

This is just a summary of our latest news. For more please join our News Club.

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.

2022/23 TOUR PLANNING

Old Favourites, New Specialist Tours & Extending our Reach

Covid and regulations permitting, you can be sure that 2022 and 2023 will feature our traditional favourites in Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium, as Scheduled and Bespoke trips.

Just when and if we can give the 'go-ahead' to these is in the lap of the technocrats in whose power our ability travel seems to reside. With such unpredictability the construct of our tours will change, for 2022 at least, for which please read "The Show Must Go On" section below.

When we can travel to the standards we like, this is what we'll be doing:

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.

In June on our Waterloo Anniversary tour we are joined by Contributing Expert Andrew Field to share his French and other multiple perspectives. 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 given the often random and inexplicable regulations imposed at short notice by European-wide, country-wide and regional authorities.

Even if our May to July scheduled tours are affected, we may have better luck can with 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 new Napoleon's 1814 campaign in the Champagne region, so we'll aim for 2023 or 2024.

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

'THE SHOW MUST GO ON'

Non-Commercial Touring

We want to travel. You want to travel. With Covid on the wane, we are all looking forward to renewing our acquaintance with real 'living'. So what is holding things up? Regulations, that's what, both British and European.

If you'd like to understand the 'why', then I cover that below. If you'd just like to understand what this means for you, then the next paragraph will suffice:

For at least 2022 we are likely to run any and all our tours on a non-commercial basis. That way we get to share these wonderful places with you as soon as we can. In practice this means that we won't collect any payment from you, and whilst we can reserve hotels, vehicles, restaurants etc. you will be paying them direct. I'll make it all as seamless and easy as I can, and will be delighted to explain how this works if you are interested in joining our shortlist.

As for why, well it falls into two halves. Let's deal with the British side first. It costs thousands a year just to maintain an operating business ready to receive guests - not least insurance and regulatory costs. When a business is prevented from trading by Government (however well intentioned) most of these costs continue. Committing thousands in renewal costs each Autumn, not knowing if you will even be allowed to trade the following year, becomes rather questionable and mostly pointless.

I've always been happy and have thrived in a multitude of businesses of all shapes and sizes. But the current trading environment for the travel industry rather takes the biscuit. Keeping the quality high with journeys just for small groups, the cost burden when spread amongst a select band of tour guests could become silly. So for the time being, running a micro 'boutique' tour business doesn't really pay, either for me or for our tour guests.

Yes, I could offer bigger tours or do them over the 'metaverse', but honestly, when you are used to the real thing, that is just ghastly. Nothing beats the real thing.

Then there is Europe. The reality of Brexit is that services were forgotten. Being a tour guide in many European countries and regions is now a professionally regulated activity, which may be fine for local guides in their national gallery, but they really can't do what I do. There are work-arounds, from work visas, establishing overseas subsidiaries, employing local personnel etc. but these all layer unwanted burdens which only larger tours can justify, and do nothing to enhance quality. It took over 18 months to have the issue raised in the House of Lords, yet one has little hope of a speedy resolution.

So, given that I started this business in order to share my passion for history, landscape, culture, food and wine, the best way of continuing to share what I love, for now at least, is touring on a non-commercial basis. Tour guests between them will cover my attendance costs, but I won't be charging anything for my services.

In short, we carry on touring together, but, temporarily, not as a business. It'll be fun continuing to spread the joys of Napoleonic travel. Both I and our guests come alive at these historic sites, and I very much look forward to sharing these delights on tour in a new way.

The show will go on!

Robert

Image: Agrippa's Roman Theatre, Merida, Spain, July 2018

2021 REPORT

Revolutionary Times

With so many twists and turns, highs and lows, skills learned in childhood playing 'snakes and ladders' have proved invaluable throughout the year. Maintaining a calm sense of perspective is all.

As when tackling history, keeping an open mind and investing time and energy in curious enquiry can lead us down many interesting avenues that challenge accepted narratives.

Overwhelmingly this year has been one of 'official' narratives, the rise of psychological operations against the people, the deliberate sowing of division, the lock-down of genuine information, the cancellation of truth-seekers, the abuse of power. Stories and statistics are never quite as portrayed. Against this destructive (or is it 'protective'?) backdrop it would be easy to imagine that the entertainment, hospitality and travel industries have all been under deliberate attack. Maybe so, maybe not, but we focus on bouncing back from it all.

As an unfailing guide, I often wonder what Wellington would have done. No doubt he'd have sent numerous 'scientific advisors' scurrying back to Lisbon, or preferably all the way back to Horseguards, with his boot firmly up their whatever. If only we had such great and respected leaders today. In their absence, one has to focus on other ways to win the fight, however many barriers are put in our way.

With no touring, I've spent much of the year helping others with their own historic works. From a Dutch historian's multi-volume master work to a Brit telling the outrageously wonderful tale of the filming of the film Waterloo. Even jumping well outside my comfort zone to record for Sony as part of their Blu-Ray limited-edition re-release. All great fun, and an honour to be of help. There have also been many fine new Napoleonic books, and some which sadly are an abuse. I hope to credit the best on this website when I find the time they deserve.

Some will know that, on the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, I instigated and led the project to restore the grave of Cavalié Mercer, Waterloo's famed artilleryman, in my home City of Exeter. This year the project was topped off with a magnificent information board, and once more I thank those who contributed so generously. I will happily meet up with any enthusiast who wishes to visit.

Another highlight was an invitation to Stratfield Saye for a one-to-one guided tour. Wild horses could not keep me from Wellington's country home, what a wonderful opportunity, for which I am most grateful. It has opened fresh lines of enquiry for me, and I thoroughly recommend a visit once the team are able to re-open.

More time to enjoy home life has allowed me to pursue other interests with pre-history, cartography and economics all jostling for attention. Having always drawn strong links between economics, geography and history, is amuses me that this is a terribly unappreciated area of study. Back in 2013 I humbly published a tongue-in-cheek article "The Economics of Daily Bread" which went on to win a global award ahead of the FT and Washington Post. It examined the economic causes of the French Revolution. I now find myself informing clients from other continents that Europe seems to be busily laying the foundations for another revolution. History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes. If only we could learn from history (the Nuremberg code would be a good start).

A different time and continent, but these words seem to echo through time:

 “Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is in their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."

(Thomas Jefferson, American Declaration of Independence, 1776)

Last year we innocently placed our faith in Vitamin D3, Zinc, Copper gadgets, Nano-silver gels and sprays. Now we have ever multiplying vaccine roll-outs. This year I spent too much time undergoing a series of medical interventions occasioned it seems by adverse responses to these vaccinations. Heart-stopping moments. As much as we all wish to believe in a single easy solution to everything, medicine is both an art and a science, and both need to be allowed to work together. I'm unsure how such an enlightened approach will work with the concept of vaccine passports, which appears to be an authoritarian solution to a problem that doesn't exist, but I live in hope ... or maybe I will be re-educated, before presenting papers at every border, hotel, museum and restaurant.

We know from deep experience just how travel can enrich the mind, body and soul. So I truly look forward to breathing the air in these marvellous places again, caring for our tour guests, the people we meet and the regions we journey through. Our small-group tours are exceptionally well suited to all the latest challenges, and we have eager guests ready to travel from around the world.

As a tour operator we remain deliberately small, nimble and secure. This gives us the freedom to take the right decisions for the long-term with confidence in everything that we do. The section above - "The Show Must Go On" - explains how I expect 2022 to play out. Whilst full of hope and positivity, if events conspire against us then we’ll simply roll our plans into 2023, or whenever we can travel in confidence and safety, happy and free of concern. We’ll find a way.

That's about it. I've worn one of my legendary bright shirts to keep an upbeat perspective whilst writing this - I hope for your sake that it worked.

With best wishes to you all,

Robert Pocock, Founder - Director - Guide

Image: Barba del Puerco Gorge, famed 1810 Rifles action, Spain, May 2018

2020 REPORT

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

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: OUR ORIGINAL COVID ANALYSIS

Paragraphs below last updated 28th February 2020 - showing how we respond in a crisis

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

2019 REPORT

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