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The Peninsular war around Spanish Pilgrim routes

rioja routard

Active Member

I am reading a really good novel at the moment called 'The Mathematics of love' by Emma Darwin, which I can thoroughly recommend. Part of it is set in the Peninsular war which I admit I know little about. I felt compelled to do some research and found it interesting that the Camino must have been traversed by infantry. Is why part of it is called the Napoleon route? Here in a nutshell is what fascinates me. What I have always considered to be a way of peace must have witnessed violence apart from the usual robbery and murder inflicted on innocent pilgrims

At the end of October 1808 Napoleon, at the head of a large French army assembled in the northern Spanish city of Vitoria, prepared to place his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain by force.
Several Spanish armies gathered to resist him and the British corps in Portugal was ordered to advance to Burgos and assist the Spanish.

After the Battle of Vimeiro, in Portugal commanded by Sir John Moore. Moore commanded 23,000 troops in Lisbon and expected 10,000 reinforcements to arrive at La Coruna.

Moore sent his infantry by via Badajoz to Salamanca. Arriving at Salamanca, Moore learnt that Napoleon had defeated the Spanish armies and was already in Burgos, Moore’s intended destination. The British army, outnumbered by some two to one, was now heavily threatened and so headed to La Coruna to meet the reinforcements.

They left Astorga on December 31 1808 and reached La Coruna January 11 1809. There were some real problems of discipline and some British troops overindulged upon the contents of a wine cellar to such an extent that they had to be left in a complete inebriate state and left to the French.

The Battle of Corunna on January 16 1809 saw Sir John Moore lose his life although the victory was with the British with brave fighting from the Black Watch regiment.
rioja routard said:
Peninsular war
called 'War of Independence' in Spain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peninsular_War
and see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pyrenees for the various battles in the W Pyrenees including the one at Roncesvalles

rioja routard said:
Is why part of it is called the Napoleon route?
I'm not aware of any road in Spain named after Napoleon but there are several in France, the most famous being the one in Provence http://www.route-napoleon.com/

rioja routard said:
found it interesting that the Camino must have been traversed by infantry. What I have always considered to be a way of peace must have witnessed violence
your spectacles must be of a very bright rose tint :) 'The Camino' is largely based on Roman roads which were not just traversed by but built for infantry; the Romans may have brought the Pax Romana but their principal objective was hardly peaceful. Pilgrimage and especially the cult of St James have always been closely connected with warmongering. The Crusaders were regarded as holy pilgrims, and were the first to be granted a plenary indulgence. St James was invoked as matamoros - slayer of Moors - a concept later echoed by the conquistadors when massacring the natives on the other side of the Pond in the name of Santiago. The very same 'Reyes Catolicos' who founded the Hostal in Santiago also founded the Spanish Inquisition, hardly a bringer of peace. Pilgrims often had to change their route due to wars, whether so-called holy wars, like the Albigensian Crusade that Francis of Assisi supposedly had to avoid en route to Santiago (he supposedly witnessed the massacre at Beziers), or the numerous ordinary conflicts between kings/princes/barons/etc/etc. There was so much warmongering around, you sometimes wonder how any pilgrims managed to get to their destination at all!



There's a "Ruta Napoleonica" in the Pyrenees, as you walk from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles. Best, XM


Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
(2006) Roncesvalles to Leon (2007) Leon to Compostela
Burgos has the most beautiful cathedral, but you'll find the stained glass windows are post-Napoleon. His artillery bombed the castle on the hill above Burgos, and the blasts subsequently blew out the medieval windows. At the least cathedral remained intact.

rioja routard

Active Member

There is a planned event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Corunna this winter.

A group of re-enactors are going on a 300 mile march following in the footsteps of Sir John Moore and will be joined by serving officer and men of the Army’s newest regiment The Rifles. The re-enactors will be dressed in period uniforms and the Rifles in modern combat uniforms.

They start on 30th December 2008 at Sahagun and enter the city of Corunna 200 years to the day on the 14th January 2009.

When this was done by an officer and men of the RGJ 25 years ago the response from the people of Spain was overwhelming.

Training has started and they are looking for potential supporters and sponsors. The Rainbow Trust (Children’s Cancer Charity) is the nominated charity for this event.

I hope this posting is not too off topic but some of this retreat took place on the Camino Francès from Sahagun to Astorga, Villafranca. Some of the troops mistakenly took the road to St Jago de Compostelia and had to return to Lugo.

Following my Camino I did research on the Peninsular war and have myself joined a re-enactment regiment, the 79th Cameron Highlanders based at Fort Amherst, Chatham.

This sounds a really exciting event and I am planning to be there, walking in my period uniform.

It is a true mark of respect as the conditions of the retreat were terrible, many perished, women and children amongst them. They were there to free Spain from the tyranny of Napoleon.

rioja routard

Active Member
Bicentennial Corunna 200

Hello plans are going well for the re-enacation

At the end of this year there is a planned event to commemorate the 200th anniversary (Bicentenary) of the retreat to Corunna (Spain) this winter.
Here is a brief outline of the historic events.
Napoleon was coming after the British army led by the General Sir John Moore and it was imperative that the British army retreat with all speed to Corunna in the North West Galician corner of Spain for evacuation by sea.
The retreat was marked by defeat, privation, and the harshest winter conditions imaginable, and took the lives of over 6,000 British soldiers and was a complete shambles. The exhausting marches, cold weather and frequent skirmishes with the pursuing French units saw many turn to alcohol and become so drunk that they were left behind! It was a dark moment of British military history. Sadly women and children died too as they were attached to the soldiers regiments.
The route became signposted by the dead and dying by the side of the track and the continuous line of bloody footprints leading up into the mountains.
The retreat was the worst trial of endurance suffered by the British army in the Peninsular. Most of the army was reduced to rabble through hunger and cold.
On 14th January, 1809 the naked frost-bitten feet of the army trod the coastal plain towards the harbour, before them lay the death of Moore and the Battle of Corunna in which the tattered British army was to redeem itself.

To mark this historic event a small group of re-enactors are participating on a 300 mile march following in the footsteps of Sir John Moore.
The re-enactors will be dressed in period uniforms complete with muskets and rifles.
Training has started and there is work with potential media supporters (television) and sponsors. The Rainbow Trust (Children’s Cancer Charity) is the nominated charity for this event.
This will be the most ambitious re-enactment ever attempted.

The one thing that needs to be done is to somehow inform the inhabitants of the Spanish villages that this is taking place, a pre marketing exercise. If anyone has any ideas they would be welcome.

Apologies if this subject is slightly off topic but some of it is on the Camino Francès


Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:

rioja routard

Active Member
I've had some bad news. The complete march re-encating the retreat 200 years ago has been cancelled due to various factors, people pulling out etc, lack of support etc. I got this news 3 hours after booking my flights with 'click air' to La Coruna, which I now seem unable to cancel including the hefty supplement of transporting my 19th century replica musket!

The inscrutable workings of fate make me feel convinced that I could or should continue this venture as a solo effort. (or maybe see if my girlfriend can be encouraged to join me!)

I have therefore decided to carry on and do it on my own, and maybe with some others and follow the Camino Francès from Sahagun to Sarria and then onwards go to Lugo, Betanzos in which I would I would traverse the Camino Pimitivo and the Camino Ingles at Betanzos (I think).

It is sligthly off the route but in January it would be helpful to benefit from the pilgrim infrastructure.

5,000 British soldiers, including women and children perished 200 years ago and I only learned about this when passing this way 2 years ago on the Camino.

I feel determined to continue this effort to respectfully mark the event for those innocent that fell on the way. Hopefully include a visit to Santiago on the way.



New Member
What a dissapointment for you. I think that you should walk it anyway. As you have bought your tickets already, it seems that this walk is ment for you.

Good luck with it. Stay safe and keep the faith


Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
To take your odyssey a bit further - in time and place - you could walk to Ferrol - the launching point for Spain’s ill fated Armada against the English in 1588.
Good luck, keep warm!
Camino(s) past & future
2002, Toulouse/Aragon 2005, Cami S Jaume/Aragon 2007/9, Mont Saint Michel/Norte/Vadiniense 2011, Norte/Primitivo 2013, Norte/Primitivo 2014. Norte 2015, Cami S Jaume/Castellano-Aragonese 2016
In 2002, between Belorado and Burgos, I encountered a Spanish army officer on horseback, who was doing the camino as part of his research into the Napoleonic wars in Spain. Among other considerations, he wanted to understand what it felt like to be on horseback for 750km. I wonder if anyone has heard of anything being written by this peregrino...

rioja routard

Active Member
2 January ASTORGA

I spent the weekend doing some preparation walking. Saturday I walked 5 miles climb to a Norman Church at Lympne in Kent and Sunday I walked 12 miles on the seafront from Hythe to Folkestone harbour and back.

I will be setting off from Astorga on January 2nd 2009 to La Coruña (over 170 miles) in my Napoleonic uniform with Vince, a member of the 95th Rifles stepping in the footprints of his 4 times grandfather and hope to arrive in La Coruña on 15 January.

In order to re-enact this we will be dressed in period uniforms, myself in Highland redcoat and Vince in Green rifleman who is representing the 95th rifles (immortalised through the Sharpe novels and TV series).

Two of us plodding the mountains of northern Spain in our military uniforms from 200 years ago, paying homage and respect to those that died, along the way and making new friends.

I think it will an interesting experience as it is not everday you see Napoleonic soldiers in 'off the beaten track' Spain and we will follow the Camino Francès from Astorga to Sarria, then to Lugo, Baamonde, Guitiriz, Betanzos to La Coruña.
I am studying some Spanish at the moment so I can have a good enough knowledge of the language to get by. Also by doing the Camino I have a good idea of what to take but a bit apprehensive about bad weather and the cold. Despite the picture the uniform is incredibly warm and I have a Russian army greatcoat if it gets really cold.
The retreat was the worst trial of endurance suffered by the British army in the Peninsular. Most of the army was reduced to rabble through hunger and cold. It was a story darkened by despair, appalling suffering and betrayal.

I am also raising money for a charity to benefit which is the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity which helps provide support to children with a life threatening or terminal illness and their families, over £400 pledged so far.


Rebekah Scott

Camino Busybody
Camino(s) past & future
Many, various, and continuing.
This just in: 21 December was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Sahagun, a cavalry skirmish of the Peninsular War that took place dead on the Camino Frances, on the meadow near the Hermitage church of la Virgen de la Puente. Re-enactors from France and UK came over to do it up as well as they could... the weather was perfect, and a good time was had by all, except maybe the horses.

Pictures and description of the event, as well as links to the history of the battle, are on my blog (and yes, this is a shameless plug) http://www.moratinoslife.blogspot.com . You´d have loved it, James. And good luck on your travels -- the locals got a big kick out of the Englishmen all dressed up in beaver hats and muskets!


Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
Reenactments, Battle Fields, Battle Field tours are big business in South Africa. Whole battalions and regiments make pilgrimages to sites where great battles took place in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
In the old "Durban Club" there is a Prince Imperial room in honour of Louis Napoleon, the 23-year old Prince Imperial of France, the grand-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte who was killed in Zululand in 1879.
The British were infamous for their 'scorched earth' policy during the Anglo-Boer War and for the erection of concentration camps for black and white prisoners where over 26 000 white women and children as many as 15 000 black prisoners died.
The English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during this conflict.

rioja routard

Active Member
great post Reb, well written. It felt like I could have been there.

Whether one thinks re-enacting is flakey or useful in preserving the rich heritage of history, it is a great leisure activity.

Not only is a way of reliving history where war was fought with obsolete old fashioned methods in colourful uniforms but a way of respectfully paying homage to those that took the Kings shilling and have no memorial or mark of their passing.

The coming years will see many bicentenary events in Spain and Portugal reaching the climax of Waterloo in 2015 and I look forwards to them with relish.

I believe as we trudge the winter landscape of Galicia the spirits of those that passed will be with us and in La Coruña perhaps even Sir John Moore himself.

As people head back to work after the Christmas break I am so excited about the challenge of this walk.

Feliz navidad to all pilgrims on this forum.
I've only just noticed this thread. Very interesting. Good luck and enjoy!

Having just walked from Granada to Santiago along Mozarabe/Via de la Plata I noticed the sense of history is strongest in the role the paths of pilgrimage played in war. Possibly most apparent between Zafra and Caceres, and from Ponferrada into Galicia. Walking alone for most of the time, I often tried to put my mind back a Thousand years wondering what drove pilgrims back then. Beyond the religious context, I found myself asking whether pilgrimage was just a glorified recruitment campaign. All along the route relics of war and it's ties with religion are so close to your mind it's difficult to seperate the Two.

Particularly walking from Granada it was easy to imagine an oppressed Mozarabe young man leaving the south to live under Christian rule in the North only to join an army on arrival in Santiago.

Nice to see someone else trying to raise a bit of money for charity in hard times.

rioja routard

Active Member
all going well.

Some people are absolutely delighted to see us and want pictures of us in our uniforms with their friends.

The most touching episode was at Rabanal. Our lunch and beer was paid for us and many took photos of us, really enjoying the touch of colour we have brought.

It is wierd wearing our uniforms every day but we are getting into a routine. The only problem, which I have already highlighted is the closure of Albegues.

As I write this in O Cebrerio the next one is Tricastella.

Sunday around Ponferrada was incredibly warm, had to seek shade but Foncebadon and O Cebreiro in the winter heavy heavy slogs.

Anyway we are happy and pround of what we have done so far.

James and Vince


Veteran Member
James and Vince,

You are living the past, in the future, but the trials you're living today resemble the misfortunes of those you portray. How many times were the troops told that the next town would see warm beds and hot food? How many times did the rankers slog thru the rain and mud...only to be told they had to go another 15 kms? How many times...when they were faced with the worst they could imagine...did it get even worst?

My hat's off to you both...carry on smartly and don't forget to chronicle your exploits.

Buen Camino


New Member
Hi James & Vince,

I found out about your adventure from a posting on The Napoleon Series forum http://www.napoleon-series.org/, John William posted a link to your blogspot.

This is just a short note to let you know that people are following your adventures and are very impressed with your efforts.

Keep up the great work.


Vic Powell
Portsmouth Napoleonic Society

rioja routard

Active Member
There is a blog on http://www.shornclifferedoubt.com/ under news from rifleman Law

We followed the Camino Francès from Astorga to Sarria taking in the picturesque SanXil route from Triacastela. Then headed to Lugo (awful outskirts to trudge through) and stayed at Lugo (great city) 2 nights in the Albergue on the Camino Primitivo. Headed out on the Camino Primitivo but then went via Friol to Sobrado dos Monxes on the Camino del Norte. The Monastery is an amazing place to stay at but very austere and spartan. Then onwards to Betanzos (on the Camino Ingles) and finally La Coruña.

The walking was fantastic and the changing landscape even better. The company I shared with was excellent, Vince, a really nice special guy and we got on excellently, and I hope friends for life.

The road was like a metaphor for life, incredible highs, so humble to be able to walk Gods earth and behold such beautiful natural beauty and the lows; of such that can break one's very spirit.

The end arrival was at the tomb of Sir John Moore and, for me, it was quite an emotional experience.

My feet ached and were sore with blisters, my knee screamed at every downhill slope, but hey, we did it!

I hope I'm a better person for doing this, as once more this seemed like a life changing experience.

We met those that gave love and helped us and at times those that did not.

But the very beauty of having done this was to take a little time and to look at our world, and those that walk it's earth and perhaps to begin to understand our very reason for existence in this world of ours.



Veteran Member

What a fantastic journey!

When you've had a Few more weeks to wind down...pick out some high points and give us a look.

Pro rege et patria


Deleted member 3000

A fascinating narrative. Congratulations on a fine finish.


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