This past week, after a year without travel outside the country, we finally drove across the border without restriction. For this momentous occasion, we decided to head to Waterloo in Belgium, a mere two hours from our house.
Waterloo (and yes we were humming the song the entire time) is the site of the famous battle in which Napoleon attempted to rebuild his empire by reforming his Imperial Garde and taking Belgian and Dutch land, but instead met with a crushing defeat from a combined force of British, Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers led by Duke Wellington. The battle was a particularly brutal one. By the end of the day of fighting, 40,000 men and 10,000 horses lay dead or seriously injured on the field.
Using a historical walking route provided by the Boy Scouts of America in this region of Europe, our first stop was to see Le Caillou, the farmhouse that Napoleon used as his headquarters the night before the battle.
Next, we stopped at an observation point that Napoleon used when he returned to the battlefield in the late afternoon (apparently he spent the day at an inn further down the road due to an attack of colitis that was incredibly painful). The Imperial Garde could see the battlefield from this location, but they never had a view of the full field until the battle was almost over, something which proved devastating to their efforts.
Our walk took us past the L’Aigle Blesse statue erected to symbolize the fall of the Imperial Garde. This particular spot was chosen because it was there that the Garde had their last defenses.
From there, we began walking through the fields where the battle was fought toward Hougoumont Farm. Here, the Garde spent many hours attempting to take the farm from the British, but even after heavy casualties and burning the chateau and chapel of the farm down, they were unable to succeed.
Next, we made our way through more of the fields to the path leading to the ridge that proved to be a key to the battle. This ridge allowed the British forces to remain unseen by the Imperial Garde. The Garde, believing that the British had been scattered and crippled, charged the area, discovering that the British were merely below the ridge after they were too close to allow for success.
Today, what remained of the ridge is part of the earth used to build the Butte du Lion (lion monument) which commemorates the battle.
Finally, we walked past La Haie Sainte, another farmhouse used by Duke Wellington. This one was so close to the Duke’s battle line that is would have been devastating if the Garde took control, so a group of German soldiers were assigned to protect it. Again, the Garde spent great effort attempting to take the farmhouse but the Germans, though very few survived, managed to defend it.
The final point that we saw was La Belle Alliance, which in addition to being the inn where Napoleon spent much of the battle due to his colitis, is also where Duke Wellington and the Prince of Prussia (who provided late aide to the British troops on the battlefield) met to declare their victory after the battle was over.
All in all, it was a nice day for a long walk and an interesting lesson in history. And to make the trip really worthwhile, there was also a stop in Brussels for some Belgian waffles!
Hopefully this was the first of travel posts to come in the not too distant future. Until then!