Wandering the battlefields of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was on the 18th June 1815 and it was the fight that ended French Emperor Napoleon’s European Empire through military dictatorship.

There were 250,000 soldiers from seven nations involved in the horrendous battle, one of the worst pre-twentieth century European battles.

The wet weather on the day meant that he waited until midday to use his heavy artillery on boggy ground, by this point Prussian forces had joined Wellington to great a stronger force against him.

There is also a belief that haemorrhoids prevented him riding horseback and causing him to lose, however that has been pooh-poohed by others who think its just an excuse for why he lost that day.

After the battle, the locals went around pulling teeth from the dead, to sell to dentists. These dentures created from this ill-gotten gains were known as ‘Waterloo Ivory’ or ‘Waterloo teeth’. They made no effort to disguise the origins of these teeth and advertised them as such.

I actually went to Waterloo as an afterthought when I realised how close I was to such a historically important place. I started my trip off at the tourist office where I got a map and the staff were friendly as promised.

The guidebook said that the 1 million visitors a year could be divided into two camps, history buff and people that wondered why they had come. For me, it was a little from column A and a lot from column B. It also said that it was tedious without a car and that is also absolutely correct.

I had to walk down a road in a straight line for a while to get to the field. In the said field is the lion’s mound featuring a statue of a lion and there is also a panoramic picture of the battle. The lion is there to symbolise that the battle brought peace to the world.

The battlefield and the panorama are both on the tentative list to become a UNESCO heritage site, but this is difficult as, despite its incredible significance, it is just a field.

There is also a visitor centre and a hokey theatre like they have at these monuments to make them more interactive when there is not much to actually tangibly see or feel.

There are other small monuments and memorials on the map but I already had a long walk back to the station as it was.

If you absolutely want to split hairs, the battle happened in the villages of Braine-l’Alleud and Plancenoit and not actually in Waterloo at all, which is why it took me an hour to walk there. The Duke of Wellington did have his headquarters there but Napoleon is not thought to have been.

As I was walking back you could imagine my joy when I came across a frites van! As I sat on a bench munching on chips I felt sad to leave the carbohydrate paradise that is Belgium.



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