A walk through the fields and villages in the area of the battle of Waterloo.

The cornfields and Lions Mount of Waterloo

Whilst passing through Belgium; I felt that I should visit the scene of the famous battle of Waterloo at least once in this life. Over 200 years have passed since the battle; yet Napoleons mark on European history has shaped France and Europe ever since.

The history of France, and the leadup to this battle is a complex part of European history.
So exploring the area on foot; seemed like the best way to understand the battle of Waterloo in reality instead of on a page in a book.

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The battle

The Lions Mount and the British right flank position from the view of the French

From the fires of the Revolution

After a 1,000 years of monarchy; the French people were fed up with being controlled and taxed into a miserable poverty by Kings and landlords. Culminating in the execution of King Louis XVI in early 1793. Arising from the disruption and chaos of a country in turmoil; a young military officer Napoleon Bonaparte, rose quickly through the ranks. Commanding decisive military victories as well as helping to organise the country into a new Republic. Which some say; is the birth of modern democracy.

However, Napoleon was not content to stay within the borders of France and went on to conquer most of Europe. From Portugal to Egypt to entering Moscow; Napoleon’s skill as a military tactician is still studied today. By doing this though; he had managed to unite previous enemies into an overwhelming alliance against him. Heavily outnumbered, Napoleon was beaten all the way back to Paris. Being forced to abdicate then sent into exile on the Island of Elba.

A final unavoidable battle

Napoleon spent less than a year in exile before escaping back to the French mainland. He was missing his wife and son, his beloved first wife Josephine was dead and he had the worry of being sent further away to the inescapable islands of the mid Atlantic. As well as having the an inescapable responsibility to defend France from its vengeful neighbours.

Stepping ashore on the 28th February 1815; Napoleon marched north to Paris gathering a loyal army as he went. This meant however; that the allies led by the British Duke of Wellington had no choice but to confront Napoleon once again on the battlefield.

On the 18th of June 1815; Wellington chose the fields near the small Belgian town of Waterloo as a final decisive battle. Heavy rain first reduced the effectiveness of a French preluded artillery barrage. British cavalry attacked and then pretended to retreat; drawing French into lines of British riflemen formed in defensive squares. By the evening the British army was severely worn down but held out long enough for a Prussian army to arrive and cut through the French right flank.

This caused the French to finally turn and flee south. With this limited understanding in my mind; I set off across the fields to try and imagine the sheer adrenaline; tension and resulting horror of that day.

Into the Belgian countryside

A memorial to the brave 27th Inniskilling Regiment

So to make the most of my visit I researched the internet for suitable walks in the area. I found the route shown above on a brilliant blog website about all things Belgium. For their take on Waterloo and almost everything else in the area; please check it out: https://www.discoveringbelgium.com/walking-the-battlefield-of-waterloo/

I parked on the access road to the restaurant by the Lions Mount monument. There is ample room on this road or in the car park. You can also park in the car park for the museum. Approaching from the west, you just take preceding junction 25 on the N27 Brussels ring road.

For more information on the Lions Mount, museum, restaurant and brewery; please see here: https://www.waterloo1815.be/en/the-site/

I hurriedly grabbed my small rucksack with two litres of water and escaped from a corporate function at lunch time. Taking care to cross the Brussels to Charleroi road; I was soon out in open countryside. The road turned from tarmac to cobbles as it passed a small memorial to the 27th Inniskilling Regiment. This regiment held the centre of Wellington’s line; relentlessly attacked by cannon, snipers and cavalry charges. Which left even Napoleon himself impressed by their bravery.

The famous cobbles of Belgium

Moving on, I soon turned off this cobbled road and down a gravel track towards a music school. Passing the grand school house I was at last on my own. The midday sun was strong now; yet I soon found shade in a long Holloway. After driving all morning on busy motorways; I had at last found a place of solitude and peace. I was relaxed once more. Ironically though; this sunken track formed the eastern flank of Wellingtons forces as it was difficult for the French cavalry to cross. So in war and peace; this is a place of refuge.

A sunken peaceful pathway that protected the British left flank


Leaving the Holloway behind; I passed through the small hamlet of Marache. With more cobbled streets and old buildings; I imagined the French bluecoats creeping up as close as they could without drawing British fire. After Marache, I used a series of tree lined paths before heading out in to open corn fields. I was heading due south now towards the village of Plancenoit.

Towards Plancenoit in the distance

It was here that the Prussian reinforcements first attacked Napoleons right flank. With brutal bayonet and hand to hand fighting; this village must have been a hellish scene on the day. Today, the village was peaceful and quiet with me being the only man on the streets. Here you can cut the walk short, by returning to the Lions Mount on the first street that you encounter. Look out for a memorial to the Prussian soldiers that fell; then turn right at the roundabout.

The centre of Plancenoit

Battlefield landmarks

Chantelet Farm, in which Michel Ney rested before the battle.

I was still feeling fit and well; so carried on further south. Sometimes the path would narrow between peoples gardens or enter stretches of overgrown undergrowth or cross a muddy fly-infested stream. Yet I persevered and finally reached Chantelet Farm.

It was here that Marshal Michel Ney spent two nights before the battle. Ney was a respected officer and Napoleons right hand man. Known for his bravery, he would often lead his men into battle from the front. It was said that on the day of the battle of Waterloo; Ney was covered in mud and blood and had five horses shot out from beneath him. Because Ney had switched allegiance to Napoleon when he returned from Elba. He now faced execution for treason if Napoleon was defeated again. So in early December of 1815, when stood in front of a firing squad: Ney said: “Comrades, shoot me and aim right!”

Chantelet Chapel

As you walk through the farmyard; please be aware this is still a working farm. There are dogs on the property but the farmers family should never be far away. When you leave the farmyard; lookout for the baroque chapel on the left. Built in 1661 so the farmworkers could make it to Sunday mass on time.

A change of direction

The road west from Chantelet farm

After leaving Chantelet farm and chapel; I walked along the long access road to the west. The sun was strong in early June; yet I was thankful for bringing enough water with me. I followed this farm road all the way back to the Brussels to Charleroi main road. Turning right; a wide pavement afforded me some dignity from the passing traffic. Luckily though; I could soon turn off by another large brilliant white house called Caillou Farm. Nowadays a museum; this was where Napoleon slept on the night before the battle. To find out more; see here: https://www.dernier-qg-napoleon.be/en/home/

I then used a series of wooded paths, crossed a small valley and re-entered the village of Plancenoit. Take care here; as the path runs very close to peoples gardens. Although I was on a public path; I felt a little unwelcome for being a stranger. Maybe there had been recent burglaries; so expect someone to release a barking dog or give you a cold stare.

Napoleons viewpoint of the battlefield; at approximately 16:00 hours

Napoleons point of view

Whilst leaving the village; I saw a small sign pointing to viewpoint hidden by overgrown hedges. Climbing some steps; I arrived to a view towards the Lions Mound. It was here that Napoleon stood at approximately 16:00 on that fateful day. He must have clearly seen the advancing Prussians and the stubborn British still holding the line. This master tactician had won many battles all across the Europe; yet here he must have realised that this was his last act.

After the battle, France turned against Napoleon so he abdicated once more. This time however, he was wanted dead or alive by the Prussians. So he surrendered himself to the British. Exiled to St Helena; an island a 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa. He died from the degrading and damp conditions; aged just 51 years old.

A present day Waterloo

Remember Napoleon

The towering Lions Mound was built by Prince William of the Netherlands five years after the battle. It was on the spot where his son was knocked from his horse by a cannonball. To commemorate the allied victory over Napoleon. In the present day, an attached museum, brewery and restaurant now exist.

Looking at a statue of Napoleon on a small plinth in the gardens; I could only feel respect for this man. He had helped organise France after escaping the tyrannical control of a 1,000 year old feudal system. He had tried to liberate the rest of Europe from the same control. For us common people; he has done more for democracy and freedom in Europe than almost anyone else. A Robin Hood, Alexander or El Cid of France. A hero for sure; that should never be forgotten.

Reading, researching and visiting the battlefields of Waterloo was not just a history lesson for me. It reminded me of the French motto: ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité‘. Principles that I will try to follow myself.

Check out my other routes to relax in Belgium and Luxembourg:
Ypres Peace Route, Hooghe Crater, Mount Sorrel and Railway Wood walk

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