You can read books and study maps, but until you are actually there, on the ground, and able to visualize and ‘hear’ the noise of thousands of men, horses, wagons, drums beating and flags flying, you cannot fully understand how that panorama influenced the events that occurred there.
When you walk the ground, actions become so much clearer. What you can and can’t see because of the undulations in the terrain makes all the difference.
Being an armchair general or historian is fine – but in the end there is no substitute for seeing the fields and trees and hedgerows for yourself.
We are all on a journey. But being on a journey around a series of locations where great events have happened is joyful, fascinating and instructive. Every landscape has so many stories to tell.
The size and scale of the armies and how they arrived at each location can only be understood once you are there and have an enthusiastic and knowledgeable expert to lay it all out for you.
Our small-group tours help you to see events through the eyes of each soldier and officer, from the drummer boy to the General.
And that view, that long look contemplating the scene, gives you a completely different perspective on how outcomes occurred.
You have to see it for yourself.
Here are four of Britain’s best preserved battlefields:
Naseby, in Northamptonshire, was where the decisive battle of first English Civil War was fought. The Parliamentarians drew their Royalist enemies into battle with both sides lining up in similar fashion. The Royalist’s started strongly but they lost shape and the New Model Army, which outnumbered their more experienced foe by three to two, took advantage. Today, the best views of the area come from the battlefield trail which covers the build up, fighting and Royalist retreat.
Naseby - the English Civil War
You can explore the site with our expert Julian Humphrys as part of our English Civil War tour based in Oxford.
Culloden, in the Scottish Highlands, is a bleak moorland where the Duke of Cumberland laid a significant blow on the Jacobites, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Highlanders took the worst of the casualties as both armies exchanged artillery fire across the battlefield. When they finally made their decision to attack their fearsome charge was seen off by the well-drilled government troops, and the fleeing Jacobites were brutally pursued. The battlefield is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland and flags marking the positions of the two armies help visitors understand how the uneven, boggy land influenced the fighting. An outstanding visitor centre and headstones for the Jacobite dead provide more information.
Culloden - the Jacobite Risings
Join our Jacobite Risings tour to explore the battlefield with expert Barry Hilton.
The War of the Roses was brought to an end at the Battle of Bosworth, where Shakespeare's villain Richard III was cut down by his Tudor enemies as he called out: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." Shakespeare described the two sides fighting across a marsh, with the boggy land playing a decisive roll in the battle. Today the battlefield is mostly farmland, with a network of public rights of way across the area, and a Heritage Centre providing a gateway to the site.
Battle of Bosworth - the War of the Roses
One of the bloodiest battles of the War of the Roses saw Yorkist Edward IV defeat his Lancastrian foe King Henry VI at Towton in North Yorkshire. Fought during a bitter blizzard, the devastation caused by Edward’s archers prompted the Lancastrians to attack. But with Edward in the thick of the action and reinforcements arriving, the Yorkists won through and a new English king was crowned. The trail around the peaceful pasture explains how the action developed, but the most devastating position is at Cock Beck, where thousands of fleeing Lancastrians are said to have died in the icy waters.
Towton - the War of the Roses
Image credit: The battlefield at Culloden photograph was taken by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) and is available under the Creative Commons Licence CC-BY-SA-4.0.