Staying at Hougoumont Farm
Andrew Hadley reports on his recent stay in Hougoumont Farm and battlefield tour of Waterloo.
A Damned Nice Thing – staying at Hougoumont farm
As part of a short holiday with my parents, we all stayed at the recently revamped Chateau De Goumont. It is better known as Hougoumont farm. It played a crucial role in the Battle of Waterloo, held by British and German troops all day under fierce French attack. Landmark properties have opened a flat above the South Gate for up to 4 guests, usually for four-day periods. I would thoroughly recommend the property, but be warned – no wifi and you’ll need a car to get around. There is a good Waterloo-themed library in the flat, though unfortunately no board games.
Unsurprisingly the site is perfect for exploring the battlefield and making the most of the recent upgrade to the museum and facilities for the 2015 anniversary. Given that La Haye Sainte is privately owned and inaccessible, this is your best bet for sheer immersion. Hougoumont itself has a very impressive audio-visual display. Otherwise the farm has been stripped back to show as much of it as it would have been during the battle (though one of the main buildings in the middle has gone). There is a moving sculpture at the North Gate, where the Foot Guards managed to shut some outflanking French troops in, which some people have described as the turning point of the battle.
From the seriously revamped (though still a little scruffy in places) Lion Mound Museum, I walked with my Dad out to Papelotte along the line of the Allied forces, then crossing to La Belle Alliance past the French positions.
We then walked back across to Hougoumont itself, along the path of the final attack of the Imperial Guards whose repulse led to the French collapse. Walking the ground shows clearly the importance of line of sight in the undulating terrain – it is extremely difficult to see much of the Allied position on the reverse slope from the whole French position, though it doesn’t look steep or that there would be much shelter offered to the defenders. In particular, it is easy to see how the enfilading fire from Hougoumont and the deceptively steep incline faced by the Imperial Guard would have had a massive impact on their attack.
It was great to see the progress across the battlefield since my last visit in 1990, especially to the main Museum. However I think that is already showing signs of poor maintenance, so might be worth visiting sooner rather than later! We also saw the Wellington museum in Waterloo itself, with Uxbridge’s false leg, though this is slightly less shiny and was partly under repair when we visited.
The property can be booked through Landmark, and happy to share more tips if anyone is interested in going. It’s also a good location for visiting many other historic sites – we went to the In Flanders Fields exhibition in Ypres, and also an Ottonian Cathedral in Nivelles and a ruined Cistercian abbey at Villers-la-Ville which owing to Revolutionary fervour now has a railway running right through the middle!