Spanish Road


A journey from Genoa to Ghent

e-book published July 2013
15 Chapters 8 Maps 170 Pages


Sometime in 1567, the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicted an army climbing up through near impassable Alpine scenery as a context for revealing his impression of the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. The picture is now in Vienna, the mountains were fanciful and the conversion – despite being an incident of profound consequence for the future of Christianity – is of no concern to this book. Saul’s companions were fanciful too. The army was Spanish and Italian and the troops were struggling not from Jerusalem but from Genoa. They were on the ‘Spanish Road’ and were the first expedition of twenty such marches that made the long overland journey to the Low Countries. Over a fifty-year period, straddling the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and when Spain was trying to forcibly convert the Protestants of the Netherlands to the Catholic faith, no less than 121,000 musketeers, arquebusiers, pike-men and cavalry (accompanied by officers, judges, chaplains, surgeons, quartermasters, drum-majors plus an unknown number of camp followers) trudged north along its route to fight in the Eighty Years War. It was no small undertaking; the distance from Genoa to Ghent is over a thousand kilometres.

This book starts in the Alps and finishes in England. Or you could say it begins with a Whymper and ends with a resounding political non-event that is still vigorously celebrated to this day – the Gunpowder Plot. It is about a journey along the Spanish Road in July 2011. And about others who have touched on the route. In addition to the Alpinist Edward Whymper, the redoubtable Sir William Martin Conway, Gertrude Stein and her time in occupied France, the epicure and gastronome Brillat-Savarin, a Green Fairy, the food of Franche-Comte, the artist Gustav Courbet and the Vouivre. Last but not least, it finishes with that veteran officer of the Army of Flanders who was known as Guido Fawkes.

Synopsis of Spanish Road

A long-distance walk from Genoa to Ghent through the French Alps and the Jura following the military history of the Spanish Road to the Low Countries. Italy: the Army of Flanders/ the Grand Old Duke of Alva/ ‘NO TAV’/ marching to Ghent/ Sir William and his End-to-End climbers/ Mont Cenis and Pieter Bruegel/ the old frontier. France: border futilities/ the Fell Railway and the Empire/ the Barrier of Esseillon and Il Duce/ Edward Whymper, the clocks of the Oulx and the ‘great tunnel under the Alps’/ ‘Ironhead’/ Tai Chai and pichets at the Clos de Capucins/ the ‘teeth of the cat’/ Belley and Stein/ fruit compote at the ‘House of Welcome’/ Brillat Savarin and the Physiology of Taste/ the Rhone valley/ Gertrude and Alice under Occupation/ Saracens at Artemare/ the throat, pancreas and testicles of a calf/ ‘Merde – is this your dog?/ the cuisine familiale/ firecrackers in Nantua/ Peine de Mort and wartime in the High Jura/ deep time/ ‘Poner una pica en Flandes’ / marching into the Little Ice Age/ thin pickings at a Gite d’etape/ rain and the yellow gentian/ the Green Fairy of Pontarlier/ Mr Courbet country/ the cave of the crone/ the table of Gustave/ road to Besacon/ the ‘Blue Banana’. Low Countries: the Revolt of the Netherlands and the Eighty Years War/ about Guy Fawkes, ‘John Johnson’ and the road to the Gunpowder Plot/ the Amazing Sixteenth Century: the Spanish Road in Context/ Bibliography.