Battlefields tour at Spionkop

Disembark from your luxury train accommodation at the historic Spionkop Lodge and prepare to relive one of the bloodiest battles of the Anglo-Boer War – the Battle of Spionkop. Fought on the 24 January 1900, let the Anglo-Boer raconteur paint a vivid picture of the individual trauma and flawed military mind-set that resulted in one of the most needless battles in history. 

The gory battle of Spionkop led to the slaughter of British and Boer soldiers, but on those crimson-soaked hills stood three men who would one-day influence the course of world history – Louis Botha, Winston Churchill and Red Cross ambulance volunteer, Mahatma Gandhi. While their presence had little to do with the outcome of the tragic battle, the manner in which the three future leaders crossed paths is still considered an extraordinary coincidence. 

The battle

After losing approximately 1 200 British soldiers during a rout from the Boers, the British found themselves in a rapidly tightening net as the Boers occupied the heights around the town of Ladysmith. The British immediately called for aid, but the help they needed was slow in arriving and gave rise to a series of battles known as Spionkop, Vaalkrantz and Tugela Heights.

Of all the Boer War battles, the battle of Spionkop remains a notorious reminder of the incompetence of British leadership during that time. The day continues to serve as a powerful example of how the British Army failed to establish the tactics they needed to succeed in modern warfare, including long range artillery and magazine rifle fire, the need for proper communication and leadership at all levels. 

 A dangerous combination of an absentee General Buller and administrative General Sir Charles Warren led to poor planning and execution.  If it wasn’t the absentee leaders, it was the bad luck which seemed to be plaguing the British; that day, the mist covering the mountain top hid the fact that the British troops were surrounded by higher mountains. When the mist cleared in the morning light, the Boers rained down shells with perfect accuracy and began administering deadly sniper fire from their Mausers. 


Passengers aboard the Rovos Rail luxury train journey will learn that the battle of Spionkop ended with the British retreating during the night. In fact, it wasn’t on the frontline that the battle was lost – it was first lost in the mind of Colonel Thornycroft who defied orders from General Warren and ordered the British to withdraw from battle in the dead of night – leaving the Boers embracing their victory, filled with joy at their sudden luck.