Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of Arrse,

In July this year, at the grand old age of 56, I will be part of a 15-strong team raising funds for the Royal British Legion by completing the 4-day Freedom Trail trek in the Central Pyrenees. The Freedom Trail (Le Chemin de la Liberté) was inaugurated in 1994 as a commemoration of one of the most difficult escape routes from southern France over the Pyrenees into northern Spain used during the Second World War. These routes were taken not only by hundreds of French nationals fleeing Nazi occupation but also by many RAF and American airmen who had either crash landed or parachuted to safety after being shot down over Nazi-occupied Europe.

Several well-organised escape routes were in operation throughout the war and in each case the procedure was roughly the same. Collected by waiting guides, the escapees – les évadés – were hidden in barns to prepare for a tough night-time ascent over the Pyrenees to freedom. En route they were passed from link to link in the chain by a succession of local guides, couriers and safe-house keepers (passeurs) who clothed, fed and hid them, often at great personal risk to themselves.

It was a treacherous route over the Massif de Couserans, tackled only under cover of darkness. The journey could take several days and escapees were often ill-prepared for the extreme icy temperatures and the sheer difficulty of the trek. Perilous ledges, steep ravines and mountain peaks stood between them and safety in Spain.

All the volunteers who sheltered and led the évadés across the mountains did so at great risk to themselves and their families and many died as a result of their brave and humanitarian efforts. Today, the bravery of these ‘passeurs’, and the évadés, is remembered each July with a four-day commemorative trek from St-Girons in the French département of Ariège to Esterri d’Aneu in Spain, along the most-used escape route.

The trek is organised by the Chemin de la Liberté Association. There are 40 places for ‘foreigners’, including 15 that are allocated to Royal British Legion supporters raising money for the Poppy Appeal (which is where I come in).

It will take us 4 days to cover the 80km (50 miles) with a total altitude gain and loss of over 6,000 metres (20,000 feet), often climbing up to 2,600 metres (8,580 feet) not once but twice in a single day. We will have to carry all of our food, water and shelter and camp out overnight in the mountains. All of the Royal British Legion team will be funding the trip themselves and we have also agreed to raise a minimum of £700 in sponsorship, all of which will go towards the Legion’s valuable welfare work in support of the ex-Services community.

If you’d like to donate towards this very worthy cause , this can be done very easily through the website:


The 16th Earl

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