Rossano Freedom Trail 2012

Freedom Trail Walk, Pontremoli to Levanto: 2- 6 September 2012

Rossano Freedom Trail
Rossano Freedom Trail

Charlie Simkins looks back at an evocative and enjoyable three-day walk in the footsteps of prisoners of war and partisans

Brian Lett led the 2012 Freedom Trail (the tenth), commencing in Pontremoli on 3rd September and finishing in Levanto, on the Ligurian coast, on the evening of 5th September. There were nine walkers, ably supported by Omar Bucchioni, who carried out invaluable administration on our behalf, and Fred McGlade, who was a great help in providing additional transportation and back-up.

In addition to Brian and myself, the walkers were Geoff Cowling, chairman of the Escape Lines Memorial Society, Juliet and Alastair Chilston, Robin Watkins from New Zealand, Robyn Molloy, also from New Zealand, whose father had been an inveterate escaper in Greece and Italy, and Edward Stourton and Phil Pegum from the BBC. Edward and Phil were making a programme for Radio 4 to be broadcast on the 70th anniversary of the Italian Armistice in September 2013. Last but not least, we were joined by Giotto, an energetic and enthusiastic springer spaniel belonging to Juliet and Alastair.

We set off from Pontremoli in pouring rain on the Monday morning to walk to Rossano. Fortunately, the weather cleared later in the morning in time for us to enjoy our lunch, having climbed to a point where we could overlook the Rossano valley. For me this was the first taste of the challenges encountered by the escapees (who did not have proper equipment or indeed the luxury of an enjoyable packed lunch delivered by Omar!).

Early in the afternoon, Brian laid a wreath at the memorial dedicated to the help given to the escapees, and commemorating the burning of the valley by the enemy on 3rd August 1944. We continued down the valley, arriving in Chiesa di Rossano in time for tea at Brian’s retreat at the centro storico. That evening we enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Bar Adolfo, being joined by several partisans and the daughters of “Jock” Sartori, who as a young man of Scottish and Italian origin had been an invaluable asset in 1944 to Brian’s father, Gordon Lett, who commanded an international group of partisans.

After a comfortable night we began the next day by climbing up to the alta via and on to Mount Dragnone. Again it rained and we were led up through the forest, traversing with the aid of our sticks, to a cave where escapees had hidden. Our reward was a stop for lunch at a magnificent viewpoint, a reminder once more of the rigours encountered by escapees. We arrived in the historic village of Sero in the early evening and lodged (in true dormitory style!) in the canonica. We were entertained to a sumptuous barbecue by Alberto Siboldi and his friends.

On Wednesday morning, after wreaths had been laid at a ceremony at the monument in Sero, we set off early and walked across country and down to Brugnato, arriving mid-morning. After a well earned break for coffee it was ascertained that the path down to the coast had been irretrievably damaged in the previous year’s storm and regrettably was impassable. A visit was arranged to the home of Aldo Bucchioni where several of us were generously entertained by him and his wife.

We arrived in Levanto in the late afternoon and visited the house of Baronessa Giovanna Massola, where British officers had been hidden in a secret room behind a picture. In the evening wreaths were laid at the memorial outside the town hall and a reception was hosted by the Mayor of Levanto.

This was followed by a very enjoyable dinner at a restaurant where we were joined by Dany Bucchioni, the family of the Baronessa and Jock Sartori’s family, who had driven many miles over the few days to support us.

Brian Lett (pointing) is interviewed by the BBC
Brian Lett (pointing) is interviewed by the BBC

On Thursday morning wreaths were laid by Brian Lett and Geoff Cowling at the monuments at La Cisa and Ponzano Magra.

We were ably led on the walk by Brian, supported by our two guides Emmanuele Fenucci and Antonio Deluchi.  For us walkers it was a sobering and yet thoroughly enjoyable experience. Sobering because it gave us an inkling of the risks encountered by the escapees and by the contadini who gave them so much hospitality. Enjoyable because of the welcome given to us by the relatives and friends of the partisans whom we met and on account of the camaraderie among the group of walkers who, between voluble exclamations and losses of breath, managed to laugh a lot! None of this could have happened without Brian, where in the Rossano valley the name of Lett is greatly hallowed.