The Rossano Freedom Trail – Italy

Gordon-Lett[1]During the Second World War Rossano had been the Headquarters of the International Battalion of Partisans who were led by Major Gordon Lett, an escaper from the POW camp at PG 29, near Veano. Rossano was also the base for the SAS Operations Galia and Blimey; a gathering point for escapers from the POW camps after the Italian Armistice; and a starting point for the ex-filtration route for the SAS to the coast.

Many escapers took the Rossano route following the mountain trails to Villagrossa and Borseda. Between September and December 1944, A Force Operation Ratberry Three took over the escape line to evacuate all escaped POW’s in the area, save for those required by No 1 Special Force in Florence to remain active behind the lines. The escapers would assemble in the Rossano Valley, and would travel from there to Borseda where they would be met by the Italians of the Brigata Val do Vara, under the command of Danny Bucchioni, and smuggled down the route, across the Gothic Line, which was established in the summer of 1944. Danny Bucchioni took more than 300 Allied escapers along this route to freedom; note, this number does not include the additional men of the 2 SAS Regiment who also used the route.

At nearby Santo Steffano di Magra, the commune has erected a memorial to two SAS soldiers, Sgt William Forster and Cpl James Shortall, who were executed by a German firing squad at Ponsano Magra. Both soldiers had been participating in the ill-fated Operation Speedwell. At the La Cisa Pass, another memorial commemorates two other members of the Regiment, Capt Patrick Dudgeon MC, and Gunner Bernard Brunt, who were also executed. A further memorial is located at Pradanilara, high above the valley of Rossano, in remembrance of all the local people who hid, fed, nursed and led more than 450 Allied Escapers to the allied lines. There are two routes used by the Rossano Trail:

Route One – Rossano to Seravezza – Four days, very tough, experienced walkers only.

Day One – In the early morning the walkers leave the Rossano Valley and after a steady climb of about three hours reach Cassoni on the Alta Via, which runs along the mountain ridge. The route then continues down the old route along the newly named Via Maggiore Gordon Lett, to Villagrossa. Walkers continue on to the Comune of Aulla, through wooded areas passing the Castle of Callice, where a fierce partisan action was fought in 1944 by the combined actions of the International Battalion and Brigata Val di Vara. The walkers arrive at Aulla about 1700hrs. Distance 28km. Going arduous/difficult.

Day Two – Starts at 0830hrs at an altitude of about 1500ft, then follows a gentle climb leading on to a steep climb, finally reaching Rifugiot Carrara at 3900ft, where walkers stop for lunch. After lunch there is a long walk to the village of Vinca, which is reached in the early evening, passing through wooded areas and a marble quarry. Distance 19km. Going arduous. Note: The village of Vinca suffered an appalling massacre in August 1944. The entire population of 174, including the village priest and144 women and children, were murdered and many mutilated, by Nazi and Fascist troops.

Day Three – Starts at 0830hrs, along a trail climbing to the Foce Giove at 2100ft. Depending upon the time of year, snow-filled gullies and melting glaciers may have to be traversed. The route then crosses the slopes of Monte Grondilice, Monte Contrario, and Monte Cavallo, eventually reaching Passo della Focolaccia. The route continues to gain height, finally reaching the 6000ft summit of Monte Tambura. The views are spectacular. From the summit the route descends, precariously at times, arriving at the Refugio Conti at about 1930hrs. Distance 18km. Going difficult/serious.

Day Four – Starts at 0900hrs with an ascent of 900ft, followed by a descent of 1500ft, then a further ascent of 1800ft to cross the Passo del Vestito. At this point there is a danger of low cloud. If the weather is unfavourable, Monte Altissimo cannot safely be crossed. From here the route continues to Pasquilio and the final push through the Gothic line to Seravezza with stunning views of the Mediterranean, arriving about 1930hrs. Distance 22km. Going difficult/serious.

Route Two – Pontremoli – Rossano – Sero – Vernazza/Levanto. Three days – All abilities.

This route commemorates two attempts by A Force to lift off escapers by sea from the Cinque Terre. The POWs gathered in the Rossano Valley, and then walked over two days to the Cinque Terre, for evacuation by boat to Sardinia. Both attempts were unsuccessful, since the boats failed to make the pick up.

Day One – The Trail commences in the City of Pontremoli at the base camp hotel. Walkers make their escape from the City [which was in the hands of Germans and Fascists] and climb up into the mountains to the valley of Rossano [at about 3,000 feet]. En route, we cross over the Gordana Cavezzana bridge, scene of one of the most daring escapes of the war, and then we climb up through the wooded trails to Pradanilara, before descending into the Rossano Valley, arriving at about 17.00hrs. About16 kms. Going moderate.
Day Two – Walkers drop down to the very bottom of the Rossano Valley [about 2,400 feet], and walk south along the river to the village of Bosco. From there, we climb by ancient mule path up to the Alta Via, where we stop for a packed lunch. After lunch, we traverse the Alta Via and climb to the top of Monte Dragnone [4,000 feet], where we enjoy magnificent views before dropping down into the village of Sero, where we spend the night sleeping either in the local Bar, or in the adjacent vineyard, under the stars. About 18 kms. Going moderate.

Day Three – The longest day of this trail. We start early at about 07.30, and descend by the ancient mule path to the village of Brugnato, close to sea level. We then have to cross the River Vara, and the main road, the Via Aurelia, to reach the village of Borghetto di Vara to the west. These were always obstacles to escapers and Partisans, and today, although no longer dangerous, they necessitate a spell walking on the tarmac road. After a dull half hour, we ascend into the Bardellone range of mountains, climbing up to Cornetto, and eventually up Monte Bardellone itself. From Monte Bardellone, we cross and descend to Vernazza by one of the most scenic paths in the Liguria, passing through the Cinque Terre National Park. We arrive at Vernazza at about 19.00hrs, having travelled about 20 kms. Going moderate