This is a photogaphic blog with a particular focus on walking the Spanish Caminos. Also included are walks in The New Forest, Wales and Southern England.

17 4 2011. Why my Grandfather walked through Spain in 1940

“Practically starved, suffering incredible hardships and vicious abuse made me think of ways of escaping from the clutches of my Nazi jailers. I had been a prisoner since 18th June , 1940, when, working behind a Maginot line, our unit was surrounded by German soldiers shortly before France capitulated.

Each day as I went out with the working party I watched the roads to enable me to make an escape. I managed to find a civilian coat and trousers which I put on under my uniform.

In October 1940, myself, five other British soldiers and a Nazi guard were sent to a railway siding to unload trucks. Here was my opportunity. Failure might mean even more hellish conditions. I moved away from the others and as the guard turned away I jumped on the line, under some empty trucks, and down into a hedge. Two bullets narrowly missed me, and then a shout of alarm. I ran faster than I had ever moved before, ripping off my tunic with a knife and diving into a hedge, I worked my way along to the open road. Haunted by the fear of recapture I made for the town, which was infested with German soldiers. I had no papers but no one stopped me. Keeping to the woods, sleeping at night and walking by day, begging at farmhouses for food I eventually reached the demarkation line. I must not relate how I crossed that well guarded line. I was in the land of Free France! Making my way down to Marseilles, penniless and cigaretteless I imagined it would be easy to get a boat back to England. But the port was well guarded. With no other choice I walked across France, into and through Spain where my experiences were more bitter than I ever imagined possible. Eventually I reached Gibralter and the safety of the British flag, and then by boat to arrive on 23rd February in dear old England.

During nearly five months of continuous walking I covered many hundreds of miles and suffered great hardships. But I would rather have died making my escape than suffer the brutality of another day in a ruthless Nazi prison camp. Today I am back as a Staff Sergeant with my Unit somewhere in England. I have another opportunity to do my part towards exterminating the barbarous monster which threatens to control the destiny of the decent people of the world.”

The above article was published in wartime. I imagine much of the text was edited out and a lot of the geographical detail is missing for obvious reasons. My Grandfather was in his late 30’s and therefore too old to join up when the war started so he lied about his age in order to get in.

He was helped by The French Resistance to cross the Pyrenees into Spain and whilst in the mountains suffered from snow blindness. At some point he was held in a Spanish prison somewhere south of Sevilla before making his way to Gibralter.

I wish I had known him as an adult but he died when I was in my teens - I might have been able to learn more of his fascinating story. I remember him not liking to talk much about his experiences but I do remember him telling me a story of when, after having escaped, he was having breakfast in a small café somewhere in France and the place filled with German soldiers who also wanted breakfast. He had no papers! He calmly finished eating and walked out!

This is his POW tag:

Saturday 9th April - Longest walk since the VdlP last October.

The forecast was excellent so I decided to go for it and set the alarm for 5 am. I didn't get up early enough which was a shame as I'd been hoping to get some photos of the sunrise and eventually started walking at 7 am. But I still had the place to myself and the difference in the quality of light at this early hour was remarkable. It's the longest walk by far since I walked in Spain last October and my greatest concern was of getting blisters on my feet. In the event I was lucky and had no pain. In order to reduce pack weight I carried an MSR water filter which meant a backpack that was about 2kg lighter though the peaty tannin-rich water from the stream tasted really strange even with a fizzy orange vitamin tablet! Got home at about 5pm, weary but feeling good!

This 26 mile route feels quite remote and most of the paths are away from the tourist areas. Below is the route I usually take, though given the labyrinth of paths in the New Forest the distance can easily be adjusted:

Starting at Ashley Walk car park: sth to Hasley Hill Inclosure - sth to Linwood - Rockford Common - thro underpass at Picket Post - sth over Vales Moor - east by Whitten Pond - pass Anthony's Bee Bottom - Rock Hills - nth thro Burley New Inclosure - nth to underpass at Upper Lazy Bushes - nth to Broomy Inclosure - Splash Bridge - past Alderhill Inclosure  - Hampton Ridge - Pitts Wood - back to Ashley Hill car park.

Sorry about some of the formatting. Blogger seems to have some
insurmountable problems having looked online for an answer!

7.30am. The streams are starting to dry up as we haven't had
much rain in the past month.


Time to take care of my feet.

Peaty stream, MSR water filter and Camelback.

Not sure what this tree is. From a distance it looks like hawthorn
or blackthorn. It may be an apple or some other fruit tree.

More foot care this time laying down in the heather.

Onwards and upwards.

7th April 2011

I'm planning to walk a Marathon (26 miles) on Saturday so I did a walk just to make sure I'm in shape for it. I'll be starting in the dark and will take a water filter so that I don't have to carry a huge weight of water with me. The temperature is very warm for this time of year (21 C) so dehydration will be a problem. I'll  use fizzy mineral tablets to flavour the water and to prevent cramp through mineral loss (magnesium and sodium).

I'm never sure if these are Roe Deer or Fallow Deer.

Another bomb hole pond. This willow is growing in about 2 metres
of water and is just starting to flower - a very resilient tree.

With high temperatures and no wind the whole area smells of
Coconut, the scent from the yellow Gorse flowers.