Freedom from Torture - Travel on the Freedom Trail for Freedom from Torture

Travel on the Freedom Trail for Freedom from Torture

Phil Taylor is fascinated by the Freedom Trail and the stories of the countless thousands who escaped across the Pyrenees to escape persecution and torture. He has used his recent trek to raise funds for Freedom from Torture.

The essence of the Freedom Trail (Le Chemin de la Liberté) . By far the largest numbers were the Spaniards escaping from retribution by Franco’s victorious armies as the Spanish Civil War neared its end. Historian Hugh Thomas, estimates that the flood of refugees included 10,000 wounded, 170,000 women and children, 60,000 male civilians and 250,000 soldiers.

Not so long afterwards people were heading in the opposite direction to escape the Nazi armies that were occupying western Europe. They included civilians, resistance fighters, allied servicemen and refugees. Many were Jews fleeing the deportations to the death camps and French refugees who wanted to join the Free French forces in North Africa

Trail is hardly the right word to describe the brutal conditions the escapees endured. While just a mere 72 kilometres (45 miles), the route climbs over one of Europe’s highest and most rugged mountain ranges. At times it reaches over 8,500 feet and even in high summer parts are covered in snow. A guide is needed to cross safely and some parts are climbed rather than walked. So imagine how much worse it would be in the depths of winter, when so many had to cross, and in wartime.

Today, of course, most of these dangers no longer exist. France and Spain are allies, with football as their strongest source of rivalry. There are no border posts and military checkpoints. Those who choose to hike the trail have access to mobile phones (although not always a signal) and medical aid.

Even so, walking the Freedom Trail provides a glimpse into the horror and hardships of the past, while participants glory at the wonderful mountain scenery. There are few hamlets or refuges and trail walkers must be prepared to carry food and water and to spend at least one night under canvas. Today, many of those who attempt the trail on the organised guided treks use the occasion to fundraise for charities and other good causes.

After a long and active working life in the RAF, Phil Taylor is now an ardent campaigner for peace and reconciliation, and that includes actively working against the use of torture. He says:

Human beings degrade themselves by torturing others. It is to the great shame of the UK that it is again being implicated in torture of its supposed enemies, just as it did in the past. People who stand up for what they believe in continue to face torture, death and imprisonment around the world. They deserve our support. I hope people will help me to help them by donating to my Freedom Trail walk for Freedom from Torture.

Many torture survivors who come to Freedom from Torture have had equally perilous journeys, physically and mentally. Brave survivors like Evin who spent over eight years imprisoned and tortured for defending human rights in her homeland.

But even when she reached the UK, she could not forget her torment. It was only when she was referred to Freedom from Torture that her therapist was able to guide her safely on her inner journey. Evin says:

When you know you have people who will help you, it changes everything. Freedom from Torture is my light. It’s like feeling summer in a dark, dark winter.

Phil Taylor travelled the Freedom Trail in 2015 and again in 2018. He says:

From personal experience I can testify that the route is physically very demanding and, in places, hazardous. There is little by way of comfort, with nights spent on hard floors or under canvas – roughing it. However, the rigours I experienced pale in comparison to the problems faced by those who fled through the mountains in the four years from 1940-44. Many were running for their lives or to escape years of imprisonment, torture and uncertainty. My walk is dedicated to those who face danger from tyranny and to those who give them succour.

Would you like to follow in Phil’s footsteps and take the Freedom Trail challenge for Freedom from Torture? You can take part in 2019 with Discover Adventure – our partner who specialises in worldwide cycling and trekking, with charity fundraising at its heart.
If you are interested, contact Mandy Taylor at mtaylor@freedomfromtorture.org
Donate to Phil Taylor’s Freedom Trail hike here.

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