I will be running in tribute to my grandparents, Stan and Jo Skinner, to raise money for the Monte San Martino Trust (www.msmtrust.org.uk), a charity that was always very close to their hearts.
During the Second World War, my grandfather was captured in North Africa and imprisoned at Sulmona in Italy. After the Armistice in September 1943, he escaped and succeeded in rejoining the Allies. All his life, he felt a debt of gratitude to the people of the Italian countryside, who risked their lives by hiding and feeding Allied prisoners such as him who were on the run from the Fascists.
The Monte San Martino Trust, founded in 1989, is dedicated to the memory of these brave and generous Italians. In their honour, it awards bursaries to Italians, aged 18 to 25, to study at English-language schools in London and Oxford.
Following my grandfather’s death a few years ago, my grandmother was keen for me to support the charity. After she passed away in January 2014, I was determined to take up a sizeable physical challenge with a connection to Italy, so as to help, in a small way, to give something back to the Italian people.
Working with John Simkins, the Trust’s administrator, I came across the Vie Francigine, a historic pilgrimage route that runs from northern Europe down to Rome. The stretch from Lucca, in northern Tuscany, to Rome conveniently happens to be 420km long – exactly the distance of ten marathons. These particular stages of the Francigine are well maintained but there is no disguising the fact that much of the route is as hilly as it is beautiful, meandering past enchanting towns such as San Gimignano and Siena. The terrain will be challenging to say the least, and completing the route will take a huge effort.
I will be accompanied all the way by my good friend, Michael d'Arcy and cousin Carlos de Aranda, who will both be cycling alongside. My mother Dominique will be driving our back-up vehicle with my sisters Charlotte and Chesca, and they have kindly offered to be responsible for supplies, accommodation and a phenomenal amount of much needed moral support! To complete the team effort, my Aunt and Uncle, youngest cousin and great Aunt will also all be there along the way.
A great deal of help has come from the Associazione Europea delle Vie Francigine (AEVF), which has formally extended its sponsorship to the MSMT project. AEVF personnel are kindly booking accommodation at the end of each stage and will be organising police escorts at points where traffic makes this desirable. The Trust and I are extremely grateful to AEVF for its help. The Francigine is becoming increasingly popular with walkers and lovers of Slow Travel, given its out-of-the way rural attractions, and the Association does excellent work in promoting it - see http://www.viefrancigene.org/en/.
Any support for my challenge would be hugely appreciated and I am extremely grateful for any contribution that you are able to make.
Many thanks indeed.