Walking in their footsteps
2nd August 2019
Chelsea Pensioner Alan Rutter, 71, is ready to take on a monumental challenge. From Saturday 3rd August, Alan will walk along the entire length of the Western Front, close to 1,000km, starting from the coast of Belgium near Dunkirk to the French town of Pfetterhouse on the Swiss border.
“I’m really quite excited, I’m really looking forward to it – it’s an adventure. And I enjoy an adventure. I mean, I’m 71 years old and I’m still thankfully fit enough, and so I can do things that I might not be able to in a few years’ time.
I’ve always enjoyed walking, and I thought well, walking the Western Front, I can pay homage to the guys that gave their lives, I can raise money for charity, and I can have an adventure, so that’s really why I’m doing it” said Alan.
“When I first came to Chelsea, I said I would like to do this, and I don’t think anybody believed me!”
“I wrote off to the Western Front Way charity a couple years ago, asking them when they would be ready to release the walk publicly, and they thought it might be two or three years’ time – so I thought well I’ll do the walk this year, because I thought I might not be fit enough next year, and so I pre-prepared some maps and I marked the route using some Western Front books. And then maybe about six weeks ago, seven weeks ago now, I got an email out of the blue from Western Front Way and they said ‘Alan, we’re just about to release these maps’, and I said ‘Brilliant, that works out perfectly, I’m just about to do the walk.’ So I’m actually using the maps that they’ve developed, and I’m going to be the first person to walk that in its entirety.”
Alan estimates his journey will take close to two months and he has been training since June to keep his fitness up. As part of his preparation, Alan has been walking from the Royal Hospital to various destinations around central London with his 28lb (12.7kg) pack and walking stick.
“I like to walk the sidewalks, so I’ve done the River Thames Path as far down as Sunbury, and I’ve completed a walk to the Tower of London and back probably five or six times, which is 10.3 miles, and I’ve done one in the other direction to Hammersmith Bridge, which is just on the Thames, just over 10 miles. So a lot of walking by water – I enjoy that – and it gets you out of the city a bit.”
Alan’s 20 years of Army experience in The Middlesex Regiment (now the Queen’s Regiment), general good health and love of walking have stood him in good stead for the challenge. But along with the physical challenge, part of the journey is also about self-reflection. The gravity of the events which took place during World War I in Belgium, France and Germany and the need to reflect and remember them is also a compelling reason for Alan’s ambitious journey.
“Even in practice, when I practice walking, sometimes I just switch everything off and I just walk. Other times – you know – an audio book is like having a bit of company, really.”
“I will be visiting cemeteries, I will be visiting museums, and I’ll be taking photographs of monuments and places of special interest. I visited the beaches – the Second World War beaches – but I haven’t done the Western Front, so for me it’s going to be a real trip through history, I think.”
“Belgium, France, Germany – they’ve all share a link in these events – and so establishing a walking route will foster a positive sort of relationship for these countries in the future, which is good.”
“I think it’s really important for children growing up today to have an opportunity to learn something about their history, and as terrible as wars are, they’re still part of our history, aren’t they? And people in their millions gave their lives.”
Alan is raising money on behalf of the Royal Hospital to fund a new activities centre for the Chelsea Pensioners. To support Alan, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alan-rutter-cp