ENDURANCE VILE TRAIL 2019
Join us in May 2019 as we walk through the mountains of eastern Albania in the footsteps of Brigadier “Trotksy”‘ Davies and his ill-fated Special Operations Executive mission, codenamed SPILLWAY
Elbasan County / Dibër / Çermenika / Martanesh / Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park
When to go
May to September
Saturday 25 May to Saturday 01 June
Group Size: 2-10
Throughout the last two years of World War II, Britain’s secretive Special Operations Executive (its stated mission: “to set Europe ablaze”) was highly active in the Balkans as it tried to co-ordinate resistance to the German forces who occupied the region. It was hoped that Albania, with its mountainous terrain and long tradition of banditry, would prove fertile territory for guerrilla operations.
In October 1943 a high-level mission, codenamed “SPILLWAY” and led by Brigadier “Trotsky” Davies, parachuted into the remote Çermenika mountains to the east of Tirana. Here it linked up with the Communist forces led by Albania’s future dictator Enver Hoxha, and began an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to forge an alliance between Hoxha’s partisans and forces loyal to the exiled King Zog.
The Germans soon learned about the mission’s presence and launched a huge operation to kill or capture Davies and his men, who were forced on the run with Hoxha and his subordinates. Until early January 1944 the British were hounded through the snow-covered mountains, depending on Hoxha’s uncertain loyalty and the aid of local villagers. Finally, on 6 January, the survivors were cornered in the village of Kostenjë, where Davies was badly wounded and captured.
The mission’s second-in-command, Lt Col Arthur Nicholls, somehow managed to escape, but was in such a pitiful physical state that he had to be smuggled into Tirana for medical treatment by sympathisers to the Allied cause. Here, following an operation to remove his frost-bitten toes, he died.
In the early years of this century Dr Roderick Bailey discovered a copy of Nicholls’ diary in a long-forgotten box buried deep in the archives of London’s Imperial War Museum. In it Nicholls details the day-by-day ordeals the mission endured as it tried to break out of German encirclement.
Using this diary, SOE archives now held in the National Archives at Kew, and other sources including Enver Hoxha’s memoirs and the unpublished memoirs of other partisan figures, Drive Albania owner Ed Reeves has managed to retrace the route taken by Davies and the SPILLWAY mission.
Even today, the Çermenika mountains remain inaccessible. There are no asphalt roads, and Kostenjë remains unreachable by motor vehicle. This is Albania at its wildest.
The Endurance Vile Trail is a true adventure for physically fit lovers of the outdoors. Most nights are spent under canvas well away from human habitation, and personal and camping kit is carried on mule-back.
TIRANA TO BIZË
DAY 01 / SATURDAY
We’ll meet this morning in Tirana, and spend some time exploring Albania’s war history. After a bite to eat in the bazaar, we’ll begin our journey east to the Çermenika mountains, stopping on the outskirts of the city to explore the “secret” nuclear bunker built by the Communists in the 1970s. We should arrive at Bizë, the parachute drop zone and HQ used by the SPILLWAY mission, around 17.00. Time enough to set up camp on the spot used by Davies, before enjoying a campfire meal and maybe a slug or two of the excellent local raki.
Included: Includes Lunch; campfire supper.
BIZË TO KOSTENJË
DAY 02-07 / TUESDAY-FRIDAY
From Sunday through to Friday we’ll be negotiating our way through the wild mountains of Çermenika and the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park (recently declared a UNESCO protected biosophere). We’ll be taking the route used by Davies and the SPILLWAY mission, which means we’ll be camping out most nights. However, two nights will be spent under solid roofs – one in a guesthouse which in 1943 was used by British as a temporary HQ, the other in the village of Fushë-Studë, where there is hostel-standard accommodation (and hot showers). On our final day we’ll reach the village of Kostenjë, which even today can’t be accessed by motor vehicle. A few families still live here, and will provide a big welcome for us.
Included: All meals.
KOSTENJË TO TIRANA
DAY 08 / SATURDAY
We’ll make an early start, and walk from Kostenjë to our pick-up point (about two hours), where a 4×4 vehicle will be waiting to take us to Tirana, which we should reach by about 13.00 at the latest. After a much-needed shower (assuming you’re not flying home this evening!) we’ll meet for a farewell meal and perhaps a beer or two, to toast the memory of Davies, Nicholls and the men of SPILLWAY.
Included: Breakfast; lunch; farewell supper.
On our 2016 trek, we were joined by film-maker and journalist Ashwin Bhardwaj, who wrote about his adventure for the UK Sunday Telegraph. You can read his story here.
The 2019 Endurance Vile Trail costs €790 per person.
Price Includes Fluent English-speaking guide; mule & muleteer, camping equipment, all meals, transfers to and from Tirana.
Price Excludes International flights; airport transfers; alcohol; accommodation in Tirana, tips.
Spending Money You’ll struggle to spend any money in the mountains as there aren’t any shops; in Tirana for the final night you’ll need perhaps €30 for beers in the bars of Blokku.
Joining the 2019 Endurance Vile Trail
We’ll be leaving Tirana on the afternoon of Saturday 25 May, so it makes sense to arrive on the Friday or Saturday morning (we’ll be happy to pick you up from the airport gratis if you’re arriving at a reasonable time).
The trek ends the following Saturday, 01 June, and we’ll be back in Tirana by the early afternoon. If you have to get back home, any flight leaving after 20.00 should be safe to book. However, you’d miss out on the farewell meal, and a Saturday night in Tirana, so we’d recommend you book a flight on the Sunday if you can.
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