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Fundraising trek along Pyrenean Freedom Trail

Dedicated Royal British Legion worker in training for epic mountain walk in memory of those who fled Nazis

A fundraiser for the Royal British Legion is taking part in the annual Freedom Trail, Chemin de la Liberté across the Pyrenees. The route traces one of the escape routes taken by civilians and military servicemen fleeing the Nazis in the Second World War.

Brenda Vockings, who is in her sixties and organises the annual poppy appeal for the Royal British Legion, Bordeaux and southwest of France, says the 65km hike at high altitude over four days will be a real challenge, but she feels that if injured, malnourished people in fear of their life could do it in often inadequate clothing, she should be able to manage.

The trek starts at Saint-Girons in the Ariège and finishes at Esterri d’Aneu in Catalonia, Spain. On the official site of the Chemin de la Liberté, the Freedom Trail Association which organises the annual commemorative hike warns all participants that they, “must be physically fit, well-equipped and have done sufficient training to master the mountain conditions and high altitudes involved.”

Mrs Vockings has taken up the challenge because of the respect she has for the work of the Royal British Legion: “This charity supports every one of our service personnel, those who no longer serve, and their families. The charity covers all disciplines, all ranks and also works with other military charities. Their help ranges from Drop-In centres where individuals can discuss problems, financial aid, legal representation to ensure fairness, medical help and of course help and support for families. The list goes on. I want to fundraise so that people who need our help stand a better chance of having a more meaningful future. Let’s give them the chance to achieve.”

Mrs Vockings has already done long treks and even a skydive for charity and started after she was diagnosed and treated for cancer, twice. “When you stop and think and realise how precious life is it encourages you to go on and do things so you never have regrets.”

She was persuaded to do this particular walk by Scott Goodall, who lived in the Ariège, and wrote about the Chemin de la Liberté. “His stories of escape and evasion remind us of the sacrifices of the guides and the bravery of everyone involved,” she said. “In a rash moment I promised that I would do this walk and now I am doing it in Scott’s memory and because I believe that I can do this, even as a pensioner!”

She has been training since November by doing a lot of hiking in Scotland, where she now lives and by going to the gym three times a week. During the walk she will lay a wreath at one of the many memorial cairns along the way: “It will be very interesting and very moving to walk in the footsteps of those who were escaping and of the brave people who helped them. People come from all over Europe to do this pilgrimage – even my Greek dentist here in Scotland knows about it. What a super experience to have. I am looking forward to it with a little fear.”

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