In May 2010 VIA started a 1200 mile walk from the Army v Navy Annual Rugby Match at Twickenham Stadium where Billy MacLeod was presented with the match ball by the Navy Captain. This was the first large event that VIA had undertaken and was only made possible because of support from Charlie Martell (now VIA Patron) who approached the CEO of ‘Give Them a Sporting Chance‘ who awarded VIA a grant of £5,000. The Team of 10 veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and VIA Support Team left Twickenham Stadium and set off for John O’Groats with the aim of walking to Land’s End using National Trails and the Canal Systems of the UK.
The intention was to walk as a relay with two veterans walking a set distance then handing the match ball to the next pair of veterans. This was done for a few days that were incredibly long for everyone with an early start and late finish especially for the VIA Support Team.
After a few days a new system was put together that would split the day into 6 Stages which would be supported by two vehicles with each vehicle dropping off two veterans at 3 different Stages. This meant that all veterans were walking a set distance at the same time that covered between 60 and 90 miles per day, a system that VIA still use now on all its long distance walks.
It was during this walk that Billy MacLeod who was the Expedition Leader saw the real benefits of veterans walking with each other and learning from each other about what they were going through with the veterans walking with a different partner each day. They may have started with a small piece of information and believing they were the only one going through what they were but by the end of the walk which took 27 days they have a huge amount of information and new found confidence, self-esteem and self-belief.
During this first walk Billy MacLeod devised a plan to do a series of walks over the following four years that when completed would form the Union Flag over mainland Britain, these became the ‘Union Flag Walks’.
Since that first walk in 2010 VIA have ran 7 of these walks with 280 veterans taking part on them and have covered a distance of 6,400 miles and have seen the best that Britain has to offer in the way of countryside and support for our Armed Forces Veterans.
Although this series of walks have finished they will always be a part of VIA and as we grow, VIA Regional Teams will run the walks covering different parts of the country and instead of Union Flag Walks they will be renamed as Union Flag Challenges and will include cycling, canoeing, Bushcraft as well as the walking.
A typical challenge will be to go from John O’Groats to Land’s End with the Team cycling to Inverness. They will then get in canoes and paddle to Fort William using the Caledonian Canal, Loch Ness, Loch Lochy and Loch Oich and ending once more on the Caledonian Canal.
The VIA Team will then walk from Fort William to Milngavie just outside Glasgow following the West Highland Way. This will continue all the way to Land’s End using the form of transport best suited to the terrain and on route where possible the VIA Team will ‘wild camp’ using Bushcraft Skills taught by VIA Survival Instructors and Expedition Leaders.
The Union Flag Walks/Challenges are here to stay and will always be a part of VIA and what we do.