Aylesbury pair complete 40th walk around First World War battlefields

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“We’ve ventured into places that probably we shouldn’t be going to”

For nearly 20 years two friends from Aylesbury have travelled across Europe visiting former battlegrounds from the First World War.

Nigel Smith and Valerie Knight want to inspire others to tour these battlefields on foot, to enjoy this immersive experience.

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In the past month Nigel completed his 50th trip to mainland Europe for this exercise, it was Valerie’s 40th journey.

Valerie Knight and Nigel SmithValerie Knight and Nigel Smith
Valerie Knight and Nigel Smith

Nigel said: “It’s a very humbling experience because you know that you’re walking their walk. So it’s hairs on the back of your neck a lot of the time.

"We’ve ventured into places that probably we shouldn’t be going.”

Valerie added: “We go to remote places that most people don’t go to. We hardly ever see anyone. Because we’re walking you stumble across things that people, perhaps if they are in a car, will just miss. A little gem in the middle of nowhere. A little soldiers grave, or a 100-year-old tree.”

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Each time the pair will rent an apartment in France and then identify a starting point for their hike. Across three days they regularly walk somewhere between 20 to 40 miles, visiting sites in France and Germany. For trip 51 they are planning to visit Lille and check out a battlefield from 1917.

Nigel has set the lofty goal of visiting every battlefield in the region, and like to culminate his 18 years of exploration with a trip to Versailles to see where the Armistice was signed.

Nigel added: “I feel like for our legacy, we’d like to see younger people getting involved. When you get to your 30s, you have a bit of a reality check and you might go ‘oh I could go over to France and have a little look.’ You come away from it thinking ‘that was quite special’.”

Valerie said: “You feel like you’ve achieved something and been taken out of your comfort zone.”

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French First World War CemeteryFrench First World War Cemetery
French First World War Cemetery

Neither have any plans to stop travelling along the First World War sites, but both said being on their feet for seven to eight hours can take its toll, and walking across the fields can lead to some bizarre injuries.

Nigel concluded: “I’m sure there’s people out there who would relish doing it, if they knew someone else was.”