A SHEPHERDESS is to stride out along the 80-mile Dales Way to highlight the plight of traumatised soldiers’ families.

Hill farmer Alison O’Neill, famous for her barefoot rambles, will be joined by up to 200 veterans’ wives and partners on this summer’s five-day hike, from June 8 to 12 and is looking for supporters to join her on the walk, whether for all, or part of the experience.

She has planned the Ladies’ Yomp 2019 to raise awareness of the impact on families when soldiers return from war, often with psychological scars such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Alison, who tends her flock of Rough Fell sheep at Shacklabank, Firbank, near Sedbergh, has for many years helped groups and individuals through the walks she leads on the fells.

On her latest project she has teamed up with former SAS officer Ken Hames MBE and Sedbergh farmer and former soldier Brian Capstick.

They are to hold a launch night on February 21 at the J36 Rural Auction Centre, Crooklands, when guests will hear first-hand about the difficulties faced by modern-day veterans on their return to civilian life. The evening will be co-hosted by Sue Howorth and Dave Clarkson of The Family Business Network.

Ken Hames is to give an insight into returning with the Royal Marines from the Falklands War in 1982, as well as life in the SAS for 16 years and the inspiration Princess Diana gave him to help in the charitable sector.

The former SAS officer is a patron of charity Help for Heroes and chief operating officer of the not-for-profit Community Self Build Agency, which supports wounded, disadvantaged and vulnerable veterans to get back into work and to live independently.

Meanwhile, farmer Mr Capstick will explain how his experiences in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan led him to develop a “care farming” project on his farms in Sedbergh, to help support socially excluded veterans and their families with psychological illnesses.

He said: “If we are going to tackle and counter domestic violence, divorce rates and the spiral into social exclusion among the veteran community, the front line is often the family home.

“Alison understands the need to get support to those that are fighting that battle, which is how she developed the concept after taking part in an event that supported veterans called Hell’s Fells in 2018. From this, she has nurtured the inspirational and clever idea of the Ladies’ Yomp.”

Alison added: “Having been involved last year with Hell’s Fells, there was one lady’s story that particularly touched me. The walk we shared made a huge difference to her personally so it felt a very natural suggestion to create an event that could help more women and would help raise awareness.”

There were 79 recorded veteran suicides in 2018, and ten per cent of the UK homeless population is made up of former soldiers, with around 1,200 sleeping rough.

To book a place at the launch evening, email sue@fambiznet.co.uk