A retired Worcester firefighter and firefighting charity fundraiser has returned home after an epic trek through the Pyrenees to raise money for the Fire Fighters Charity.
Army veteran Dave Smith, 66, from St Johns, is the HWFRS Fire Fighters Charity (FFC) welfare co-ordinator and a retired fire service superintendent.
He has over 42 years of fire service fundraising under his belt.
In an ambitious bid to raise money for the charity, he has just completed the WWII Pyrenees Freedom Trail Challenge, following the difficult and dangerous escape route from Nazi-occupied France. to Spain.
Also known as the “Path to Freedom”, the trail traces an infamous WWII evacuation route used by Allied servicemen and refugees fleeing the Axis powers.
The strenuous six-day trek reaches up to 2,500 meters, starting in Saint-Girons in France and ending in Vielha on the Spanish border.
Dave first set his sights on the trek over 20 years ago and decided that after taking on many roles within the FFC, he would sign up for a trip that was close to his heart and the would use to raise money for the charity.
Joining other hikers at Heathrow, they flew to Toulouse in France and soon made their first overnight stop in St Girons, staying at the infamous Chateau De Beauregard, former SS regional headquarters.
The first day of the trek took them from St Girons to Aunac through spectacular countryside, passing some of the remote refuges used to hide fleeing people, and all the way up.
Things got tougher on Day 2 as they climbed higher and higher until their next overnight stay at Cabane d’Eychelle, stopping to pay their respects at ‘Col de la Core’, a memorial to comrades of war or ‘smugglers’ escaping along this route.
Moving forward and uphill, they carried only overnight gear for the next two nights in the tent.
Although far off the beaten path, news reached them that Her Majesty The Queen had passed away – particularly poignant for Dave as she had been Patron of the Fire Fighters Charity for much of her reign.
More rugged climbing followed over the next two days, with the spectacular sight of Pyrenean mountain dogs guarding flocks of sheep to take their minds off things, and stopping in front of a memorial to a Halifax bomber who flew crashed during the war, killing the entire crew. .
Days 3 and 4 proved difficult over rocky paths and steep ravines, as well as a steep rock face, finally reaching the Spanish border and what would have been the freedom to escape the military, before descending to the end of the trip in Vielha and a welcoming hotel.
The last “mission” before their long flight home was their farewell dinner and comparing notes on their unforgettable experience.
Dave said: “It has always been a dream of mine to walk the Path to Freedom and although it was exhausting I loved every moment of it.
“It was a great opportunity to raise funds for the Fire Fighters Charity and to remember the brave Allied servicemen and other refugees who made the difficult journey during the war.
“Even if I put my trekking shoes on the chimney, I will still raise funds for the FFC!
You can read more about the expedition on Dave’s JustGiving page: David Smith raises money for The Fire Fighters Charity (justgiving.com), where donations are always welcome.