Val Walker and Gail Birch, both from Abergele in North Wales, recently returned from a 32-day, 500-mile journey to raise money for Smile Train and another one of their favourite charities. The two friends travelled an ancient route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, called the ‘French Way’.
Val and Gail chose to raise funds for Smile Train because they felt that helping provide cleft surgeries would be a great way to change the lives of children forever. On their Virgin Money Giving Page, they jokingly shared the following with their potential supporters:
We're not young — there's a risk that we might do ourselves some permanent damage (some will argue that we’re already damaged to attempt it), but we're going to do it anyway. Think of it as a sort of 'cash-for-injuries' scheme — we suffer injuries and you pay these excellent charities a whole wad of cash. It's a win-win situation — discount the tendonitis and broken toes.
Val and Gail started their 500-mile journey in South West France with varying amounts of confidence. Val remembers, “I knew Gail would be fine — she’s an experienced walker who has walked in similar challenges just for the love of walking. I’ve always enjoyed walking with groups of friends, but 500 miles is a daunting challenge.”
Val and Gail walked between 15 and 21 miles a day and eventually made it across the border to Spain. To add to the difficulty, northern Spain was in the midst of a heatwave. Gail explains, “We had to start walking before dawn, then put in about 7 hours, and stop when the temperature hit almost 40°C. That stretch was no doubt our biggest challenge.”
After 32 days of hard work, Val and Gail reached Santiago triumphantly on 18 June. They both agreed that the trip was a resounding success and raising funds while taking in breathtaking vistas was worth all of the pain and suffering.
To-date, Val and Gail have raised a total of £2,615 through their Virgin Money Giving Page. Smile Train’s Community and Events Manager Jonathan Roberts said of the walking duo, “We are thrilled to hear that Val and Gail have successfully completed their impressive walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago. The money that they have raised for Smile Train will help give children born with clefts in developing countries the same chances in life as those born without clefts.”
If you’d like to learn more about Val and Gail’s challenges, or to donate to their cause, please visit their fundraising page. If you are interested in turning your miles into smiles, please visit our Team EMPOWER section. Your support helps children receive new smiles and second chances at life.