“I was scared up there at times. Did I think of giving up? When you’re alone there’s nothing else to think about. My feet were a mess, I tried to walk the last mile in flip flops. Am I proud of it? I hated every minute – but I took some great photos!”
Thomas McGrath was clearly still very much feeling the pain of the latest in his remarkable fundraising ventures – a solo 190 mile coast-to-coast trek, from St Bees, high in north-west Cumbria, over the challenging Lake District peaks, across the Dales and the North York Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay.
At least that would have his destination, but Saturday’s fierce snowstorm on the Moors forced the Dewsbury telecoms engineer, 28, down to lower ground and a new end point of Whitby.
“I could have died up there. That wasn’t part of the plan,” he said. Tom had squeezed his marathon effort into the very end of the hiking season, due to his work commitments.
Exhausted, in agony, and having lost more than a stone over his nine-day trek, he powered on late into Saturday night covering 35 miles in the day, aided by painkillers, a hip flask of whisky, and a commitment to finish an 18 month series of challenges dedicated to his grandparents.
His grandma, Kathleen Lockwood, died of cancer in 2015, while his grandad Peter McGrath was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just after retiring, and is in full-time care. As of Sunday morning, when Tom limped the last mile into Whitby to throw a pebble from the Irish Sea into the North Sea (he had to abandon the flip flops and put his boots back on) he had raised almost £6,000 in total for Macmillan Cancer Support and Parkinson’s UK.
He’d already taken part in a sponsored boxing match plus the gruelling ‘Tough Guy’ challenge, before planning his ‘Walking In Anger’ series of tests – the Yorkshire Three Peaks, National Three Peaks, then a ‘warm-up’ for his last trial, a 55-mile walk deep in last winter’s storms from Appleby in Westmorland to the Ribblehead Viaduct.
He’s had lots of support from friends at the New Inn pub in Staincliffe and was accompanied variously by Tom Haley, Harry Gardner, Sam Bohanna, Joanna Lee, Sonja Corcoran, John Roadnight, Liam Frain, Andrew Smith, Ash Bowers, Shaun Greenless, Andrew Savile, Tom Pickering and Kyle Halloran on the peaks walks.
None of it would have happened without the sponsorship of Andy Stewart and his company Southgate Lighting. “Andy’s been fantastic, beyond generous,” said the former St John Fisher student. “I can’t thank everyone enough for their support and sponsorship. It means so much.”
But the last two tasks were solo, camping out on the moors and fells, except for a couple of nights when conditions made him take respite in a B&B.
Rain and fog made map-reading difficult, and having to negotiate 3,000 metres of climbing on one day threw his schedule out.
“I did 10 miles in three hours – then it took three hours for one mile, all the while wondering if I was lost,” he said. “I learned lots – to use better equipment, take more provisions, and not to take things for granted, like hot howers and warm food!”
It can’t have been that bad though – he’s planning the Tour de Mont Blanc next summer, 110 miles through the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. “I just want to keep helping these charities which do so much for so many people,” he added.
Tom’s fundraising page is at www.virginmoneygiving.com/walkinginanger and footage from videos from his treks can be found on Facebook under Thomas McGrath.