Eighty-year-old Tony completes 875-mile walk for St Barnabas House

When 80-year-old Tony Bishop stood at Land’s End in driving rain on 31 October, it was the culmination of an epic 62-day, 875-mile journey.

It was a novel that set Tony on the long and winding road from John O’Groats in Scotland to the Cornish coast. “I was listening to the radio, and I heard an author discussing her book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” he says. The novel tells the story of a man who undertakes a kind of secular pilgrimage, walking from the south-west of England to Berwick-upon-Tweed to visit a former colleague who is receiving end-of-life care at a hospice. “After I’d read it, I thought ‘I can do that’,” Tony says.

Tony is now back in Henfield, West Sussex after a two-month odyssey during which he has lost 5.5kg, acquired a new car and made more than £6,000 (plus Gift Aid) for St Barnabas House – hundreds of which were donated by people he met along the way. Tony is no stranger to adventure. He has completed around 30 marathons and ultra-marathons, trekked to Kilimanjaro, the Inca Trail and Everest base camp.

Off-road running and mountain ascents caused him to develop a problem with his pelvic bones and walking is now his main form of fitness. But even for an experienced walker, the journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End is an enormous feat of endurance. He started his walk on 31 August and walked for 62 days, finishing on 31 October – just missing Storm Ciaran, which wrought havoc in coastal areas on 2 November. In fact, Tony was accompanied by fine weather all the way down.

His son and daughter – the latter of whom lives in New Zealand – accompanied him for separate stretches of the route. Tony’s wife, Sue, acted as his support driver for the second half of the journey, during which their car developed an irreparable fault and had to be replaced.

Tony’s fundraising, which has far surpassed his target, means that other local families will receive care from St Barnabas at the time they need it the most.

And as for the man himself? “I’m feeling fine. If I had to do a 15-mile walk tomorrow, I could! The only low points were the traffic along the route – it was a bit hairy at some points, with not much room for pedestrians. And it was sad to see the amount of rubbish that littered the verges. But one of the greatest highlights has been the kindness of others. I had a WhatsApp group that was very active and encouraging – they kept me going at times. “

Now, Tony is contemplating his next challenge – walking 81 miles in 24 hours, at the age of 81. For now, though, “I’ve achieved my aims,” said Tony. “I did it to raise awareness of the hospice that cared for my sister, who was such a lovely person. That was a very sad time, but when she went to St Barnabas, she was made to feel special. She died with dignity.”

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