A Hornchurch man who drove 4,500 miles to Africa and back raising money in memory of his daughter has recalled the challenge – even claiming wild dogs attacked his car. 

Michael Hook set out on December 21, after deciding just two weeks prior that he wanted to do something to support a fund set up following the death of his seven-year-old daughter, Isla Caton, early last year. 

Isla had been battling a rare form of cancer, neuroblastoma, for most of her childhood. The fund, called the Isla Caton Fund, was established in her memory to back further research into finding a cure. 

Michael’s plan was to make his way to Moroccan city Marrakesh for New Year’s Eve, and to be back in Hornchurch for January 6. He had scheduled in several stops en-route at locations significant in Isla’s life, including Sitges in Spain, where the family used to live. 

However, Michael said that pretty much from the off, the drive turned into “deadline after deadline after deadline”. 

The first major stop was Barcelona, where Michael had to be by December 23 as he was visiting the SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital, where Isla was treated for two-and-a-half years. 

Michael concedes however that the visit was worth it, telling the Recorder how he received a “brilliant reception”, and was shown around their new cancer centre. 

“After I went, I was so glad that I did go,” he said. 

Romford Recorder: Michael said the support and messages he received made the long drive a lot easierMichael said the support and messages he received made the long drive a lot easier (Image: Michael Hook)

Another stop was to see his mother, who lives not far from Alicante, where Michael stayed for Christmas and Boxing Day. 

“We went down to the beach, and there was about 20,000 ex-pats down there.” 

However, there were moments when Michael said he questioned whether he would be able to complete the drive. 

Romford Recorder: Michael with daughter Isla in 2018Michael with daughter Isla in 2018 (Image: Ken Mears)

First off, he said, “it was a hell of a long way. Some days I was driving for 13 hours.” 

He recalled one incident in Morocco when, while driving at around 30 miles per hour, his car was attacked by a pack of wild dogs. 

Michael said the hardest bit though was visiting spots that meant so much to Isla without the company of her mother, Nicola Caton, with the couple separating following their daughter's death. 

“Going to these places on my own, without my wife, was the most difficult part,” he said. 

“It was very surreal.” 

Romford Recorder: One of Isla's toys in Marrakesh, Michael's final destination before heading homeOne of Isla's toys in Marrakesh, Michael's final destination before heading home (Image: Michael Hook)

Michael thinks he has managed to raise around £10,000 from his trip. 

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“I had a lot of support on the way and a lot of messages from well-wishers and that really made things a lot easier,” he said. 

Having returned on January 7, Michael reiterated his hope that, despite the hardship involved, his efforts will have made Isla “proud” and contributed positively to her legacy. 

“The fact is that I hopefully did make Isla proud in heaven, and I hope that I did make her proud of her dad.” 

To donate to Michael's fundraiser, visit: www.solvingkidscancer.org.uk/fundraisers/hornchurch-to-marrakech-via-many-places.