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Community / Big walk for Alzheimer’s sees Karen visit the isles

Campaigner Karen Perry.

SHETLAND has become the latest port of call for a woman aiming to raise £100,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) by walking the coast of the UK and Ireland.

Karen Penny had initially planned to arrive on Friday morning, but after missing the boat on Thursday night, she had to postpone her Shetland arrival by 24 hours.

Following a “bumpy crossing last night” she eventually stepped off the ferry on Saturday morning and plans to stay in the islands for about a month.

Karen reckons she is about one-third of the way on her 19,000-mile trip, having just completed 6,000 miles on arriving at Canisbay in Caithness before yomping south to Aberdeen.

Karen was presented with a No 1 Aberdeen FC shirt on Tuesday. Photo: AFC Media

She said she was overwhelmed by her reception at Pitoddrie Stadium, home of Aberdeen FC, earlier this week, where, in front of the TV cameras, she received a shirt with Penny No 1 emblazoned on the back and signed by all the players.

“That was a lovely thing to do and I am really delighted,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease is of course a major topic in football with many notable ex-players developing the incurable illness and a red card on under-12s heading the ball issued by the Scottish Football Association on Monday.

Karen, who lives in the Gower Peninsula and worked three decades in the legal profession, is no stranger to charitable work, having previously raised £6,000 for Alzheimer’s by walking from John o’ Groats to Lands’ End and £40,000 to help save her local library.

She has already raised over £58,000 of her target for the epic coastal walk she reckons will take three years in total, having started from her home in Wales in January 2019.

Her target of £100,000 might seem like a lot, but ARUK aims to spend £250 million on dementia research by 2025.

So far she has covered Ireland and the Scottish coast round to Aberdeen, including the Western Isles. She also plans to visit the Channel Isles, Isle of Wight, and the Scilly Isles, among the 20 islands she will visit.

Karen said that she was hugely looking forward to visiting Shetland as she’d heard plenty about Shetland during her time in Orkney and the friendly sporting rivalry that existed between the two Northern Isles groups.

Orkney, she said, had been an overwhelmingly friendly place and she expected Shetland to be the same.

She reckons it will take her three years to complete her epic coastal walk.

In fact Karen has only had to use her tent and sleeping bag on five occasions whilst walking the Scottish coast; everywhere she has been inundated with offers of places to spend the night. Her tent has only been needed in the loneliest stretches and she has pitched it in bus shelters and the like where possible.

She has also been walking through the teeth of this winter’s lashing gales. While endeavouring to keep as close to the coastline as possible, she is also keen to avoid unnecessary risks, especially if that means not having to call out the emergency services.

She is the first woman to walk alone around the coast of the UK and Ireland and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Karen has been accompanied on many of her walks by a broad spectrum of people and groups, which have included the army, the SAS, the WRI and Alzheimer’s groups.

Karen is motivated in large part by the death of both her in-laws from Alzheimer’s, an experience that affected her profoundly.

In 2017, Alzheimer’s and other dementias became the leading cause of death in the UK. There are no treatments to stop or cure the diseases.

“I am now an Alzheimer’s Champion and was very pleased to be given that accolade this year,” she said.

While she has become much fitter as a result of her daily walks, now finding 16 or 18 miles a day with the rucksack easy to complete, the real pleasure is in meeting the people she encounters around the coastline.

One such is the Reverend Susan Brown who was moderator of the Church of Scotland and famous for marrying Madonna and Guy Ritchie in Skibo Castle and who she said was an amazing woman.

As well as the opportunity to get fit, she says walking around the “tremendous coastline” of Britain and Ireland has taken her to places that she never knew existed and given her the sheer high of exercise.

Anyone wishing to follow Karen’s adventures can do so on her Facebook page and contributions can be made on her Just Giving page