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Community / Alzheimer’s fundraiser Karen Penny close to completing epic journey

Karen Penny at the Laxo ferry terminal on Wednesday morning. Photos: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

AN INSPIRING fundraiser campaigning for more and better-funded dementia research has returned to Shetland to complete her 11,000 miles circumnavigation of the British and Irish coastline in support of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Karen Penny, from Pennard near Swansea, had no choice but to abandon her epic walk while in Shetland and return home to Wales last March as lockdown was looming.

On Wednesday morning, Karen and her support team arrived back in the isles and headed straight to Whalsay, one of seven remaining legs of her three-year long journey.

The plan is to finish off at Hermaness, in Unst, on 21 September to coincide with World Alzheimer’s Day.

The 56-year-old, whose in-laws both were suffering from dementia before passing away some years ago, has so far raised more than £102,000 for the charity.

She said it took a while to readjust to home life again after 13 months of walking, and was quick to set off again once Covid restrictions allowed in August last year.

But instead of returning to Shetland last summer she first completed the English coastline including the Scilly and the Channel Islands before getting marooned again, this time on the Isle of Wight.

She then set off once more on 12 April and has since then walked every day before boarding the NorthLink ferry in Aberdeen on Tuesday evening.

Ready to board the Whalsay ferry are (left to right): Angela Williamson, Karen’s son George, Lee Inkster, Karen Penny and her husband Mark Faulkner.

To her surprise, and while stopping over at Kirkwall last night, Angela Williamson, from Caithness and Lee Inkster, from Orkney, joined the party and intend to keep her company for the remaining seven days of coastline walking.

Karen said she was “incredibly excited” to be back in Shetland: “I just love being on the islands; now it is settling down again into island life and into this wonderful way of life here which I just love.”

She added: “My husband’s parents, who are sadly no longer with us, both lived with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and we wanted to do something to remember them by raise as much as awareness that we could for Alzheimer’s.

“When you walk around Britain I am absolutely astounded by the number of people you meet who are affected by dementia.

“All the money I have raised so far is from individuals who I have met personally en route. There is no corporate funding; it’s all from people affected by Alzheimer’s.

“What we really want is government to double its funding for dementia research to get breakthroughs, because dementia is spiralling out of control.

“There are people in their 50s now who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. (…) It’s absolutely frightening. That’s why people like Lee and Angela come out today to help because they all know people with dementia.”

When Karen arrives in Hermaness next Tuesday she will be the first woman to have walked the entire coastline of the UK and Ireland.

People can donate at Karen’s JustGiving page is here.