Karen Penny is a powerhouse, a force of nature, a walking Wonder Woman. Over the last two and a half years she’s covered ten and a half thousand miles, got through ten pairs of boots, ten hats, one thousand custard creams, three birthdays and two wedding anniversaries. And single-handedly raised £126,000 – and counting – for Alzheimer’s Research UK. I’m not sure which is the more staggering really – the ten and half thousand mile trek or the £126,000 she’s raised. Either way, it’s an extraordinary feat. Excuse the pun.
Karen has traversed the whole of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales including over 110 of their islands. She says walking’s in her bones, and so when she saw the effects on both her mother-in-law Alma and father-in-law Kingsley of their vascular and Alzheimer’s disease she decided to put her best foot forward to raise awareness of dementia. On 14 January 2019, three years after Kingsley died, the 56-year-old retired legal professional set out from her home in Pennard on the south Gower peninsular with a 20kg knapsack strapped to her back.
Just over a year later the pandemic struck, the country was placed under lock down and she was forced to alter her plans, returning home before setting off in permissible directions. The second lockdown disrupted her schedule again and meant that her family couldn’t visit her for four months, but nothing was going to stop Karen, and on 21 September – which quite brilliantly coincided with national Alzheimer’s Day – she completed her marathon ordeal, reaching the Scottish Island of Unst, the most northerly point of the UK.
Karen says the darkest months were in Northern Scotland. “Part of the learning curve has been learning to cope with loneliness,” she says.
“There are days that have been very hard, when you wake up questioning ‘why am I doing this, it’s hideous outside and I haven’t seen a soul for days”.
But she persevered, powered on by the support of hundreds of people she met on the walk, some of whom were living with Alzheimer’s, and some of whom joined her for a few miles.