Mum goes extra miles to fund memory research

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Mum Karen Penny is on Mull for the latest leg of her 20,000 mile walk round Britain and Ireland.

The 54-year-old who left home in South Wales in January to embark on the mammoth mission that could take up to four years to complete, put her feet up for an overnight stop at Oban Backpackers on Friday night before heading to the island and the next stage of the walk in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK, already raising £45,000 for its work to find a cure.

Son George, who she has not seen since the start of the year, was joining her from his home in Bristol and had brought a new retractable toothbrush as a reunion gift.

‘I get very attached to things. I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to my old toothbrush. The less you have, the more you appreciate it,’ said Karen who is now onto her fifth pair of walking boots and whose whole life is packed into a rucksack with the minimum of essentials, including a tent and a clothes bag the size of a washbag.

Kindness of strangers is ever-giving, funds have shot up since she reached the Scottish islands.

‘I take each day as it comes and try not to worry about where I’ll be staying the next night. I’ve slept in bird hides to deserted castles. One night I’m eating 11-day old bread and green cheese and the next I’m staying with Lord and Lady Vesty on Jura – it’s really that extreme.

‘I met one lady who lives on the Ulva side of Mull and she has offered me a caravan at the bottom of her garden. I get talking to people and tell them why I’m doing the walk and people just offer to help.

‘When I go into schools a question the children often ask is ‘Do you get lonely?’ the answer is yes I do. It’s not just family and friends from home I miss but it’s the people I meet and bond with along the way. When I have to say goodbye and move on it can be a real wrench.’

She added: ‘Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that can affect anyone at any age at any time. It can be cured, we just need to fund the research to find it. We have to be positive about this. The youngest person I’ve met on my travels with it so far has been 48.

‘My mother-in-law Alma had vascular dementia and died within six months, within one week of her funeral my father-in-law Kingsley was ringing us asking where we were and what was for tea – repeatedly. He developed full-blown Alzheimer’s. Kingsley was an academic, an intelligent man who spoke 11 different languages but in the end he recognised none of us.

‘There is so little government funding for Alzheimers, that has to change. In the meantime my mission is to keep funding coming in, let’s get Alzheimer’s back on top of the research list.’

Groundbreaking researchers in Cardiff are currently studying fruit-flies, which live for just 10 days, to see how their brains degenerate. A microscope to do that work costs £1 million.

After her stint on Mull, Karen is heading for Coll, Tiree and Barra before South Uist and North Uist.

Nearly 10 months into her big adventure, Karen’s son George still thinks his mother is ‘pretty crazy’.

‘At first I thought she was pretty crazy and just mad but I’m incredibly proud, he told The Oban Times.

Karen said: ‘He’s right I am mad but for me MAD stands for Making A Difference and that’s exactly what I’m doing!’

To support Karen and make a donation go to


Caption: Karen Penny left Oban for Mull on Saturday to  continue her 20,000-mile quest, walking the coast of Britain and Ireland to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. 16_T41-KarenPenny