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Gower fundraiser to embark on 25,000-mile walk to promote brain health

Karen Penny

A long-distance walker from Gower, Wales, is lacing up her walking boots to take on her latest impressive challenge having previously raised a staggering £137,000 for dementia research to date.

Karen Penny is setting out from Cardiff Bay, Wales, on Tuesday 10 October to walk the entirety of the Coast and County Boundaries of Britain and Ireland, a unique challenge.

The 58-year-old, who was recognised with an Outstanding Commitment award in Alzheimer’s Research UK’s inaugural supporter awards last year for her original walk, plans to cover more than 25,000 miles and expects it to take four years.

She first captured the hearts of thousands of people when she walked the coastline of Britain and Ireland between 2019 and 2021, overcoming the worst of the British weather and a global pandemic, to finish on World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September 2021).

She was motivated to support the cause after witnessing first-hand the impact dementia had upon her husband’s parents, Alma with vascular dementia and Kingsley with Alzheimer’s disease. It was heartbreaking for Karen and her husband Mark to see them both deteriorate very rapidly following their diagnosis and sadly pass away with the condition.

Karen aims to raise vital awareness; not only of dementia research as she did during her first expedition, but also of the vital steps people can take to protect their brain health, and so help reduce their risk of developing dementia in later life.

Karen, who has also walked from John O’Groats to Land’s End for dementia research, said:

“During the years I was away walking, I was never healthier. However, after I returned home in 2021 I was affected by a long period of illness. During those hard times it was walking that significantly improved my recovery.

“That is why I am dedicating this walk to raising awareness about the importance of being physically and socially active, and the impact this can have on our brain health. You don’t need to walk thousands of miles but doing something as simple as going for a short walk each day can really make a difference.”

Karen’s latest walk will see her journey to some of the most isolated areas of the UK and Ireland, in challenging terrain including the wild and remote areas of the Hebrides, across the highlands of Scotland, the North Pennines of England, the rugged mountain ranges of Wales, the Black Mountains and Rhinogs through Dartmoor’s wildest scenery to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

The County Boundaries will add a further challenge as they rarely follow waymarked routes and there are extensive sections without clear paths. Karen will carry with her rucksack and camping equipment and is likely to wear out 10 pairs of walking boots.

Karen said: “The first challenge was tough but it was also really rewarding, connecting with so many people along the way and starting conversations about dementia and dementia research.

“So to be able to go out and raise so much more awareness around the ways in which we can look after our brain health, and the impact that can have on our dementia risk will be incredible. I am so excited to be starting this walk in my home country of Wales and in support of parkrun’s own campaigning around the importance of health and wellbeing.”

The first leg of her journey will involve walking the perimeters of all of the health boards of Wales some 2,000 miles – in collaboration with parkrun.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is a charity partner of parkrun, which is passionate about raising awareness of health and wellbeing through its free weekly events. Karen, who is a parkrunner, will also visit weekly parkrun events on her route throughout Wales.

The partnership has played an important role in promoting the Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health initiative which aims to empower people to take small steps to look after this often overlooked organ.

Lucy Squance, Director of Supporter Led Fundraising at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We are so grateful to Karen for her tireless efforts in raising awareness and vital funds for dementia research. During her incredible coastal walk Karen captured the attention and hearts of people wherever she went and raised so much awareness for dementia research.

“To be doing another awe-inspiring walk and flying the flag for brain health could not come at a better time. We’re learning more and more about the things that can help reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life. But we know that just a third of UK adults realise it’s possible to do so.

“We cannot wait to see how she does during this new challenge particularly throughout Wales, in collaboration with our brilliant partner, parkrun.”
parkrun UK’s Head of Health and Wellbeing Chrissie Wellington OBE said:

“We are so grateful to Karen for using this incredible challenge as an opportunity to raise awareness for parkrun and fundraise for Alzheimer’s Research UK, a cause close to her heart.

“Through this challenge, Karen will focus attention on the important role that social physical activity can have on people’s health and wellbeing and encourage everyone to take steps towards healthy, active lifestyles. We look forward to welcoming Karen to lots of parkrun and junior parkrun events across the UK and sharing this incredible journey with her.”

Karen’s original 32-month challenge saw her travel over 10,500 miles, have countless conversations and media interviews about dementia and dementia research and attract a devoted group of followers. With almost 10,000 people on her social media pages she raised more than £137,000 including Gift Aid.