Nick Gardner, aged 81 from Wester Ross has been inspiring people across the country and beyond since 2020, when he began his extraordinary challenge to climb all 282 Munros in Scotland over 1200 days. Nick set himself the challenge in honour of his wife Janet and to fundraise for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society.
To date, Nick has completed a staggering 120 Munros with plans to climb Ben Lomond over Scotland’s Memory Walk weekend on the 18th-19th September.
Nick told us about his and Janet’s life before her diagnosis:
“Janet and I met in 1971, and she was a friend long before we fell in love. Both our sets of children went to the same school and, when we met, we realised just how much we had in common. We had similar sets of values for conservation and both wanted to live a simple life in the country growing our own fruit and vegetables. It was these similarities that led us to fall in love in 1974.
We had 30 years of living the dream. Janet and I have had an unbelievable relationship; we genuinely never argued. For all those years, in our remote surroundings, we built the life we had spoken so much about. Our croft has 10 acres of land and, over many years, we planted 10,000 trees and developed our own vegetable garden. Of course, I also got to embrace my hobby of climbing. That was one thing we didn’t do together – Janet loves walking across the coast and spotting wildlife whereas I feel most at home in the mountains.”
In 2016, Nick began noticing changes in Janet’s behaviour. He shared some of their experiences:
“About 5 years ago, I started to notice something was wrong with Janet. It started off slowly; little odd patterns of behaviour and your automatic reaction is to try and stop that behaviour because, to begin with, you don’t realise it’s something bigger. From Janet’s point of view, her behaviour was fine and from my point of view it wasn’t – so at points it was a vicious circle and we were at a bit of a stalemate. Eventually her behaviour was growing harder to cope with; she would want to go for a walk in the middle of the night and displayed some aggression but up until then she was the most gentle person I had ever met. You do at the time what you think is right but in truth we needed help – we just didn’t know it.
Janet was eventually diagnosed with vascular dementia and, whilst we did have some support, we were so remote that it was difficult to access what we really needed. It’s only now that I know how much Alzheimer Scotland would have been a benefit to us both.”
Unfortunately, Janet deteriorated and by Christmas 2019 she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Inverness and when the pandemic hit, this put visiting to a halt.
“Janet is my best friend – the loss of her from our home has been unimaginable and not being able to see her, and then eventually only getting to see her through a window, was so upsetting. Not just for me, but for her too.”
Now residing in a care home close to home, Nick visits Janet every day when he is not climbing.
“Janet can’t talk anymore but she knows who I am and, whilst it’s difficult to see her this way, it’s not as difficult as it was not seeing her.”
Nick’s challenge has been a “lifesaver” for him and allows some much-needed respite from his daily worries.
“Because Janet didn’t like hillwalking, I don’t have any memories attached on the hills with her. Whereas, at home, her memories are everywhere and that’s so painful. Being up a hill, in the fresh air, with the stunning countryside is just an antidote to the loneliness and upset I feel plus it’s given me the opportunity to raise thousands of pounds for two wonderful charities who mean so much to me, and Janet.”
Scotland’s Memory Walk is a chance to visit the outdoors, enjoy the scenery and sights in your local area and raise vital funds and awareness of dementia, all whilst remembering and honouring our loved ones.
Whether it’s climbing a Munro like Nick, a coastal walk like Janet used to love or a place that’s special to you, the distance doesn’t matter. You can make a real difference to people like Nick and Janet by taking part in Scotland’s Memory Walk.