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Climb every mountain: Wester Ross-based hillwalker (80) plans scaling all 282 Scottish Munros after wife hit by cruel double blow; Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society stand to benefit from effort that is inspiring many


By Alasdair Fraser

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A WESTER Ross octogenarian whose life has been turned upside down by a cruel double blow suffered by his wife has set himself the challenge of a lifetime to help others.

And former teacher Nick Gardner's bid to scale all 282 of Scotland’s Munros within 1200 days has already touched hearts and inspired people far beyond his remote Ross-shire home.

The 80-year-old shared a love of the mountains with wife Janet before she was struck down by Alzheimer’s.

She also suffers from acute osteoporosis, which weakens the bones.

All funds raised – with an initial £10,000 target already smashed – will be split between Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society.

"It is such a devastating disease for everyone affected, but there isn't enough support. I'm no hero, just an ordinary bloke who likes climbing and is lucky enough to keep fit."

The impact of dementia, one of the biggest public health challenges of our times, left Mr Gardner unable to look after his wife, whose health rapidly deteriorated last year.

He said: "When Janet's Alzheimer's first hit, all I kept thinking was ‘what do I do?' I knew I couldn't help her. Gradually things got worse and it took its toll on both Janet and myself. It is such a devastating disease for everyone affected, but there isn't enough support. I'm no hero, just an ordinary bloke who likes climbing and is lucky enough to keep fit.

Nick and Janet in happier times,
Nick and Janet in happier times,

"I want my money to go into research and helping carers. I'm still very tearful from time to time but this has helped me no end."

The couple - both retired teachers with four children between them - met in later life, relocating from Leicestershire to a Highland croft in 1988.

He said: "When Janet and I met we instantly realised that we had the same outlook and many common interests. It wasn’t long before we fell deeply in love and so we made a perfect couple.We often talked about how lucky we were to have met. There was never any doubt in our minds that our relationship was eternal."

Mrs Gardner’s osteoporosis diagnosis in 2002 didn't stop her enjoying the hills, but the nightmare of Alzheimer’s struck and she became increasingly forgetful and repetitive in speech.

Late last year she was admitted to New Craigs in Inverness and is now awaiting a bed in a local care home.

During the pandemic, hospital visits stopped and it was then, in limbo, that Mr Gardner hatched the idea for his challenge. After restrictions were lifted for hill walkers in July, he set off on the first trek up Ben Wyvis.

The feat might be beyond some half his age, but Mr Gardner is quietly confident he has the skills, strength and stamina.

The experienced mountain climber said: “I know that I'm 80 but I have a healthy lifestyle and keep fit. It isn't a race, I just need to keep going.”

Eldest daughter Sally (55) is in charge of online fundraising. Mr Gardner added: “The support has been wonderful. People are leaving such kind messages and climbers turn up at the Munros to join me.

"It gives me a boost and keeps me in the right place mentally to complete the challenge. I do feel a communion with the mountains when I'm there. You never conquer a mountain, you just spend time with it. Winter weather is an issue, but I'm determined to keep going into next year. I can't thank people enough.”

Those wishing to donate can do so at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Nicks-Munro-Challenge



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