Jane Buckels stands along a road in front of a hilly area during her Offa's Dyke Path walk. She has a hat and walking stick and is wearing beige trousers and a red jumper

I have dementia and decided to walk 177 miles alone with my GPS

Jane Buckels, in Abergavenny, tells us how she walked Offa’s Dyke Path alone with a GPS device, despite the challenges posed by her dementia. 

I recently spent 12 days walking Offa’s Dyke Path – an achievement in itself, but not the main achievement for me.

I have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which affects my short-term memory, planning ability and decision-making. I get lost a lot. 

I’m fitter than the average 66-year-old, so I could cope with the distance, but I wanted to walk it alone!

I attempted Offa’s Dyke in 1982 but was encouraged by my daughter Emma to try again.

What if? 

Planning the trip and navigation were hurdles for me, but a group walk along part of the route convinced me it might be possible. 

A friend told me about companies that organise B&Bs and transport baggage along the route.

I took the plunge and booked. Then I panicked – what if this, what if that? 

I put everything on a spreadsheet, so it was in one place. Obvious, but it took me a few days to come up with the idea and a few more to dredge my brain for the workings of Excel, which I used all the time at work. 

I became confident using the OS Maps app, though still with map and compass!

I also got a power bank, but I forgot to use it the first time I took it with me. I started putting it with my lunch as a visual reminder. 

I booked my rail ticket home as well as passenger assistance because I get confused in railway stations – especially with a change at Birmingham.

Jane Buckels stands outside on a grey day wearing a grey jacket and backpack, during her Offa's Dyke Path walk. She is smiling at the camera

GPS device 

My luck was also in because Alzheimer’s Society wanted people to test a GPS location device, designed for people with more advanced dementia. 

This meant that if something untoward did happen, I could be located.

This gave me confidence, but also Emma and my partner Brin.

Brin shuttled me around for a few days and then I rang him at the beginning and end of every day. 

I normally live by routine and arriving at an unfamiliar B&B and trying to find a place to eat was very stressful. But I got into a new routine.

Accepting blips 

I wandered off route a few times after walking through gates and immediately forgetting which way the arrow was pointing, being absorbed by the view, or thinking about lunch.

But the phone sorted me out. 

I came to accept these blips and stopped beating myself up about them. 

I can’t describe how much I enjoyed the journey. I loved Llangollen and the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and I’d never heard of the Clwydian Range.

I also met some lovely fellow walkers along the path. 

Now I know I can walk 177 miles on my own, even if I can’t navigate Birmingham New Street station!

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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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