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Scots gran travels to over 100 museums in the year before her 80th birthday for Alzheimer Scotland

© SuppliedKaren Bernard at Peterhead Prison Museum.
Karen Bernard at Peterhead Prison Museum.

It’s a challenge that’s taken her to almost every corner of Scotland via planes, trains and automobiles.

Karen Bernard has also seen a fair few of them on display too, plus a submarine, Concorde and much more.

In the year running up to her 80th birthday, the pensioner from Oban decided to visit as many museums across Scotland as she could.

From Scapa Flow in Orkney to the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow, the Robert Burns House in Dumfries to Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum on North Uist, she’s managed to tick off an incredible 101 attractions with a couple of weeks to spare.

The challenge

“Going into my 80th year, I wasn’t going to just rest back and just let getting old wash over me,” she said.

“I did the opposite, and decided to do something. I went as fast and as far as I could before it got to the end of October when museums started to close and the weather set in. Every month, I’ve been somewhere.”

She set off on the challenge to show that age is no barrier to doing something worthwhile for others, and to raise money for Alzheimer Scotland.

She’s managed to raise over £1000 for the charity, a cause close to her heart.

“Three people very dear to me all died with dementia,” she said. “My late mother-in-law and also my oldest friend here in Argyll.

“I met Margaret in 1971, but latterly she didn’t know me at all after so many years. That was really quite shocking to see.

“Then a year ago, I had just lost my cousin. He was such a super bloke. The deterioration started and became very rapid and he was lost. It was so heartbreaking.”

Karen in Orkney. © Supplied
Karen in Orkney.

Throughout her journey, Karen has been wearing the charity’s t-shirt.

Everywhere she’s been, somebody has had a story of a loved one impacted by dementia.

“In Falkirk back in July a lady tapped me on the shoulder and said she’d donated because she’d read it on the t-shirt. She’d lost her mother to dementia.

“At a museum in Dundee, I told someone what I was doing and the tears were running down his face as he said to me his mother-in-law had just been diagnosed.

“That kind of thing has given me the momentum to keep going.”

On her travels

Karen, originally from Tillicoultry, is a volunteer herself at the Oban War and Peace Museum.

Shetland is the only area she hasn’t made it to, having overcome a few challenges over the way, including travelling all the way to Lochmaddy on Uist to find their museum had been shut due to roof damage. Fortunately, the curator lived nearby and was able to show her round.

Karen at The Hunterian in Glasgow, the oldest museum in Scotland. © Supplied
Karen at The Hunterian in Glasgow, the oldest museum in Scotland.

Frequently using Bridge of Allan as a central base to travel from, she found it easier to plan journeys from there than her home just outside Oban.

But, of course, the weather made things trickier during winter, including a storm-hit trip to Inverness.

“My train was just about blown off the track by the wind,” Karen recalled. “The driving rain was actually getting in through the vents and there were puddles on the tables!

“I had water dripping on me and I was thinking, ‘is it worth it Karen?’ It definitely was.

“When I arrived in Inverness the beautiful museum there was only open for another hour and I explained what had happened and where I’d been. The lady there had me all wrapped up in a big plaid!”

Museum favourites

Out of all the museums, Karen picks out the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian as her favourite, spending hours there with her grandson.

The big attraction at East Fortune airfield is Concorde, which brought back memories of seeing the iconic aircraft doing trial flights in the 1980s over Argyll.

“It came up over the area and it wasn’t what they described as a sonic boom – it was an explosion,” she recalled.

“One morning I was hanging washing and there was the most almighty bang.  I thought it was the boiler at the local primary school that had blown up.

“I was delighted to see it’s not a frightening aircraft at all when I was inside it!”

Karen at Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum.
Karen at Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum.

Another favourite was the Museum of Transport in Dundee.

“I had a fabulous visit,” Karen said. “Memories of all the modes of transport throughout my lifetime, all different horse drawn carriages – I can remember those, the Cooperative in Tillicoultry had a horse drawn bakery van!

“Motorbikes, trams and lorries, it’s fantastic. It’s one of the most enjoyable museums.

“The McManus in Dundee is a terrific place too. You could spend hours and hours in there. It really reflects the history of the society and the industries, shipping and various things like that.

“The V&A was wonderful outside, but I thought it was like going into a glorified shopping centre. I wasn’t taken with it.

“The architecture, you couldn’t fault it, the tapestry and the fabric and all these exhibits were lovely but it wasn’t much to my personal taste. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great museum for other people.”

Hitting the target

Karen bagged her 100th museum last month at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library and Galleries.

That was her target alongside raising £1000. She’s now surpassed both totals and says there’s still fuel in the tank for another couple of visits before she turns 80 on April 18.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve learned so much and I’ve met people that I’d never normally have.

“Sometimes I’ve been a bit tired and I’ve had a few frights, like having to turn back because of floods near Callander. I’m slightly claustrophobic, so being in packed trains and buses has been a bit of a challenge too. The distance has been the biggest.”

While some think she’s mad, her friends and family have also been a great support.

Karen’s collected all of her memories in a scrapbook, journaling her efforts for future generations to enjoy.

“It looks like something a pirate would have,” she laughed.

“There’s pictures from all the museums and it’s getting bigger and fatter. That’s the record for posterity that’ll be here for my family.”

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