Somerset woman completes 900-mile cycle challenge for dementia research

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By Rachel Allen | Thursday 18 October 2018

A retired primary school teacher marked her 65th birthday in style by completing a 900-mile cycling challenge from the south of Portugal to northern Spain in honour of her mother who is living with dementia.

Denise Hoogesteger set off from Lagos on Portugal’s south coast on 5 September to begin her epic journey which took her the length of Portugal and beyond to the Spanish coast, through some challenging terrain.

She was riding to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK as her mother is living with dementia.

Denise’s journey, which ended when she reached Ribadeo in northern Spain just 15 days after she had set off, also took in the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail from Lisbon in Portugal to Galicia in northwestern Spain.

Denise, who lives in Westbury-Sub-Mendip, said: “I wanted to do something exciting for my big birthday, and I thought: why should I just enjoy myself, having a nice holiday? I should give something back.

“The physical part of the journey was as expected, but the part which was difficult to me was the mental part and finding my way. I’m not very good with technology, so when the paper maps and Google maps didn’t read right it was sometimes a bit stressful!”

A high point, though, was the generosity of people that she met along the way, who spontaneously made donations when they learned what she was cycling for.

She said: “I think that people are wonderful, aren’t they?”

A touching moment came when the owner of one Portuguese hostel where Denise was staying overnight confided, with a choke in her throat, that her own husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just three weeks earlier.

Denise’s mum, Joan Jensen, 85, is living in a care home in South Shields. Denise makes the 700-mile round trip from her Somerset home to visit her every six weeks.

She added: “Sometimes she doesn’t recognise me, but I just want to know that she’s comfortable and being looked after. She’s just existing, basically. I feel very sad – she had such a good life and now she hasn’t got any at all. There’s no quality of life, and I don’t think anybody should have to go through that.

“It’s shocking, which is why I think it is so important to support Alzheimer’s Research UK in their search for treatments and a cure for this terrible condition.”

Denise has set a fundraising target of £3,000. To sponsor her go to

James Warren, Alzheimer’s Research UK Regional Fundraising Officer for the South West, said: “Denise has undertaken an incredible challenge in support of dementia research. Her motivation to support Alzheimer’s Research UK is a personal one and sadly Denise’s experience of seeing a loved one living with dementia is not uncommon, with 850,000 people living with the condition in the UK.

“That is why we are determined to help scientists discover new treatments and find ways of tackling the diseases that cause dementia, but we can’t do this without the support of our wonderful fundraisers, like Denise. We’re incredibly proud of her achievement.”

If you would like to take on your own cycling challenge for Alzheimer’s Research UK, why not sign up for Cycling Down Dementia? Cycling Down Dementia challenges people to ride either 300 miles or 1,000 miles from 1 November to 31 January and raise £150 for pioneering dementia research.

To sign up go to

For further information about Alzheimer’s Research UK, or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, call 0300 111 5555 or visit

About the author

Rachel Allen