WHEN Mavis lost her beloved husband Brian to Alzheimer’s, she was heart-broken, exhausted and lonely.

The couple had moved to Swindon from Lincolnshire in 2010, because they needed a bungalow and wanted to be closer to Brian’s brother, who lived in the town. Brian had started to suffer memory problems in 2007, and his condition had deteriorated considerably following a hip replacement the year before they moved. When he died in 2013, Mavis had dedicated years to caring for him – and suddenly she was a widow, with few local friends, and a gaping hole in her life.

“After all the arrangements and the funeral were over, I thought, what will I do now,” she recalls. “When I was working, I used to go walking in the Dales, and I had a walking club. So I had a look around.

“I had enquired about a Walking for Health walk at Gorse Hill when Brian was still alive – but I never managed to walk with that group. Now I could go.”

She joined a health walk at Haydon Wick in September of that year, and has not looked back since. The experience has changed her life.

“From that time on, I have walked every week and the people are lovely,” she said. Now 73, Mavis walks at least four times a week, covering between 20 and 25 miles, improving not only her fitness but her sense of well being – and introducing her to a whole new social life.

“I don’t feel on my own,” she says.

Mavis was born in Dunstable and left school aged 15, when she found a job at Boots the Chemists. She married her first husband when she was just 17, and had three daughters, Sharon, Nicola and Sarah. The family moved often, because of her husband’s occupation as a serviceman in the RAF, and they lived in Singapore, Devon and Germany over the years, until he left the RAF. The couple divorced in 1986 after almost 25 years of marriage. Mavis was working for the Department of Social Security by then, which she continued in various roles till her retirement.

She moved to Grimsby in 1989, where she soon made friends with next-door-neighbour Brian – a warrant officer in the RAF. He too had been divorced.

“He was helpful,” Mavis remembers. “He wanted to do things for me.

“I had been married a long time, then on my own a long time. It took about a year – I was a bit wary – but he was very different to my ex-husband. He was kinder.”

She and Brian took things slowly, but their relationship developed and in 1995 they moved in together. Then in October 2004, when Brian was 60 and newly retired, they decided to get married.

“I thought, this is the time,” Mavis says. “We had a really nice wedding and a civil service in Grimsby. He was grandfather to my children’s children – he was a grandad to them and they loved him to bits.”

The couple enjoyed retirement and married life together but peculiar memory problems started to affect Brian, who was nine years older than Mavis.

“He forgot how to tie his tie,” Mavis describes. “He had worn a tie every day all through his working life, and when he retired. He was never casual. But he just could not do it. He thought his memory would come back – but it never did.”

Brian was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009.

“He gave up driving. He’d bought a new Mercedes in 2003 and he loved it. He had always really loved driving. He loved cars – aircraft and cars. But after he’d had his hip done, he took the car out on his own once and then he said that was it.

“It was devastating for him. He would do things he could remember but at times he would get confused.

“An Admiral nurse visited me as a carer and explained that because of the Alzheimer’s his mind had less clarity. He became a lot less confident. He took some medication at the memory clinic and he plateaued a bit.

“He was difficult at times, and there were times when he did not know who I was. He would go right back to when he was in the RAF, back to when he was in charge of a hangar.”

She said the marriage changed completely. “It was like he was gone, the man I had married. This was someone different. But you still want that connection, and because that connection was not there, he had become like a stranger. The man I knew was not there anymore, the man I was caring for. You feel very isolated when you care for someone with memory problems.”

She had support from Brian’s brother Neil, and his wife Pauline. They cared for Brian one day a week and Brian never forgot who his brother was, and Mavis was helped by Swindon Carers too. Then Brian had a fall and was taken into hospital with a fractured hip. He died on June 16 2013 after difficult days for the family of visiting him and staying with him in hospital.

“The nurses that looked after him at the end were absolutely brilliant; they could not have done more,” Mavis says. “They looked after us too.”

Almost five years after his death, Mavis has rebuilt her life – and walking has been the catalyst to much of her renewed vitality and spirit.

“I met Grahame (Lee, of Walking for Health) and he introduced me to people who I would have something in common with. They welcomed me – and I needed to have contact with other people.”

She joined the Ramblers in 2014, and enjoyed the exercise, the joy of being in the countryside, and meeting different people. Mavis loved her new hobby so much with became a volunteer walk leader for the Ramblers.

“It’s given me the confidence to do other things,” she says. “A couple of ladies I met through walking play bowls and I go along too.”

Now proud great-grandmother to two great grandchildren, with another one on the way, Mavis says that while the dark winter evenings can still be quiet, she would recommend the walking groups to anyone.

“Without a shadow of a doubt. Anybody who is on their own for whatever reason, and struggling, should go out and walk. I would say to anybody, go. We always have a cup of tea and a chat at the end, and we always welcome people and find someone to look after you on the walk. It’s absolutely lovely.”