Uncollected Thoughts: Life of a Mountain – Blencathra


Back from this film’s second screening at Penrith’s Rheged Centre and very pleased with Terry Abraham’s second documentary film, following up last year’s Scafell Pike with s trip to the Northern Fells and Blencathra. Originally, there was only going to be a single premiere, yesterday, but that  sold out so fast, with so many left disappointed (we’re talking November 2015 at the latest here) that a second showing was booked.

And, as an unexpected grace note, Terry Abraham had stayed on to both introduce the film and conduct a twenty minute Q&A session afterwards (no, he’s not related to the Abraham Brothers of Keswick: I asked). And after this, he plans to move on to the last film of this trilogy, Life of a Mountain – Helvellyn.

This was both good news and bad: that there’ll be another one but that there’ll only be another one. It could have been worse: the original plan was Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Snowden, but like me, Terry has the Lakes too much in his heart and his spirit. Besides, everybody knows that trilogies consist of more than three films nowadays: why, there’s Great Gable, High Street, Coniston Old Man, etc.

But the big question is, is it as good as Scafell Pike? Terry’s obviously learned from his first work, his success has enabled him to buy better equipment, and Blencathra was made successfully to a plan, whereas Scafell Pike came together as he worked through it.

To be honest, I have to say no. To a large extent that has nothing to do with the film itself, or its subject, and very much to do with my being installed next to an ignorant boor who seemed to think that the film was incomplete without his running commentary on what was being shown, and what was being said. He didn’t quite talk for the whole two hours but he had a bloody good go at sixty minutes worth. I kept thinking of really sarcastic things to say  to him (this guy wasn’t worth irony) and my Inner Chimp was flinging faeces at him furiously.

So Mr Loudmouth quite spoilt the experience, though I will get to see Blencathra in peace and quiet as I bought the DVD on the way out (if it turns out that this bastard’s on the soundtrack, I am going to kill someone!).

As for the film itself, expect what you saw in Scafell Pike and your expectations won’t go far wrong. There are wonderful views, both looking up and looking out, in all climates, including deep snow, and there are the same profusion of people talking about their lives on and around the mountain, all with the same underlying sense of disbelief at their fortune in working here, living here.

The two best for me were a 77 year old lifelong inhabitant of Threlkeld named Duncan (who turned out to be in the audience as well!) and a fellrunner named Steve  Birkinshaw who, like all fellrunners, was quiet, modest, and matter of fact, as if what he did was no big deal. Then he casually, indeed reluctantly, mentioned that last year he’d broken one of Jos Naylor’s records, at which point my jaw hit  the ground!

Yes, apparently Mr Birkenshaw did all the Wainwrights in six days and thirteen hours, knocking twelve hours off Naylor’s record, set 28 years before. That’s less than a week. A week. Seven days, not quite. It only took me twenty-six bloody years!

But I am going to be critical of this film in two respects. The first was that it concentrated more on the people who live and work with the mountain than with Blencathra itself. And that when it came to the mountain, it was an oddly limited portrait, concentrating almost entirely on the southern and eastern aspects of Blencathra. There was a cursory mention of the rounded northern aspect, and a short sequence set on the Glenderaterra River, which is Blencathra’s western boundary, and the only direct encounters with ascending the mountain were on Narrow Edge and Sharp Edge, the latter of which got two goes: once with David Powell-Thompson leading up Stuart Maconie and Ed Byrne, and once with Alan Hinkes in the packed snow, calling everything fantastic every two steps.

And no, they couldn’t properly film the really nasty bit on Sharp Edge but my sympathies were heartfelt towards Maconie who seemed to take it in his stride in exactly the same way I did… Sharp Edge is far better as something you have climbed and are thankful for surviving the terrifying bit of, rather than something to actually be on and be crossing.

The overall effect was that, whilst the scenery and the photography were magnificent, the same scenes kept repeating: the sweep along that immense, amazing southern face, the view over Thirlmere and Derwentwater. It made this film feel limited in comparison.

Nevertheless, beautiful and imaginative two hour documentaries about a Lake District fell are not ten a penny, and this is not to be sniffed at. Get the DVD, settle back, relax. And if you get a loudmouth talking on your left the whole way, remember the thing with the faeces: you have my blessing.


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