Blencathra: Life of a Mountain

Blencathra: Life of a Mountain

It’s an odd concept; the life of a mountain. After all, it’s just a lump of rock and vegetation. How can a Lakeland hill have a life?

This, Terry Abraham’s second in a trilogy of Lake District films, demonstrates beautifully that a mountain does have a life: seasonal, meteorological and, perhaps most interesting of all, human.

Following on from his Scafell Pike movie, this cinematic portrait of Blencathra premiered at Rheged near Penrith yesterday to a packed house, and shows a maturing film-maker further developing his artistry and storytelling skills.

Newark, Nottinghamshire-based Abraham was originally going to follow up his Scafell Pike film with one centred on Helvellyn, the highest Lake District fell outside the Scafell massif, but broadcaster and writer Eric Robson persuaded him to turn his lens on Saddleback, as the locals call it, or Blencathra as most outdoor enthusiasts know it.

The possible sale of the mountain by its owner, a story that is still rumbling on, meant this ‘mountaineers’ mountain’ as Wainwright dubbed it, was very topical.

So Abraham loaded his 50kg pack on to his back and began a year-long project to dig into the life of this complex, but relatively diminutive fell.

Stuart Maconie and Ed Byrne have an 'interesting' day on Sharp Edge in the film

Stuart Maconie and Ed Byrne have an 'interesting' day on Sharp Edge in the film

Life of a Mountain: Blencathra is a visual treat. The many hours spent on and around the mountain allow Abraham to capture images someone with less time would miss. He uses a combination of slow zooms, pans, drone photography, time-lapse and static shots to paint a cinematic picture of the moods of the mountain. He has a good eye for the right light and his night shots and winter footage on the summit are particularly stunning.

But apart from the visual delights, Abraham has developed his skills in documenting the human tales that make the mountain what it is. There is a broad range of subjects, from the ‘ubiquitous’ Alan Hinkes, clearly enjoying a winter traverse of Sharp Edge, to the less enjoyable experience had by broadcaster Stuart Maconie on the ridge, in the company of comedian Ed Byrne, guide David Powell-Thompson and a howling gale that made for an ‘interesting, as in I-never-want-to-do-it-again kind of way’ experience.

Maconie and Byrne provide a nice comedic injection into the film. “I might start going to traction-engine rallies,” says Maconie on the edge, while Byrne suggests making Airfix models instead.

Alan Hinkes enjoys a winter traverse of Sharp Edge

Alan Hinkes enjoys a winter traverse of Sharp Edge

Ultrarunner Steve Birkinshaw, who lives at the foot of the mountain, is shown using it to train, and talking about his satisfaction at breaking the Wainwrights record and there is some great drone footage of a snake of fellrunners heading up the hill during the annual race.

But it is the variety of people, including locals, interviewed by Abraham that lend extra colour to the film and connect the mountain to the people who live around it and who use it for recreation. Threlkeld resident Donald Angus says 80 per cent of villagers have never been up the mountain nor have they any desire too.

But there are plenty of people who do, from walkers Darrell Grundy and Tom Jacobs who are interviewed on the summit, to the group of women, one of whom likens getting to the top of the mountain to childbirth, to the warden of the isolated hostel Skiddaw House Marie-Pierre Gaudez, who was persuaded to make the climb to the fell her home overlooks.

Terry Abraham

Terry Abraham

It’s mountain guide and expert David Powell-Thompson who provides the film’s tagline in his passionate monologue to this popular fell. Wainwright may have considered it the mountaineers’ mountain but it’s more, he says: it’s the people’s mountain.

Terry Abraham’s film will delight mountain lovers and will inform and entertain both enthusiasts and armchair devotees of England’s uplands, and the film-maker revealed an edited version will again be screened on the BBC later in the year.

For what is largely a solo project, Life of a Mountain: Blencathra is a remarkable, beautiful portrait and examination of a piece of rock and vegetation that draws many to its shapely contours every year.

Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, produced and directed by Terry Abrahams. 118 minutes.

DVD and Blu-Ray available from the Striding Edge website.

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