Life Of A Mountain: Scafell Pike DVD

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“A Wordsworthian hymn to nature and a eulogy to humanity. Abraham has made a film of great beauty but no solemnity.” - THE TIMES. Also available in Blu-ray.

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Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike & Great Walks in the Lake District, The Wasdale Round (2-DVD Box Set)

(Also available in Blu-ray)


LIFE OF A MOUNTAIN: SCAFELL PIKE - A year in the life of England's highest peak 
A celebration through the seasons of life on and around the roof of all England. Accompanied by an evocative musical score from Freddiehangoler, Terry Abraham's acclaimed spectacular two hour documentary tells the story of Scafell Pike in the beautiful Lake District through the eyes of the farmers who work the valleys and fells, those who climb the mountain for pleasure and those who try to protect its slopes for future generations.

“This is a moving and poetic  film.  A vivid portrait with gorgeous photography.  A celebration that exudes gladness. Watch it.”
THE OBSERVER

“One of those plain and simple, knock ‘em dead nature documentaries.
A complete delight.”
RADIO TIMES

“A beautiful documentary that is good for the soul.”
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

DVD running time 126 mins approx.

Reviews

Alex Roddie

Terry Abraham's mountain films have a certain signature style. Sweeping, panoramic shots of mountain grandeur are accompanied by stirring orchestral music. The pace tends to be slow, contemplative, almost lost in the wonder of the mountains. This formula worked incredibly well in his first film, The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend, but when I first heard that Terry was creating a longer film about the Lake District I wondered how his style would adapt. more...

Dan Bailey, UK Hillwalking

(First published on UK Hillwalking)

Last year’s film by Terry Abraham, The Cairngorms in Winter, met with rave reviews (not least here on UKH). With its sprawling cinematic beauty, its meditative pacing, and the quiet way that it went about letting the mountain landscape simply speak for itself, The Cairngorms…captured the essence of its subject magnificently. His first feature film looked a tough act to follow, yet Abraham has pulled it off, dodging the trap of the difficult second album/novel/movie syndrome to produce a work that stands very much on its own merits. Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike is a rather different film to its predecessor, but no less captivating - and still very recognisably his work. From the opening summit daybreak sequence it’s clear that you’re in for a visual spectacle.

Shot in all seasons and weathers over a twelve month period the film captures a year in the life (or rather, lives) of England’s highest peak and its surroundings, particularly Wasdale.

But unlike The Cairngorms… it’s not all about the mountain. This time Terry has widened his frame to encompass the human as much as the natural world, exploring hillgoing culture and hill farming traditions through a rich cast of characters. There’s fell running legend and local sheep farmer Joss Naylor, who seems a lovely man; the eloquent (and well–dressed) shepherdess Alison O’ Neil; local broadcaster Eric Robson; and walking guidebook author Mark Richards to name but a few. National Trust wardens labour back-breakingly to maintain the eroded trails of England’s highest crowd magnet; Wasdale MRT are out in force; outdoor writer (and ‘star’ of The Cairngorms…) Chris Townsend backpacks and camps in the remote recesses of wintry Eskdale; the BMC’s Hillwalking Development Officer Carey Davies expounds on the work they do while revelling in a cloud inversion; climber Alan Hinkes pokes around on a damp, cold Broad Stand and thinks better of it (a situation that I and doubtless many others have shared, and one all too familiar to Wasdale MRT too).

Some rear sheep on Scafell Pike’s slopes, some work to manage this heavily trodden mountain landscape, and others just come for fun. What unites them all is the central presence of the Lakeland fells, specifically the Scafell massif, in their lives. They all talk with passion about the mountain. The Cairngorms… was uncluttered by narration or unnecessary dialogue, putting the mountains to the fore. Terry Abraham pulls a similar trick here with people. His presence is entirely behind the camera, we never once see or hear from him. His subjects speak for themselves, seemingly unguided, a device that gives each person a distinctive, dare I say authentic, voice. There’s no apparent storyboarding behind it all, none of the heavy handed narrative arc that’s so clunkingly obvious in a typical TV documentary. Through his two films to date Terry Abraham seems to have developed a hallmark light touch that’s greatly to his credit.

The humble herdwick sheep plays a starring role too. With a name that’s pure Norse this hardy native hill breed dates back hundreds of years, we’re told, and much is made of the sheep farming traditions that have shaped the ‘natural’ landscape we see today – the close-cropped turf of the high fells, the ubiquitous drystone walls of the dales. Perhaps, like me, you feel that parts of the Lake District could do with rather less grazing and a few more trees. There’s no ecological challenge in this film but I found, as I watched, that I didn’t mind. Life of a Mountain is about the mountain we have, and the way we got here. It offers a glimpse into a way of life marked by generations of continuity, apatrimony as Alison O’Neil puts it towards the end. The Lakeland we know and love is as much a cultural landscape as a natural phenomenon, the film tells us. And it manages to convey that fact without once looking preachy or manipulative. And by way of balance we do get to watch a bit of tree planting, hard graft by the look of it, being carried out in some of the deeper, steeper folds of the land that the sheep don’t fancy much. Here’s a positive message, I said to myself, a sign that we can improve the look of the Lakes, and its habitats, without undermining hill farming as we know it. Herdwicks will probably still be up there nibbling away the saplings long after people have stopped climbing Scafell Pike for fun. 

I have to admit I’ve a tendency to underestimate the sheer mountainousness of the Lake District, but Life of a Mountain helped kindle a long dormant admiration. It might not be high, it’s certainly over-used, yet the Scafell massif remains one of the most impressive and distinctive chunks of upland scenery in Britain, and I’ve never before seen it looking so damn majestic on film. The lingering panning shots, the time-lapse boiling clouds and totally cosmic star sequences, the gorgeous light on grass, rock and snow – with absolutely no commentary at all the filming alone manages to convey Terry’s love for this landscape, his sense of awe. There’s something more than superficial affection going on here. Let’s call it a feel for the place. 

‘Scafell Pike - It’s more or less just a heap of stones, but it’s a unique heap of stones’ says Joss Naylor, who recalls first going up the mountain to gather sheep as a very small boy in about 1940-41. He’s still at it today. But for any serious fell fan the high point of England is really the least part of the massif, and accordingly the film devotes far more attention to its lesser summits and the wilder flanks away from the standard trade routes – the incomparable Scafell Crag and East Buttress, dank and mysterious Piers Gill, Ill crag, Little Narrowcove, Pen and the wilds of upper Eskdale secreted away at the foot of the mountain – the wrinkled complexities of it all are captured superbly. 

I know nothing about filming and less about editing and the rest, but it’s clear even to me what a herculean labour this film must have been. It’s two hours long, for heaven’s sake, and while it could probably have lost 20 minutes with no loss of impact, the full two hours didn’t begin to drag. To my eyes there’s no obvious padding, though I guess it helps to be a sucker for endless lavish landscape shots. This much finished article must represent untold hours behind the camera, up on the hills at all hours and in all weathers, and the really impressive thing is not only that one man film production company Terry did it all himself, but that he did it so well. 

‘I've lost count the number of storms I've camped out in and mileage I've covered in the area’ he told me back in March this year, when filming was yet to be completed. 

‘I've spent much of the past 12 months out in a tent on a fell top somewhere rather than my own bed at home!’ 

‘It's been a real labour of love and I'm in no rush to produce similar again for quite some time’ he admitted, just last week, still no doubt in recovery mode.

‘It's just been too much for one person to undertake and I consider myself extremely lucky to have reached the end goal. It's been heart-wrenching that I've had to shorten or delete so many scenes too.’

Well to me the finished product was worth the work. It’s a little more polished and professional than The Cairngorms… but equally passionate. As a mark of its success I’ve a newfound inspiration to go poking about in some of Scafell Pike’s less-visited corners. Let’s hope we don’t all end up there at once.

My Outdoors

"If The Cairngorms in Winter (Terry Abraham's first film) was a love letter to the Cairngorms this is a full blown marriage proposal with white horses and a carriage".

Andy Howell

-"The best two hours of film I’ve come across in years". 

@tubularfells

- I've just watched "Life of a Mountain". With all those great characters, televisuals and moving music - I felt bathed in Lakeland. Awesome!

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Terry Abraham's stunningly photographed film about a year in the life of England's highest mountain (3,209 feet), situated in the Wasdale Valley of Cumbria, focuses equally on the breathtaking landscapes of Scafell Pike (pronounced "Scaw-fell") and its nearby fells, and on the people--and sheep--that populate it. Abraham explores the mountain through the seasons, capturing numerous views of its majestic peaks and valleys, as well as farmers, rangers for the National Trust, fellrunners, a volunteer mountain rescue team, mountain guides, writers, photographers, broadcasters, together with lots of ordinary folk determined to make it to the top. The film is framed at the beginning and end by shepherdess Alison O'Neill, who introduces us to this "huge stairway to heaven made of rock," and explains how the valley created its own dialect, with locals still saying "aye," "nowt," and "that'll do" in their everyday dealings.

We meet Carey Davis, the British Mountaineering Council's "hill walking officer"--a job title ripe for mention in the New Yorker's "There'll Always be an England" feature. Davies tells us of the "Three Peak Challenge," which involves climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, and Snowden in 24 hours (he doesn't approve of covering this much ground so quickly). He shows us National Trust rangers maintaining the pathways by disassembling unauthorized cairns and moving boulders to re-define the pass surfaces. "Look at the views--they're to die for!" he marvels. "Why would you ever need to go abroad when you've got views like this?" We also meet Richard Scrivener, a Wasdale farmer who points out to walkers and climbers the crucial role of the native sheep in the appearance of the Lake District: "Take a moment of your time and look around you and see why it looks the way it does . . . that's because of the Herdwick sheep and the generations of farmers that have farmed these valleys and these fells . . ."

One of the more fascinating segments of the film is a look at the volunteer Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team, equipped with ambulances, a helicopter, and various kinds of rescue equipment, to come to the aid of climbers who run into serious trouble on the mountain. The MRT has handled everything from fatalities to twisted ankles to a missing cow. But they're starting to draw the line at people who through their own lack of planning and proper equipment (a compass and a good map may be worth considering when planning a mountain hike), find themselves hopelessly lost when it's getting dark. Increasingly, such clueless types will have to spend the night on the mountain and wait until morning before the rescue team shows up. A former MRT team leader considers the advantages and disadvantages of mobile phones in rescue situations: on the one hand, mobile phones enable the summoning of almost immediate assistance to injured climbers, saving precious time; on the other hand, people "often rely on their phone to call for help and don't try to think their way out of a problem."

One of the pleasures of "Life of a Mountain" is that to help show us Scafell Pike in its various guises, Abraham has assembled some familiar faces and old friends to viewers of other videos of this region. Broadcasters and authors Eric Robson and Mark Richards show up, as does "iron man" fellrunner (and sheep farmer) Joss Naylor; and longtime Striding Edge researcher David Powell-Thompson also makes one of his infrequent appearances in front of the camera (he has also appeared once or twice in Julia Bradbury's videos). With his Jeremiah Johnson-like appearance, Powell-Thompson is an impressive-looking figure--he won the prize for "best beard" two years running at the annual Wasdale show--but he's also a born raconteur. At one point, we see him musing on the some of the features of Wasdale: "smallest church, deepest lake, highest mountain, biggest liar [that last would be Will Ritson, 19th century farmer, innkeeper, amateur wrestler, and famous tall-story teller]: four things that give Wasdale its character."

We're used to seeing Joss Naylor on his epic runs around Lakeland, amazing for a man in his 60s and then his 70s (and we do see shots--and a painting--of Naylor in his younger days). But Abraham's film also shows him as a sheep farmer and as an expert in the construction of stone walls: There's nothing better in the Lake District," he declares, "than a good limestone wall." Naylor also enjoys telling us the story of one of his first major runs--up and down Scafell Pike in 47 minutes. A helicopter pilot who observed him on that occasion said that from the air he "looked like a bloody mountain goat."

The film also features fascinating segments by photographer Mark Gilligan, backpacker Chris Townsend, and mountaineering guide Alan Hinkes. The latter has climbed both Everest and K-2 (we see brief clips of him on these peaks), but he retains a healthy respect for Scafell (during this winter segment he was forced to retreat from one particularly rocky route that not even Wainwright could manage). As one Himalayan mountaineer interviewed (in "The Wainwright Memorial Walk") by Eric Robson pointed out, 100 feet down is 100 feet down, whether in the Lake District or in the Himalayas, and one could die as well in one fall as in the other. The dangers of Scafell should never be underestimated.

During and in-between segments, Abraham's jaw-dropping photography (sometimes in time-lapse mode) offers new ways of appreciating the ever-changing faces of Scafell Pike. At one point, a National Trust ranger observes that pictures can't do justice to the views from the upper reaches of the mountain. But a film like this shows that the opposite is also true: reality sometimes can't do justice to the skilled eye of a master photographer (and film editor). Just as watching the game on TV often beats watching the game from the stands because of the multiple viewpoints offered by the cameras and by skilled commentators who provide the benefit of their long experience and their expert interpretation, a documentary like this one offers a perspective, both close and comprehensive, that often goes beyond the limited viewpoint of the on-scene observer.

Larry B | Ventura, California | October 2018

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