Kendal calling

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It’s not quite 9am and I’m sitting in one of the side theatres at the Brewery Arts Centre, home to the renowned Kendal Mountain Festival. Looking around, there are only a few seats left, and still they file in. There must be 100 people or more: young and old, families, and grizzled-looking mountain men. All are here to enjoy the opening film session at what is the UK’s (maybe Europe’s?) largest festival of its kind.

Kendal is always a buzzy event. Climbers, mountaineers, ultra-runners, mountain bikers and athletes from every imaginable adventure discipline descend on this busy Cumbrian town each year to share tales of daring-do. As the gathering place for those who love the outdoors, adventure film-makers often time the release of new film projects to coincide with the festival, with the result that the programme is littered with world, European and UK premieres.

I first came to Kendal a few years ago in part to see what all the fuss was about, but also to scout films for our own (rather more modest) Peebles Outdoor Film Festival here in the Scottish Borders. An enjoyable assignment, it has to be said.

Kendal has grown enormously since its early beginnings, and now sees more than 130 film sessions across a variety of venues around the town; a host of famous names – Chris Bonington was one of this year’s big draws – hands-on sessions; outdoor events; film workshops; plus a vibrant Basecamp Village where people come to check out brands and bands, drink beer and generally soak up the atmosphere.

For me though, it’s all about the films. Like others who help programme such events, I’m looking for films that generate genuine emotion: joy, fear, love, anger, or just that feeling of BLOODY HELL as a climber decides to free solo an insanely difficult route.

But in truth, I’m not so interested in the tales of winning and conquering. I’m drawn much more to films that get under the skin of a person, a place, or a people. Sometimes a film is just so visually striking, it can’t be ignored, but usually it’s good storytelling that is king. And on that front, Kendal more than delivered once again.

For our event here in Peebles, we select films that screen at festivals around the world, Kendal included. Ones to look out for? For features, look no further than Psycho Vertical, based on climber Andy Kirkpatrick’s autobiography of the same name; caving film The Ario Dream – the latest work from Paul Diffley’s Hot Aches Productions which won this year’s People Choice; plus the poignant Blood Road, which scooped the overall Grand Prize. There were some wonderful shorts too, with The Frozen Road, My Irnik, and Andy McKenna’s This Way Up among my favourites.

Let’s just say that a few might well appear on the programme for the 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival (26-28 January). Full details to be announced very soon …

Peebles Outdoor Film Festival Q&A: Jenny Tough - Adventurer, Writer, Film-maker

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Raised in the Canadian Rockies but now living in Edinburgh, adventurer Jenny Tough more than lives up to her name with several world firsts under her belt. We caught up with Jenny just days before her next big trip – an attempt at the first solo, unsupported run across Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

So, it’s time for another big adventure … tell us more

This time I’m running solo and unsupported across the Atlas Mountains, starting in the Moroccan desert and finishing nearly 1,000 kms later at the Atlantic coastline. I’m hoping to cover the distance in about three weeks, but there are a lot of potential variables as I’ll be covering some relatively unknown (to guidebooks, anyway) areas, and also living in the mountains in the fall, when the weather could really hit me with anything.

Why the Atlas Mountains … is this very much a cultural experience as well as a physical challenge?

Absolutely! The Atlas Mountains are populated by the Berbers, who are a people that I know very little about and I truly can’t wait to learn about their culture and how they’ve survived for so long in such an incredibly hostile environment. As much as I’m focused on the challenge, I will definitely be taking time to explore and be educated by the Atlas Mountains.

With just a few days to go, how are you feeling about the trip?

I’m a little worried about sections of the route that I can’t find any information on, but I know that when I get there I’ll be able to find my bearings – somehow. Right now I’m just really excited to get going. There’s nothing I love more than time in the mountains and exploring places I’ve never seen before.

What kind of terrain do you expect to encounter?

I’ll be sticking to old mountain trails as much as possible. My understanding is that Morocco is quickly paving roads to the mountain villages, so it’s hard to say what I’ll run into, but my aim is to stay off-road as much as possible. I also have a few mountain ridges planned, which I’m really looking forward to.

You’ll be running solo and unsupported … what are the key bits of gear needed for this kind of trip?

It’s all about going as minimalist as possible – any extra weight slows down my running – but also staying safe, as I will have no back-up. In my 30L backpack will be a bivvy, sleeping bag/mat, warm clothes, small stove, and lots of food and water. I’ll also have a GPS so the folks at home know that I’m still moving and I can call for emergency assistance if needed. 

And is there a luxury item you just can’t do without?

My tuque (bobble hat) is always with me –it’s the cosiest thing ever, and keeps me toasty warm in the evenings and mornings.

What is the most challenging aspect of the trip?

The prospect of running up large mountains with a big backpack day after day is a pretty real challenge, but in a solo and unsupported mission I usually find that logistics are what drain me the most. I’ll be in a country where I don’t speak the language(s) or know how things work, and trying to find my way around while keeping well supplied takes a lot of mental energy – something that you don’t always have in spades after running a mountain marathon every day!

And what are you most looking forward to?

Being outside and on the move. Every day will come with different vistas, different challenges, and different accomplishments. Adventure is so good for the soul, and I really can’t wait to get stuck in.

How do you train for something like this?

Obviously strong legs and even stronger lungs are required, but the most important thing is to stay injury-free the whole way across a long expedition, so I give a lot of importance to yoga and cross-training. I love cycling and did a lot of that over the summer, so hopefully that will help. The physical training is important but, mentally, there is no substitute for time alone in the mountains and gaining the experience needed to get through those challenging and tiring days.

Finally, would you like my dog to go with you? He’d be delighted.

I would absolutely love it if your dog would join me! Have him meet me at the airport on Saturday morning!

Further info

Follow Jenny on this world-first expedition as she shares her experiences of the high Atlas Mountains through her social media channels. And then, be among the first to hear all about the trip when Jenny speaks at the 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival over the weekend of 26-28 January. The full festival programme will be launched at the end of October.

Photo: Jenny hot-footing it through the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan in 2016.


Animal magic (and plenty more besides)

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Right side of brain, left side of brain, possibly a bit of both … who knows? What’s certain is that it’s been an eclectic last couple of weeks with some very different writing projects.

First up was a feature celebrating the 21st anniversary of the John Muir Award for the autumn edition of the John Muir Trust’s Journal.  An environmental scheme that has grown from a pilot project in Scotland to something that has touched hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and walks of life across the UK, the Award is something that the Trust is rightly very proud of.

Next was media work for the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles, including press coverage on 3hattrio, a fabulously different band that had come over from Utah – who knew Americana, chamber music and jazz worked together? – plus the launch of the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival’s 2018 Outdoor Shorts competition. Always a fun competition, it’s an opportunity for amateur adventure film-makers to show what they can do.

It was then back to the world of conservation with an article on sustainable management of inshore fisheries for Scottish Wildlife, the membership magazine of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Due to appear in the autumn edition of the magazine, the piece explores the disconnect between the economics of maintaining a productive inshore fishing industry in Scotland and the long-term health of the marine environment on which it depends. The article had to tread a delicate path as it’s fair to say that there are some contrasting views on how inshore fishing should be managed, not least within the industry itself.

And next up is another conservation piece, this time looking at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s major contribution to the European Endangered Species Programme – an effort to help safeguard the genetic diversity of a whole range of vulnerable species. It sounds heavier than it is … after all, anything that includes writing about the cutey at the top of this post can’t be that hard going. Look out for the feature in the next edition of RZSS’s LifeLinks magazine!

Photograph: Maya the Malayan tapir calf was born at Edinburgh Zoo in September (credit: RZSS)  

The Tontine Hotel, Peebles

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One long-standing blog client is the Tontine Hotel in Peebles. Sitting right in the centre of town, this historic old hotel is renowned for its warmth of welcome, and really putting its customers first. My fortnightly blog helps sell the hotel as the ideal base from which to explore what is an incredibly vibrant area. One of the latest posts highlights this year’s Creative Peebles Festival – a community-led arts festival that really lights up the town in late-August. Have a read HERE.