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on 4 July 2014
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.
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on 4 July 2014
I've been a fan of Terry's films for some time, even admiring some of the promotional work he did for the Peak District National Park, and found his last big work, "The Cairngorms in Winter" hugely impressive, so looked forward to this DVD. I know how much effort he puts in to filming, to the extent of finding myself teasing him on twitter as I eat steak in a Hotel while he shivers in a tent on the fell, and when you consider his production crew consists of basically him, the commitment and output is astounding.

This film concentrates on a relatively tiny parcel of ground, basically a single mountain and it's immediate massif, but one that attracts such attention, patronage and which supports a significant eco-system that the focus is warranted. We meet some familiar characters such as broadcaster Eric Robson (closely associated with the Lake District both on TV, but also as a Wasdale resident and farmer, Joss Naylor, the shepherd and fell runner, and the "Catweazelly" Chris Townsend, whose wilderness experience and outdoorsman credibility run deep among those who follow walking and backpacking. We also find new characters - a Wasdale shepherdess, a self confessed 'in-comer' walking guide and writer, farmers, mountain rescue teams, maintainers of mountain paths and a peculiar hippie ballet dancer on a rock. The cross section of contributors Is fascinating and I haven't mentioned everyone, but for all the worthy talking head content, what the film lacks for me is a narrative track. I felt in "The Cairgorms in Winter" we could do with a voice over to keep the pace of the film moving (and of course it should have been Chris Townsend), and this film suffered even more from the same problem - and at around two hours pace is critical. I think the film is about 20 minutes too long, although it doesn't actually seem to drag per se. It would have been tighter with some narrative exposition at the same time as some of the sumptuous imagery, but often we get a little too much time-lapse ( albeit one of Terry's signature techniques, and usually impressive), too much orchestral sledgehammer (again, very well done in itself, but sometimes a bit full on, and to a regular walker in these mountains, an unnatural juxtaposition), and I'd like to hold these hugely impressive crescendos back a little to maximise their impact. I have to say though, that anyone would be hard pushed to self-edit with such rich source material to work from - we can't know how much 'footage' was recorded, but one assumes it must have been hundreds of hours. It's notable that a shorter, 60 minute edit has been shown at some events recently, which might be too far the other way, but it makes me wonder if 80-90 mins might be the best core release, with perhaps bonus material on the DVD as we so often get with mainstream films.

Overall, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by a film which reveals a love affair with its subject. I've been a fan of specialist outdoors film making for years. For me Terry Abraham stands comfortably alongside seminal film makers like Sid Peru - and deserves to attract interest from broadcasters in the same way. We know the next big film is being shot soon, the crowd-funded Hellvellyn film, but it surely can't be long before we find @Terrybnd in Iceland, Canada, or the Sierra Nevada. The obstacle being their lousy beer. I also wonder if the paraphernalia of a big crew and production team might ruin the intimacy of work done by this one man film company - but I see no sign of Terry's appetite for his art diminishing so who knows.

More please.
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on 7 July 2014
The photography in the video is amazing. If you know Scafell Pike and the Wasdale area, this film will have you wanting to rush back, if you have never been, you will be asking yourself why? It includes a great interview with Jos Naylor (local resident and legendary fell runner), Alan Hinkes while wimping out on Broad Stand (it was wet) and a shepherdess in a mini-skirt, among many others. The only time I was tempted to fast forward was when some new age weirdo was shown waving his arms by a stream, but that was short - all else was great. Thanks.
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on 1 March 2015
I bought this as an indulgence for myself as I thought this was just a beautiful DVD. It was well presented and the music winding throughout the year captured a lovely mountain existance. Very tranquil.
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on 15 August 2014
Good photography - especially if you like inversions/sunrises in the mountains, but don't fancy camping out for them - although the camera can never capture the full majesty and feeling of being in surrounds like these, the film only offers a few of the vistas available! It also comes across as a bit of a PR spiel on behalf of guides, National Trust, mountain rescue and various local businesses, than having an underlying story. But it is good to hear these folk's perspective and adds to one's appreciation of the area.
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on 5 July 2014
Absolutely stunning breathtaking scenes of such a beautiful area of the country, mixed with wonderful stories told by the people who live, work and play there. A must for anyone who loves the outdoors.
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on 14 November 2014
Outstanding photography but, oh dear, sound was not. Music too loud and interviews could not be heard unless the volume was turned up really high. This resulted in holding the tv remote with a finger on the volume button.
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on 9 July 2014
great video showing the actual life of people working and living around the area.
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on 16 February 2015
I loved this DVD. It was beautifully presented, full of interesting and likeable people. Scafell Pike is situated in a lovely part of the British Isles which added to the enjoyment. I also loved the occasional pieces of inserted gentle background music. I have passed the DVD on to my son who has climbed Ben Nevis and Snowdon and now has plans to head off to the Lake District. He can't wait to climb Scafell Pike!
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on 5 July 2014
We saw this at its premier at Rheged. Stunning photography, and fabulous music conspire with the featured people to make a brilliant film of this part of England.
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