Over its 9 years and 10 festivals KMF has grown from a disparate smattering of films and talks spread between multiple venues to a mature and highly focused mass participation event based around Crow Park and the most spectacular festival backdrop in the UK. With major sponsorship from the likes of Lexus and HiTec the festival has become a major event for both trail running and triathlon athletes and music fans while simultaneously encouraging acitivity participation like no ther festival of its type.
Sound Sirens on stage
Balancing the demands of a diverse group of visitors is no easy task but in 2016 Keswick got as close to the perfect balance as possible with seperate ticketing and barriers for the evening music sessions and a well thought out race/run/ride schedule that allowed the athletic events to take their share of attention without over-dominating either the infrastructure or the timeline. A redesign of the Crow Park finish, along with road and car park closures, allowed the althletes an unhindered approach to the finish line yet provided a better viewing environment for followers and fans while dramatically reducing disruption for the other activities and attractions running at the same time.
The main Car Park was commandeered for use as a transition zone for the triathlons
Without the on-site cinema complexes of a ShAFF or Kendal available Keswick has always concentrated more on "talks" than films and has a more relaxed feel as a result. While still attracting top names the program is a part of, rather than the whole, attraction and limited to the evenings. Rather than rushing from one screening to another, as in the case of ShAFF and Kendal, the headline talks are limited to 2 or 3 talks per day at the Theatre by the Lake. For 2016 the program included Monty Halls and Julia Bradbury on opening night, followed by Lizzy Hawker and James Cracknell on Friday and the mountaineering triptych of Alan Hinkes, Simon Yates and Mick Fowler on Saturday.
Alan Hinkes and Julia Bradbury at KMF 2016 opening
Film maker Terry Abraham with Lake District National Park Chief Richard Leafe
While Thursday afternoon saw the official opening the festival really gets into the swing on Friday and this year started with the opening of a new circular walk around the shores of Derwentwater.
Julia Bradbury opens the Derwentwater Walk
Around Festival Village in Crow Park the "general" attractions swung into action on Friday and it was immediately obvious that the festival has continued its recent growth pattern, with a larger area given over to the festival than previous years and a noticeable increase in the number of stands. Both Rohan and the BMC hosted adventure based talks, in 1 hour sessions, in their respective tipis while the general public were encouraged to participate in everything from "Free-dropping" onto an air bag to climbing trees in harnesses.
Away from Crow Park festival goers were braving the weather, which only really relented on Saturday afternoon, to join in what must surely be the most interactive program of adventure of any mountain festivals. With indoor ice climbing in town, via ferrata above and below Honister, guided walks by day and night, scrambles, kayaks and catamarans there was an activity for pretty much every taste through the days before the evening sessions of talks and music.
For the hardy and committed Derwentwater provided an early morning wake-up for the triathletes on Saturday and Sunday with water temperature a chilly 11 degrees, but there was no shortage of takers with the 8am start line packed for both Sprint and Olympic distances.
Uncooperative weather didn't stop hundreds getting up early for 8am triathlon starts
With an invasive weed in Derwentwater triathletes accessed the in-water start from a temporary pontoon
Saturday's Triathlon Sprint, 25k trail run and cycle Spotive got the worst of the weather with strong winds and continuous rain though 2016 was far from the wettest or windiest year of KMF and by Saturday lunchtime small areas of blue sky were starting to appear. By Sunday, and the longer Triathlon Olympic distance and 50k Ultra races, the Start/Finish line in Crow Park was bathed in sunshine and the crowds turned out from an ungodly hour for a 6am start for the 50k!
The non-competitve cycle 70 km Back O' Skiddaw Sportive had the advantage of roads into the Theatre by the Lake/Crow Park Start closed
With the early starts for the long distance events and later starts for shorter events festival visitors had a constant stream of athletes through the finishing straights throughout the morning and early afternoon each day and as the weather slowly improved the records tumbled with 25k and 50k records smashed in the trail runs and the Triathlon Sprint used as training for at least one Team GB athlete prior to a major evet in Europe next week. With 5k and 10k options for the runners and 1.5 and 3k open water swims alongside the well supported 25k, 50k and triathlons it seemed at one point as though every third person you saw had a medal around their necks, but also demonstrated the popularity of the festival's event program. While attracting elite athletes including Ricky Lightfoot (10k) the races were filled out by a full range of runners from first timers to regular club runners and for the first time the organisers awarded a "club cup" for the best team across the whole program. The full results from all the races are available here.
Men's and Women's 50k podiums
Eoin Lennon approaching the finish line in the 25k before running back to the Hoka One One stall to sell more shoes.
Weather plays an important role in Keswick Mountain Festival and while Friday was damp and a little blustery Saturday looked like putting a real dampener on events, but from early Saturday afternoon the sun was out and the crowds flocked in. Stand Up Paddle Boarding and sailing sessions took over the lake as the triathletes and swimmers completed their exertions and the slopes down to the water's edge were filled with visitors - the expanded food and drink concessions area was massively expanded this year.
From Curry to Paella and Boerwurst to Fish and Chips, there was an amazing variety of food to comfort the crowds
The talks prgram delivered, both in the Theatre by the Lake, where Julia Bradbury gave a revealing look into life presenting the outdoors TV from Countryfile to Unforgettable Walks, and in the Rohan and BMC tipis. Mick Fowler, Mary-Ann Ochota, the Meek Family, and Alan Hinkes all drew good followings in a well balanced program from the BMC which highlighted walking equally with climbing and mountaineering. Taking the action outside the tipi Maty-Ann's sessions extended to practical guidance on everything from basic map reading to emergency shelters in a move which could prove to be a prototype for getting more people involved in taking to the hills.
BMC Hill Walking Ambassador Mary-Ann Ochota gets hands on with testival goers
Overall it felt like 2016 marked the year Keswick Mountain Festival finally found itself. Yes there were minor niggles, like no forward thinking of the implications of closing off the whole car park to disabled drivers and visitors, but for the first time it felt as though the event truly catered equally for all its visitors. The rerouting of the finishing straight for the races kept them seperate enough from the main village to minimse gridlock around the other activities and stalls while allowing space for a good crowd to build as the athletes finished. Likewise the Sportive was far more efficient and less disruptive than previous years and after three years of Lexus sponsored music the organisers did an excellent job of changing from outdoor to music audiences in a very short timescale. With all except food and drink stalls closing as the first musicians took to stage, and barriers quickly re-sited to direct people to the open areas, the transition was almost seamless and despite a damp Friday night Keswick is rapidly becoming viable as a music festival in its own right - even attracting chart artists like Toploader.
Improvements on the festival camp site at Springs Farm this year saw a seperate camping field for families and better facilities, alhough again it wasn't absolutely perfect with adrenaline charged ultra runners "whooping" and shouting "Good Morning" to each other on rising for their 6am start without a thought for the other 950 people stilltrying to recover from the day/night before. There is talk of introducing a "competitors" field for next year. For the first time sign posting was in evidence on the approaches to Keswick and through the town to both the camp site and the festival village, adding to what felt like a more effective organisation overall.
Looking back over the 10 Keswick Mountain Festival's it feels like this year is the year it's truly defined itself. The events are segregated where necessary but integrated where possible to provide a better experience for athletes and audience, better spacing between stalls and attractions allowed a smoother flow of foot traffic and the program of events catered for almost every outdoor interest. It's come a long way in its 10 festivals, but you get the feeling now that it's here to stay and understands its user base.