Friday, 16 May 2014 22:36

Keswick Festival lives up to best ever promise

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In the last 6 months we've had "the biggest ever" and the "best ever" Kendal Mountain Festival and Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, so it came as no surprise that this year's Keswick Mountain Festival came with the same advance claims of bigger and better than previous years. To be fair the statistics at both Kendal and ShAFF support the claims after the event, but it's kind of what you expect - it's the way of things; you get established and then you aim to grow year on year. Keswick Mountain Festival, however, wasn't just bigger and better than previously it was an almost entirely different experience. Whether the credit should go to the new involvement of Brand Events or the Weather Gods but after several years of less than ideal weather everything fell perfectly into place this year.

Crowds packed the Festival Village in the sunshine

Over the last few years the festival has suffered badly with both wind and rain; last year, for example, was a mudbath for 3 days but even if the weather had matched this year's it had other issues beyond its control with renovations to the Theatre by the Lake and Crow Park closing early each day. This year, however, the Theatre by the Lake was once again the main venue for the feature talks and Crow Park hosted its first ever Music by the Lake - staying open until 11pm. With the perfect weather people made a day of going to the festival rather than a couple of hours to take in a talk or film and a quick check around the stalls and the whole atmosphere had changed.

Away from Festival Village there was an expanded choice of events from midnight canoeing on Derwentwater to a walk up Catbells or Skiddaw and the traditional cycling running and triathlon events, even attracting mutliple World Champion Chrissie Wellington this year, but it was at Crow Park that the changes really were unmissable. Before you even made it through the gates you couldn't miss one of this year's new attractions; a zip wire from the car park, over the top of the village, to the centre of the park. Run by local company Vertical Events it gave stunning and unique views over Derwentawater and the whole festival site and was never short of a queue of customers.

Outdoor Enthusiast Editor Phil Turner checks out the new zip wire


For a second year there was a large presence from the Tirol region of Austria, with a traditional 3 course Tirolean meal on the Thursday night and a live trio of musicians thoughout the weekend in the large multi-tipi. In the Theatre by the Lake the Mayor opened proceedings, ably assisted by Alan Hinkes, while in the village itself Tirol kicked off events with a paraglider landing and legendary mountaineer Peter Habeler comparing the Lake District to his homeland in Austria. One of the oddest things about the festival was seeing one of the most legendary names in mountaineering history wander around the site anonomously at times then a few hours later talk to packed audiences.


Peter Habeler signing a whand made wooden shafted ice axe


MyOutdoors were able to get a couple of interviews with Peter Habeler during the weekend (coming soon) and also witness a moment in history when he reunited Rohan founder Sarah Howcroft with the revolutionary jacket she made for his groundbreaking first O2 free ascent of Everest 36 years previously. It was the first time Sarah had seen the jacket that helped make Rohan a household name since 1978 and it hadn't been washed since!


Sarah Howcroft sees the original Rohan Windlord jacket for the first time in 36 years


Over the road from Crow Park the programme at the Theatre by the Lake was possibly the strongest ever, from the festival edit premiere of the film of the moment Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike to an Alpine Club forum bringing together Peter Habeler, Doug Scott, Sir Ran Fiennes and Lindsay Griffin, via Alan Hinkes and Joss Naylor. There were times it was hard to go anywhere without bumping into a legend, and astonishing to find that even into their seventies Joss Naylor still runs at least once every other day and Peter Habeler still guides in the Alps on a regular basis.


Perhaps the biggest change this year was the new Lexus sposored stage with the new live music sessions. Running from 7 to 10:30 the music by the lake added massively to the festival experience, particularly as the sun dropped and the site was lit up from the stage. The bands brought their own loyal followings, adding to the assembled crowds, and the eclectic mix over the two nights proved popular with all bar the security team trying to stop every ticketless teenager finding a way in.

Is there a better setting for live music in the country?



The Berghaus/Exodus Adventure Theatre ran continuously throughout the weekend with some highlights to match those across the road at the Theatre, with a typically engrossing talk from Mick Fowler and a unique and hilarious presentation from Mark Gilligan and David Powell-Thompson on how to make a book. The Adventure Theatre offers both an additional "theatre" to the main programme, allowing the festival to run simultaneous talks, and a chance to see some of the less mainstream adventures and this year's programme was a s good as it's ever been ranging from Iron Man legend Chrissie Wellington and Olympic medal winning open water swimmer Keri-anne Payne to the Meek Family with their mission to get families outdoors and trekking highlights around the world to waterfall walks in the Lake District.


Chrissie Wellington in the Adveture Theatre


If Keswick Mountain Festival could have chosen the conditions to introduce a large stage and a zip wire to the event they couldn't have asked for better weather. While the wind picked up as evening fell, and at one point the Exodus gazebo tried a wind assisted exodus of its own, the wind never reached the levels that had seen the site decimated a couple of years ago or turn into the mudbath of 2013. Whether the zip wire would have been able to run in the rain and wind of some years is debatable but for once everything worked out perfectly and Keswick well and truly delivered on its promise of a biggest and best ever festival.


Tirolean music by the lake


Paraglider coming in to land to open the Tirol Night


Alan Hinkes promoting Yorkshire in the year the Tour de France has a Yorkshire start


Derwentwater from the top of the zip wire


Skiddaw from the festival site