Thursday, 13 July 2017

Adventure Films Underground

Doorway inviting adventurers to a night of film in the Rotherhithe shaft.

London based Secret Adventures hosts all manner of 'off grid' events for urban dwellers in search of excitement. Set up on networking site Meetup in 2014, its adventures include everything from kayaking up the Thames at night, secret swims,​ to husky sledging in the Arctic Circle.

But the activities also act as a way of connecting with like-minded people and - hopefully - generating ideas for future trips.

This was certainly the case at Adventure Films Underground, a recent venture held at the Brunel museum in Rotherhithe, London. Here, ​in the soot scorched shaft that was the entrance hall to Brunel’s 19th-century tunnel under the Thames, three inspirational films were shown to an excited crowd of thrill-seekers.

First up was The Swimming Granny, a short documentary about Maria á Heygum, an 85-year from the Faroe Islands who swims everyday in the sea. She found it helped cure her postnatal depression when she was a young woman and has been swimming in the sea ever since.

​Next on the bill was North of the Sun, a film about two Norwegian surfers who spent nine months on an isolated beach in the Arctic Circle - part of the time in permanent darkness. There was plenty of exciting surfing - and even snowboarding - footage but most inspiring was their ingenuity in constructing a cabin, complete with stove and chimney. Building materials consisted of driftwood and rubbish found on the beach.

Before a short break, Madoc Threipland, founder of Secret Adventures, urged everyone to exchange exploration ideas with at least one other person. I ended up chatting to fellow audience members about new (possibly illegal) wild swims along with places to camp near major cities. There was also a chance to visit the excellent museum.

The second half of the evening saw the screening of And Then We Swam, the tale of two friends who decided to row across the Indian Ocean - despite neither of them ever having actually rowed before. It was a classic 'enthusiastic amateur' escapade, although it certainly contained a few very dark moments. The key lesson though seemed to be learn how to be a strong open water swimmer.

A very enjoyable evening that hopefully left everyone thinking abut future adventures. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Höga Kusten: Sweden's High Coast

The Guardian, 2 July 2017
Sweden's High Coast is bizarre landscape that is quite literally on the rise. The area is real adventure wonderland offering everything from wild camping kayaking and a rather good via ferrata. Read about it here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Climbing Days

Climbing Days, by Dan Richards, is an exploration of the writing and climbing feats of his great great aunt and uncle Dorothy Pilley and IA Richards. The book borrows its title from Dorothy’s own 1935 memoir Climbing Days which chronicled the pair’s pioneering climbs during the 1920s - including the first ascent of the North Ridge of Dent Blanche.

While vaguely aware of his relations’ reputation - IAR was an influential 20th century literary figure - it wasn’t until Dan came across Pilley’s writing that he discovered the extent of their climbing achievements.

Rather than a conventional biography, the book is Dan’s attempt to understand the pair by retracing some of their steps. He travels to Wales, the Lake District, and learns to climb himself in order to make an ascent of the Dent Blanche.

This is a highly enjoyable book, full of fascinating detail, that has sent me off in search of the original. Read how reviewers greeted it back in 1935.

Manchester Guardian, 29 May 1935.

An advert for the book appeared in the Observer on 19 May 1935.

Observer, 19 May 1935.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Breca Buttermere swimrun

At the beginning of July, along with teammate Calum Hudson, I took part in Breca Buttermere, one of the most gruelling swimruns in the calendar. It comprises of around 40km of fell running and 6km of swimming across the western fells and lakes of the English Lake District. It was a long, but brilliant, day and a report can be read on the Guardian running blog.

Despite everyone telling me to travel as lightly as possible, I carried a camera round the course - if only to capture the bizarre sight of people running across mountains wearing only a wetsuit and swimming hat. 

Climbing Low Bank after swimming across Crummock Water. Picture: Richard Nelsson

Calum Hudson. Picture: Richard Nelsson

Climbing Low Bank. Picture: Richard Nelsson

Friday, 24 October 2014

The BMC - British Mountaineering Council's 70th anniversary

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) has been celebrating its 70th birthday throughout 2014. The idea of an umbrella group to link disparate climbing clubs and associations was conceived by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young at the turn of the century but it wasn't until the 1940s that his idea began to receive a sympathetic hearing.

The Standing Advisory Committee on Mountaineering (SACOM) was created in 1943 and the following year Winthrop-Young, then president of The Alpine Club, was successful in bringing about a motion to create the BMC. It was formed in December 1944, in part to provide mountaineering advice to the wartime authorities.

The press - or at least the Manchester Guardian - reported the setting up of the council in August 1945.

The Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1945

One of the BMC's initial concerns was the "Collection of climbing information from 'here and abroad' and to investigate scientifically the value of new equipment and how to procure it." By 1947, as the following piece illustrates, it was becoming recognised as the agency to discuss matters such as belay technique.

The Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1947

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Swimmer: running and swimming through London

Lining up for the first plunge of the day at Highgate Men's pond
In The Swimmer, John Cheever's celebrated 1964 short story, Neddy Merrill decides to swim home via a dozen or so of his neighbours’ pools. Of course, to link this chain of water, he has to run across lawns, through woods and down busy roads.

Inspired by Neddy’s watery journey, two south Londoners, Will Watt and Jonathan Cowie, came up with the idea of The Swimmer, a relaxed half-marathon that takes in a number of London’s finest parks and open-air pools. Starting in Hampstead in north London, the route heads down through the centre, crosses the Thames and ends up “back home” at Brockwell lido, near Brixton.

Running across the Heath
After months of admiring it from afar, I finally signed up for the October Swimmer. It’s a brilliant event and I’ve written up the day – or rather early morning – for the Guardian’s running blog: The perfect joy of swimming and running through London.  

Continuing the theme of transplanting great sporting feats to the streets of London,  someone has also invented a London version of the Bob Graham Round. Heights of Madness is a run that takes in all the inner London boroughs - 41 miles, 12 summits in an amazing six hours. Now if they combined this with the Swimmer...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sir John Franklin: From the archive

The news that one of the two lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition has been found generated plenty of comment and speculation. My own contribution was digging out  a few 19th century Manchester Guardian pieces about the 1845 Northwest Passage expedition and the various attempts to rescue the crew: Sir John Franklin: From the archive