There's more to the Lake District than its 'chocolate box' image

First published in Opinion

I’m very lucky to have the job I have and to be able to live where I do. Like many of my generation, the fells and crags became both my escape and my inspiration.

They provided an apprenticeship that saw me to the Alps, and then further afield, both as a mountaineer and as an ‘enquiring traveller’ to many far-flung places - including the polar regions, the rain forest, the sea and the desert.

There is something that is quite remarkable about these modest mountains. They don’t have the superlatives that come with highest, greatest, longest, hottest or coldest, but in form they have it all. Spend a day traversing a snowbound Striding and Swirral Edge and you’ll find most of the essentials of a good, if modest ‘alpine day’.

Or summer days spent at height on the rock of Great Gable, Scafell or Dow Crag will give the sublime experience of space beneath your heels.

Our rivers provide a remarkably wide experience of wild water paddling and our lakes a different type of water-borne expedition. Our post industrial Cumbrian coast throws up some really quite beautiful and wild locations for the sea kayaker.

With snow on the ground, classic walks become ski tours and our forests provide the opportunity for year-round woodland adventure.

And the truly exciting thing is that you don’t have to travel – with all the cost that involves - to the ends of the earth.

Each year as the Kendal Mountain Festival unfolds, I’m moved by the level of passion that is generated by films, speakers – and we are now the world’s largest mountain film festival so a lot of very adventurous speakers and exciting films pass through this event - and audiences alike. If you are prepared to open yourself up, wild places will grab your soul and you’ll feel better for it.

Kendal Mountain Festival runs a year round programme for local – and not so local – schools and it’s a great pleasure to sow the seed of adventure in young minds. To show that it needn’t be remote and isn’t just for famous people, it is there for them too.

Combining some of the best adventure film from around the world, with a presentation that shows the Lake District differently to the ‘chocolate box’ image we’ve become too complacent about, we hope to instill a sense that they too will find their own adventures.

When they see wilderness images from around the world, alongside those from Lake District, what they get is a fresh perspective of an inspiring landscape - one that’s on their own doorstep, but which lies in a wider, wilder context.

Through fresh eyes, they perceive a clearer view of the district’s nature. One that isn’t yet distorted by the rather ‘cosy’ image the tourist industry all too often conjures up for adults; a rather – in my view – clichéd panorama.

The kids do see that just down the road is a real, if pocket, wilderness.

It would be a shame if we all saw the Lake District as the only adventure we’ll only, ever have; that it became an end in itself, rather than as something with wider prospects.

It can be a foundation and starting point for a lifelong journey and further adventures further afield.

But it’s not too late for you, as a - perhaps jaded - adult, to stand atop a Lakeland mountain at this time of year and as the sun sets on a winter’s day, in the calms that comes as dusks descends, to find the resonance of wilderness.

  • ROBIN ASHCROFT, a director of Kendal Mountain Festival

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