The Angry Corrie 71: Jul-Sep 2007


On wandering lonely as a camera crew

Wainwright's Walks, BBC, broadcast spring 2007, made by Skyworks

Review: Ronald Turnbull

HILLWALKING ON TV is a contradiction in terms. This is a TV. The people inside it move. The people outside it don't. But it's the people outside we're aiming to persuade to buy expensive coloured jackets for walking about in. Strange.

Hillwalking on TV is like food-tasting on the radio. Maybe it's so perverse, it works.

Castle Crag

The presenter, Julia Bradbury, appears in jeans with embroidered legs, a jacket that looks like Regatta, a school bag slung casually over one shoulder. She starts talking to a blonde from the National Trust. AW would have been tickled pink.

But as we headed uphill, things went downhill. We got three sentences on Millican Dalton, accompanied by long-shots of a cave less impressive than Millican Dalton's. We had an encounter with some traditional Herdwick sheep, half of which were Swaledales. Oddly, the shepherd was the only passer-by on the whole walk. Was Castle Crag sealed off so that Bradbury could ascend it in Wordsworthian cloudlike solitude, not counting the cameraman?

We had a lot of "Look at that view ... beautiful ... gorgeous". We sat down to take our jacket off, we sat down to put it back on again, we sat down to drink some water, we sat down at the summit to eat our sandwiches. It looked as if it might rain, and this led to an enumeration of the rainfall inches of Borrowdale. But then it didn't rain.

There was one original comment: "Castle Crag ... it's a bit Harry Potter, acshly." And, as Bradbury quoted AW's dedication of The North Western Fells to his right leg and left leg, "those unlovely twins ... unsuitable subjects for illustration", the camera lingered on her own embroidered jeans. Irony?

But is this not true to the AW experience of going up Castle Crag? Stinking Millican in his cave; Gray (Thomas, not Muriel) trembling because the Jaws of Borrowdale might clamp shut: these are self-dramatising fakes. Bradbury is hillwalking as it really is. It's a little bit tiring. It's slightly worrying as one might get wet socks. It's not particularly interesting. It's not exciting. When it isn't cloudy, there are some nice views.

Why ever do we go on doing it?

Scafell Pike

In my book, Scafell Pike from Seathwaite is a comfortable outing for any fit human between the ages of ten and 70, and for all but the smallest sorts of dog. But in Wainwright's book, it's a serious undertaking. Serious it certainly does become if you take a camera crew so that everything gets done thrice over.

Given that Bradbury walks through each scene pretty briskly, it becomes inexplicable that it takes ten hours to get up the Pike. Accordingly, the presence of the camera crew has to be acknowledged, even if they aren't actually shown. (Well, we do get a long-shot of the "deserted" summit with a lone cameraman on it.) "Surely I wasn't the only one," Bradbury murmured into her throat-mike, "here, alone, now?" Surely I wasn't the only one waving at the screen and going "Yoo-hoo, over here, Julia! There's a camera crew watching you!"

image from source document

It was a bold decision to send us up Scafell Pike with someone who had not been up it before, and who was pretending to rely on AW to get her to the top. But it worked. If she keeps at it, Bradbury will learn that one doesn't add stones to unnecessary cairns; and at Sprinkling Tarn, one does not yell to enhance the solitude. She will learn these things, but, meantime, the spontaneous response is refreshing. The programme reminds us that you don't have to be a codger in green breeches with a pipe and an intimate knowledge of Dorothy Wordsworth in 1822. And that it's better in many ways not to be.

At Esk Hause, it became impossible to airbrush all the other fellwalkers. And after Broad Crag, it now being (because of the camera crew) early evening, the solitude was (apart from the camera crew) genuine. Not having been there in normal conditions, Bradbury failed to remark on the really rather special evening light. But it was there, reminding us of the fun of the out-of-hours outing, the trip with the hint of uncertainty.

Haystacks

"Look at that shaft of sunlight! It's almost godly." It was on Haystacks that I started to catch the churchy undertone. The hushed "voice of Wainwright", so appropriate to one now dead and scattered on Haystacks, is the voice you hear if you switch on early for the Radio 4 weather. It's the "holy voice" of Thought for the Day.

AW as an object of worship? Well, he is less nasty than the Judeo-Christian God. And Eric Robson as his archbishop, carefully explaining how AW was not grumpy, but totally lovely in every way. (Credo quia impossibile, I believe because it is impossible, as Tertullian pointed out.) I was able to pin down my slight disquiet: Bradbury's was the enthusiasm of the new convert, always embarrassing to the more seasoned devotee.

For while hillworship has its fundamentalists, prepared to die and to let others die for their faith (I'm mentioning Everest here), Wainwrightworship is its Anglican tendency. A religion with no rigours, where a simple ascent of Haystacks is an adventure - the cloud might come down!

And in case you're thinking I'm making all this up just to get Tertullian into TAC again, here's the close of the programme: "Wainwright said: 'A walk in Lakeland is like a walk in Heaven.'" Bradbury does the head-tilt, the glance to camera. "And I'm inclined to agree."

Blencathra

If Robson is the Archbishop of Alfolatry, then Pictorial Guide-reviser Chris Jesty is its St Paul. And not only is Jesty following his Master in not going up Helm Crag, it seems he's never done Sharp Edge either. Hah!

But Bradbury, bless her, was aiming at Sharp Edge, exclaiming in the usual way on the spurious solitude of "Glendermarackin". I did think it a bit rich when she made grumpy Alf-like aspersions on the fact that other people had chosen Scales Tarn as a lunchspot. Julia, it's not us, it's you with the camera crew and the helicopter.

Then the camera panned back to show, in a long-awaited constructivist moment, that very camera crew. After three-and-a-half shows carried mainly by the hairstyle (and why not, this is television, it's not a medium of communication), here came some honest postmodernism. Hooray!

The back-pan also showed us the Guide - like the Queen of Spain's legs or the piton in Scottish rock, not only not to be seen but also not even supposed to exist. The Guide was perfectly nonchalant and easy about Sharp Edge, none of this "breaking wave of rock" nonsense, but at the same time respectful of his client's anxieties. Even better, he was having fun without making a fuss. We'd had Alf's archbishop, we'd had his St Paul, neither of whom had been very satisfactory. But here was his St Francis, who didn't have any of the answers either; he simply walked about underneath the appropriate golden-glow hairstyle (plus beard) and was it.

Being on Blencathra, on a spring evening with the sunbeams, having come up Sharp Edge - this is enjoyable. This is what the fells are for. So let's switch off the telly, shall we, and go out and do it?


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