Review: The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend

Watching a full length feature film these days is quite a hazardous experience; you are likely to spend 90 minutes watching a never ending car chase, loads of gushing blood and much gratuitous violence. It’s all very exhausting. However, I’ve just spent an absolutely wonderful 90 minutes watching one of the most memorable films that I’ve seen in years. It was 90 minutes of pure relaxation or chill out. This may well be the best 90 minutes that I’ve spent in years!

Want to know more?

Producer Terry Abraham’s proposition is a straightforward one. The film takes to the Cairngorm Mountains in winter and presents the area through the experienced eyes of wilderness hiker — and local Cairngorm resident — Chris Townsend. But no matter how simple this proposition is the result is something that is wonderfully satisfying and complex without eve being difficult to absorb.

The film starts by introducing us to Chris and quickly establishes his credentials as one of our most distinguished wilderness walkers. Chris sits in the lovely squirrel cafe in Glenmore and share with us photos of adventures passed — he was quite a dashing looking hiker in his youth! This introduction not only introduces us to our guide to the film but eloquently explains why these mountains mean so much to Chris and how he considers the mountains are at their best during winter. And then it’s off to the hills.

First off we visit Glen Feshie one of Chris’ favourite glens (and certainly one of mine). Viewers who have never visited the Cairngorms will be left in no doubt as to the beauty of the lower glens as well as the harsh wonder of the high plateaus and tops. Chris camps for the evening and begins to introduce us to the attractions of winter, wilderness camping. I find Chris’ pieces to camera to be quietly inspiring. They are also instructional and anyone thinking of winter wild camping for the first time — or indeed wild camping of any ind for the first time — will learn quite a lot.

For the remaining 60 minutes or so we are taken on a magnificent guide to the mountains and to mountain culture. We share Chris’ high camps on deep snow, we share his retreat from a gale strewn Lairig Ghru but also share his delight of walking out on a bight and sunny Cairngorm morning. Chris takes us through the natural history of this unique UK habitat, an area of natural sub arctic tundra. We learn about the wildlife of the area. We learn about the benefits of snowshoes and go with Chris on a cross country ski across the high wintery plateaux. And we learn more about the practicalities of walking and hiking. Chris takes us through the gear that he relies on through the winter, demonstrates some of the key points of winer navigation, introduces us to isolated bothies and shows how we have to respect the quickly changing Cairngorms weather.

But if Chris is an inspired and inspirational guide it is the mountains themselves that remain the star of this production. Each section of film is introduced by a montage of stunning mountain shots which are truly breathtaking. The high crags, distant mountains, glorious vistas and views that last for miles are revealed through an almost surreal palette of natural colours and hues that include green lakes, azure blue skies, glorious red evening landscapes and every kind of white you might imagine.

Terry Abraham’s photography though out is remarkable, even more so for this being Terry’s first feature length film. A few years ago this East Midlands based hill walker found himself out of work. He set his mind to turning his passion for photography into an income generator shooting all kinds of events in and around his home. Gradually this film work began to mingle with Terry’s love of hillwalking and he began to turn his hand to commercial work in the great outdoors. And then sometime a year or so ago Terry had the rather mad idea of making a film with Chris in the Cairngorms. I say mad because Terry and not been to the Cairngorms before on any occasion, least not in deep winter.

I suspect if Terry had known what he was letting himself in for we might not have had so many gorgeous and luscious material to feast on. I feel the film benefits from seeing the mountains through the eyes of a filmmaker who is seeing them for the first time. Those of us who have followed Terry’s progress sin making the film know just what hardships he put himself through to shoot this wonderful material. I’m just so glad he has.

If you have never wild camped before, or explored the Cairngorms, you will not only find inspiration here but also a lot of practical guidance. But for this writer who visits the area as often as possible the instructional element of the film never saw the attention levels drop. Chris has a gentle and slow pace to his conversation and somehow this helps set the tempo of the whole film. Who needs action when we can spend 90 minutes in glorious contemplation. At the end of this film I felt a zen-like sense of contentedness. All was right with the world!

You can see that I enjoyed this a lot. Terry and Chris have produced a magical pice of work. Anyone who loves the hills — especially the wild and rugged Scottish highlands _ will revel in this. It a film that will no doubt stand up to repeated viewing.

More than anything else this film shows why wild places are so critical. Go buy the film: you should have no hesitation in treating yourself to something rather special.

I shall leave the final words to Chris himself:

“… these beautiful, magnificent, wild mountains are really in need of care and protection”.

“For we all need the Cairngorms even if we rarely visit them. Wild places are important, nature is important, for our spirits, for our future, for being aware of who we are and where we come from”

“Without wild places, I think we are nothing”.

The Cairngorms in Winter is available as a Hight Definition internet download from Steep Edge for the price of £15.  I watched my version using an Apple TV and found the quality to be stunning!

More details:

The Cairngorms in Winter — Steep Edge

Write in the box and the login details will suddenly appear!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.