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I worked for the National Trust then, and we began to review his preferred locations, and how we could help him make it happen. And so began Terry Abraham’s great adventure as he started wild camping all over the Wasdale valley: come the worst of the winter we managed to get him hunkered down at Wasdale campsite in a heated pod. Luxury!
Since then, Terry has made 3 epic films. Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike, Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, and his latest one: Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn. He also has a book out, ‘A Life in the Mountains: Terry Abraham’ telling his own story along with some of his amazing photography.
How did you get into all this?
I’ve always loved the Lakes, wild places and cinema. I had a health scare (a suspected heart attack), and later was made redundant from a lowly IT role.
It was from that time in my life, I had an unflinching desire to chase a dream of becoming a filmmaker, promoting the beauty of the great outdoors. Where better else to begin than in an area I love more than anywhere else in the world?
Times were tough, I had to learn, develop and evolve my craft and juggle with having little money to support me. Using only the most basic of equipment I set about capturing a year in the life of England’s highest peak.
I consider myself a wild camper first and foremost and from those experiences of being out on the fells in all weathers and seasons, dawn or dusk, I get to see some of the best scenes you can imagine. It was all and more that I wanted to capture on camera, and this, mixed in with the voices of locals, visitors and those who care and protect such special places.
Needless to say, our maritime climate here in the UK helps too. The ever-changing light and drama, to fog-filled valleys with only the highest peaks poking through the murk to gin clear night skies as the Milky Way glides over the fells, it all adds to the character of the area and this is reflected in the culture, heritage and people of Cumbria.
What type of experiences did you have up on the fells?
I’ve many fond memories from filming out on the fells and some less so! I’ve been sat propped up by a cairn supping tea watching mists dance about the valleys below, to battling blizzards and bitterly cold temperatures, to near-death falls on wintry slopes, to breaking bones and on one occasion accidentally severing the end of one of my fingers off (thankfully the NHS saved it!); it’s been one heck of a ride, and character-building stuff to say the least.
Some of the hardest and most difficult times have been the long periods away from my home and family. Particularly so when I’d be exhausted and cooped up in a tent on the tops as a storm raged outside. Much as I enjoy my own company, it could be very lonely.
Many have said it’s been an obsession of mine and they’re likely right. I suspect this is down to the experiences I’ve both enjoyed and endured and that sharp focus you get when faced with your own mortality. Mix that with the response I get for my work and the love that people show, it’s thrilling to be able to use my passion for this place to enlighten, care and inspire.
I often say the environment shapes you. Places like the Lake District certainly have me. As a young boy from a council estate, my first visit to the area blew my mind. I was determined even back then I’d return one day and do something good to help inspire others from my background, and hopefully live within Cumbria.
It’s important I feel, especially in this day and age we don’t lose sight of how special places like the Lakes are to so many people of all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds.
Any favourite pubs and ales in the Lakes?
Being a large rural county pubs genuinely are the beating hearts of the community here, be it for social gatherings, making friends and catching up with folk. They’re very much a part of the fabric of Lakeland – even if at times some pubs can be overwhelmed by visitors in high season!
One of my favourite pubs is The Strands Inn and Brewery in Nether Wasdale. A place that’s very close to my heart and always will be. It’s a thriving locals pub that welcomes visitors from far and wide, and I’ve become good friends with many who reside in the area and particularly Mark and Lesley Corr who run the place. They and others helped me out so much when I was working the Scafell Pike film. From meals, to a bed the night, taking online food deliveries, so I had supplies when camping out on the fells for nights at a time and generally being great friends.
As for a favourite ale? I’ve two favourites – the first is Loweswater Gold from Cumbrian Ales and the other is a special ale Cumbrian Ales produced to celebrate my completion of the ‘Life of a Mountain’ trilogy. Uncannily enough it’s called ‘Life of a Mountain’ and features some lovely artwork by Sam Martin featuring a silhouette of me filming on the fells!
What were some of the best moments?
I’m not a religious person but I guess I’m a spiritualist of sorts. How can you not be when taking in sights of the sun rising above the fells alongside ‘golden-hour’ panoramas. That and being up close and personal with wildlife and enjoying solitary walks on wintry, windswept summits. Such moments which are many will stay with me forever deep in my soul.
There are of course all the wonderful people I’ve filmed over the years too and who I’ve become good friends with. Cumbrian legends like Joss Naylor, Eric Robson, Stuart Maconie to shepherdess Alison O’Neill and farmers, shopkeepers and many more. There are my good friends in Mountain Rescue too and I was recently honoured to be made a Professor of Practice at the University of Cumbria and a patron of the charity Friends of the Lake District.
There are so many decent folk and organisations that work on next to nothing or rely on volunteers to help to protect, conserve and enhance Lakeland on many levels. Their graft is often sadly overlooked or underappreciated, and this is something I hope my films and work help give more air-time and understanding for.
After years of kind support from all of the above and seeing their reactions at the end result is particularly touching for me and adds to the glow I have in my heart from the scenes I’ve been fortunate to enjoy when out filming on the fells.
What are you most proud of?
I’m a humble person, but I am really chuffed I’ve managed to get the three films finished and released. Especially ‘Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn’ during a very testing 2020! The documentary was my most ambitious of the three. I was determined to end the trilogy on a spectacular and moving high. I didn’t want it to end on a whimper but with awe and a message of hope for the future. I’ve been truly overwhelmed at the public reaction to the film. Be it the full ‘director’s cut’ to the abridged BBC version which aired in January. I’m so pleased the film resonated with both locals and folk from afar and brought some much-needed sunshine during uncertain times.
I’m thrilled that despite the challenges of Covid my book was completed on schedule and released in May 2020. I’m astonished at how well the book was received.
There’s also my recent ambassadorial role working with Friends of the Lake District and the Lake District National Park Authority on the Lake District Dark Skies project. The area is just as beautiful at night and we all need to play a part in protecting our wonderful dark skies in Cumbria. The health benefits are many, not only for our sense of place within the world but the wildlife too.
Recently I was thrilled to have raised a significant sum for Patterdale Mountain Rescue and Friends of the Lake District. I hope to do similar for other charities too such as the Penrith and District Red Squirrel Group and raise awareness of the importance of outdoors education in the area.
Do you have a favourite place in the Lakes?
That would be telling, eh? I don’t have any particular favourite place. It much depends on my mood, the weather and season. I’m fortunate enough to live in Cumbria now and that’s my favourite part. The whole county! I’ve achieved a life-long dream of seeing out the rest of my years in the area and spiritually feel like I’ve returned home which is weird. Must be something in my family ancestry!
Cumbria for me is a way of life. It has a foot in past times whilst a more tentative, no-nonsense one in the future. There’s a genuine sense of being in heaven with lofty peaks but a grounded honesty culturally too. This may surprise some visitors, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Though I always seek to adapt and evolve in life, it’s the down-to-earth honesty of the area that matches my own character. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
My wife jokes she can’t get me out the county anymore! But there’s good reason for that. I’ve found my heaven and I wish to savour it as much as possible. Life is too short and fleeting so I’m keen to make the most of it in Cumbria.
What are you doing next?
I’m keen to take the foot off the gas for a while now and let my thoughts settle and digest some of my other ideas. In the meantime, I’m keen to focus more on charity work and my role at the University of Cumbria, teaching students, sharing my experiences and hopefully inspire them as they make their first steps into film and photography.
‘Life on the Mountains’ can be purchased from Inspired by Lakeland and all good bookstores.
All films, including ‘Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn’, can be purchased from Striding Edge, bringing 6.5 hours of Lakeland joy to you.
Book your stay with Lakelovers and have your own Lakeland adventure.