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Dispatches from Kendal Mountain Festival 2023

BAM! That's the sound of 2023 zooming past at the speed of sound, walloping me with November and all the craziness that goes with it.

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
6 min read
Dispatches from Kendal Mountain Festival 2023

Kendal is such a fixture in the year's calendar that I now find it a bit difficult to believe that my first one was as recently as 2014. Back then, I was very new to all this and didn't know anyone. My book The Atholl Expedition was nominated for TGO book of the year, so Hannah and I attended the awards event. It didn't win, but I did meet many people for the first time – including many I now work with or call friends.

In 2023, most of us in the industry wear several hats. So what was I doing at Kendal? First, spending time with far-flung friends – this is the most important thing for me. Second, I was asked to speak about my new book with gestalten, Wanderlust British & Irish Isles. Third, I was looking for stories as editor of Sidetracked magazine and catching up with contributors. Fourth, chatting with brands and PRs about outdoor equipment as a TGO magazine gear reviewer. And finally, I have agreed to take on the role of editor for Outdoor Focus, the journal of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, so I wanted to talk to a few people about ideas.

That's a crammed festival by any standards, and perhaps it's no surprise that I failed to go and see a single film. But you can watch the films online; I think it's more important to spend time with people you perhaps only see two or three times a year.

In chronological order, here were my festival highlights:

Friday:

  • The Danner 'Boots and Brews' event. The usual suspects (plus a few more than last year) turned up for chat about Danner's superb boots – as well as samples of Bowness Bay Brewing's excellent beer. I had a very interesting conversation with Anna Blackwell about film photography, analogue workflows, and slow travel.

Saturday:

  • The North Face and Petzl Climb Session. I particularly enjoyed Mick Fowler's tale of hilarious mountain disaster from Tajikistan, and was glad to get the chance to say hello to Fay Manners. We worked together on a very important story in Sidetracked Volume 28.
  • Lunch with Keith Foskett. Fozzie, well known for his books about American long-distance hiking, is an old friend and former editorial client, but we hadn't seen each other in several years. I think the last time we saw each other was 2015, when I had just finished my first Cape Wrath Trail and Fozzie was about to head southbound from Cape Wrath. This interaction was later immortalised in his book High and Low, which broke important ground in the conversation about the outdoors and depression.
  • A very interesting film screening presented by Klättermusen, a gear brand whose kit I've tested occasionally for TGO.
  • I went to see Montane and check out the Sidetracked special edition we created for them this year.
  • After my friend and Sidetracked colleague Emily Woodhouse turned up, we toured Basecamp and visited Trash Free Trails – a fantastic organisation that we support at Sidetracked. I was also pleased to be able to introduce her to Tom Gale of Atom Packs. This Lakeland brand, which began with Tom making ultralight rucksacks on a single sewing machine, has expanded – and now has a legendary reputation. I played a tiny part in that, with reviews and coverage of an early carbon-framed Prospector back in 2018, as well as putting in a good word as a judge on the annual TGO Gear Awards since. When I find myself feeling cynical about outdoor publishing, I remember Atom Packs and the tangible good we can help to achieve.
  • Emily and I also went to see Harrison Ward (Fell Foodie) speak about his culinary mountain adventures. Somehow he managed to feed most of the people in the tent – the food was delicious. He's got a book out, which you should buy!
  • It was also great to catch up with TGO friends, including Carey Davies and James Forrest.
  • My waterproof trousers – holed by a Cape Wrath barbed-wire fence years ago – were repaired by Scottish Mountain Gear, and they did an absolutely fantastic job.

Sunday:

  • First up was my talk! At 9.45am I took to the Polartec stage and chatted about long-distance hiking in the UK and Ireland, and about how the important thing in adventure is that it is personally meaningful to us – never mind chasing things that other people find impressive. There was a good turnout and a great audience, so thanks to everyone who came. And the book itself? I'm told that it sold out at the festival bookshop before my talk even took place...
  • After lunch, I was starting to feel a bit festivaled out, so returned to my B&B to vegetate for a while before heading back to Basecamp and hanging out with Emily for the rest of the day. It was great to have a chat with Lynn Robinson, former president of the BMC. I first met Lynn about five years ago when I came to speak at a BMC area meet about ultralight in the high Alpine, and to this day she says that this sparked her interest in backpacking.
  • Late in the evening, I went out for a drink or ten with pals Daniel Neilson and Davey Wright. I think we were the last ones standing at Kendal, although 'standing' might be a bit of a stretch...

By Monday, most people had packed up and gone home, but for us the weekend was not yet over – because this year we also had the Sidetracked AGM to look forward to! John picked us up in Kendal and then drove us to Coniston Water, where a bushcraft lunch session with Howl Bushcraft involved learning the bowdrill technique before making lunch over an open fire. We then decamped to our accommodation and managed to fit a huge amount into a four-hour meeting. Then pizza, a quiz (turns out that Jenny Tough is a fiendish quizmaster), beer, and side-splitting laughter.

This was the first time all eight of us on the core team had been in one place before, but I hope we manage to do it more often in future. These are the people I spend the most time with, virtually speaking – and I know it's a cliche but we really do feel like a group of friends making something because we love it. The industry is experiencing a few challenges at the moment, but at Sidetracked we are doing ok and planning big things for next year. I've said it before, and I will gladly say it again: I firmly believe that we have the best team in the world of adventure.

Anyway, that's all for Kendal 2023. If you were there and I didn't get the chance to say hello, there's always next year!

Header image © John Summerton

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Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

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