Mountain festival fever spreads to Braemar and Aviemore

Trying to keep tabs on Scotland's various adventure film festivals can be a bewildering exercise: new ones pop up out of nowhere, old ones quietly disappear without trace and even some of the larger, better-established ones occasionally leap from one part of the year to another without warning (yes, Edinburgh, we're talking about you). The fact that there are now so many of these festivals, however, tells you one thing: there's a considerable market out there for events that combine adventure film screenings with talks from real-life adventurers. Screen the right films, invite the right speakers and the chances are an audience of hearty looking people in puffer jackets and beanies will appear as if by magic '“ providing, of course, that you pick a weekend when there isn't already a mountain festival happening elsewhere, which is becoming more of a challenge than you might think.

Lairaig Leacach Bothy, between the Grey Corries and the Easians, as featured in Geoff Allan's new book, The Bothy Bible. Allan will be appearing in Braemar as part of the Braemar Mountain Festival PIC: Geoff Allan

So far this winter season we’ve had the Dundee Mountain Festival (24-26 November), the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival (4-5 February) and the Fort William Mountain Festival (15-19 February). Not so very long ago, that used to be as far as it went, but these days the big(-ish) three are merely the tip of the iceberg.

This weekend in Braemar, for example, they’re holding the inaugural Braemar Mountain Festival, an impressive-sounding mixture of film screenings, literary events and skills workshops primarily designed to showcase the eastern side of the Cairngorms. The literary and artistic strand is particularly strong. At 10am on Saturday morning at Braemar Village Hall, the artist and poet Alec Finlay will give a talk about his Gathering project – something he describes as “an ongoing poetic mapping of the Cairngorms,” based on Adam Watson’s survey The Place Names of Upper Deeside. The results are due to be made into a book next year, but in the meantime, if you can’t make tomorrow’s event, you can see some of the work he’s produced so far on his website,

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Continuing the literary theme, at the same venue tomorrow at 4pm, Geoff Allan will be launching his new book, The Bothy Bible – an atmospherically illustrated and painstakingly researched guide to all the bothies of Scotland (see feature, page 44). Then, at the village hall at 1:30pm on Sunday, the academic Dr Samantha Walton, who is currently writing a book on Nan Shepherd, will give a talk about the author, mountaineer and star of the new Scottish five pound note, looking at what it meant to be a female hillwalker in the Cairngorms in the 1940s. Shepherd often visited Braemar on her wanderings, and used to stay at what she described as “a howff on the side of Morrone.” Walton’s talk will conclude with an optional two-mile yomp to “Nan’s secret howff”.

The Braemar event also has an evening of film screenings on Sunday, although these are imported from Kendal Mountain Festival in the Lake District, rather than specially selected. Of more interest is the impressive offering of mountain workshops, which range from winter skills and avalanche awareness courses to introductions to ski touring, cross-country skiing and telemarking. There’s also a talk from the veteran mountain guide and author Victor Saunders (7:30pm tomorrow at the Village Hall), whose most recent triumph was a spectacular new route on the north face of 6,050m Sersank in the Himalayas, with his old climbing partner from the 1980s, Mick Fowler.

And speaking of Fowler, next Sunday night he’ll be on the other side of the Cairngorms in Aviemore, talking about the Sersank escapade and other things as part of the Aviemore Adventure Festival, which runs from 9-12 March. Now in its second year, the Aviemore event is primarily a film festival, and its programme is packed with mouthwatering treats. Highlights include A Line in the Snow, in which a group of skiers select unseen routes in Eastern Greenland using new mapping technology (Sunday night), and two short films about splitboarding in Iceland featuring the journalist Pete Coombs and friends – First Day of Summer and The Trail to Kazbegi (both Sunday morning). Other guest speakers include the long-distance cyclist Emily Chappell, ultra-marathon runner Paul Giblin, climber and filmmaker Cedar Wright and expedition kayaker Justine Curgenven.

The festival begins on Thursday – International Women’s Day – with a ski and snowboard touring session hosted by the female guides of Front Point adventures, designed to encourage more women to get involved in backcountry snow-sliding. Hopefully snow conditions in the Cairngorms will be better by then than they are at time of writing. n /