Tilman at the Kendal Mountain Festival, 2016

The last outing for the ‘Travels with Tilman’ talk in 2016 was to an enthusiastic audience in the Malt Room at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  That event was the thirty-third outing for the talk since I first brought the material together in 2008, coincidentally thirty three years since the photographs, diaries and letters had been stored away back in 1975.

The trigger for that first talk had been an email from the organisers of the 2008 ‘Tilman Festival’ in Barmouth, asking if I’d be interested in contributing to an evening of talks at the Dragon Theatre, the high point of the evening being a showing of John Mead’s 1981 television documentary, ‘High Mountains, Cold Seas’.



The following day, the great, the good and the writer of this blog stood outside Bodowen for the unveiling of a plaque donated by the good people of Belluno.  Here we see the  mayor of Barmouth, flanked by HWT’s niece, the indomitable Pam Davies and John Ross, Tilman’s right hand man with the Albanian partisans in 1944.  At the back of the group, in a blue jacket and patriotic Italian scarf, one of the last surviving members of that partisan group.

Two years later, the talk was dusted off again, tidied up and tentatively offered to a few local yacht clubs.  The reaction to those first outings proved that among communities of serious sailors, Tilman remains an enigmatic hero.  There seemed to be quantifiable interest in hearing my first hand anecdotes and seeing the photographs and letters so the ‘Travels with Tilman’ talk continued to evolve.  Last week, as I put a few more hours into preparing the material for the KMF talk, I looked back at the archive of previous talks on my PC and realised that there are now thirty three different sets of slides.  Each time, the talk changes; new material becomes available, new contacts appear and the content appears to have a life of its own.  With a 90 minute slot on the KMF2016 agenda, yet more new material crept into the show, including a few slides highlighting the remarkable Heard Island expedition of 1964/5 with half a dozen terrific original Rolleiflex prints by expedition leader Warwick Deacock.


At the end of the talk, we ran the second UK showing of a 14 minute video, edited down and captioned by Dr. Grahame Budd from some seven hours of original film footage.  More detail from the trip, together with a link to the video, can be found on the ‘1964 Heard Island‘ page.

The Kendal audience spanned the broad age range of the Festival attendees, highlighting once again that interest in Tilman remains high, despite, or perhaps because of, the technical advances in the sports we love – climbing and sailing.  This particular old salt had a most enjoyable weekend, rubbing shoulders and sharing space at the bar with some of the finest climbers and mountaineers of the day, most of them equally as modest and anonymous as Tilman was himself.  As he remarked in ‘Mischief in Patagonia’,  ‘There is something in common between the arts of sailing and of climbing’.



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