Monday, February 29, 2016

The mystery of the forgotten mountain film maker.

I was recently contacted by an auctioneer who had carried out a house clearance and come across correspondence between a film maker by the name of John Greaves and Paul Work and Ruth Janette Ruck. The latter couple featured in a couple of Footless Crow articles ‘Wild Mountain Time’ extracted from RJR’s Hill Farm Story and ‘Shooting Ingrid Bergman’ about the time Hollywood came to Nantmor.  At the end of Wild Mountain Time I offered a brief biography of Paul Work which ran as follows...

'Paul' Work is one of those virtually unknown romantic figures of Welsh climbing. Born on the flat Lancashire coastal belt in the pleasant little town of Formby, just outside Liverpool , he was a contemporary of the great Menlove Edwards-another Formbian-who attended the same school. He followed Menlove into climbing and was proposed and seconded for membership of the Climbers Club by Menlove himself and Colin Kirkus. Although he never matched the legendary pair in the technical department, he was a great explorer of the less frequented areas of Western Snowdonia where he established dozens of esoteric and infrequently climbed lower grade routes. In particular on the vegetated 400' cliffs of Diffwys on Moel Hebog, The equally verdant Aberglaslyn Pass, the cliffs of Moel Dyniewyd and Cwm Tregalen.

Probably his best known climbs-relatively speaking- are Christmas Climb on Dyniewyd and Canyon Rib above Aberglaslyn Pass. Paul Work and his wife Ruth lived in the shadow of Moel Dyniewyd where they ran a smallholding for many years until his death in the 1990's.’

Ruth J Ruck penned some early back to the land books. 'Place of Stones', 'Hill Farm Story' and 'Along came a Llama' based on their experiences in this beautiful part of western Snowdonia which appealed to urban escapist fantasies in the same way as other books of this genre. Notably Hovel in the Hills and I bought a Mountain.

The letters written between 1969 and 1980 offered a fascinating insight into the life of this unusual couple who had eschewed the normal career path undertaken by the middle classes of their generation, to effectively drop out and eke out a hard existence through subsistence farming on the elevated uplands above Nantmor.

However, my interest was really piqued by the other correspondent, John Greaves. With his partner-a Miles Briggs- he had apparently made some mountaineering films including ‘ Camp in the Clouds’, ‘Arrowhead’ and ‘Cairngorm skies’, A quick search of Google followed by further enquires within the climbing and film community has revealed absolutely zero information about John Greaves or his films?

All I have gleaned so far is that when the correspondence began, Greaves was living in Woolacombe Road in Woolton, Liverpool and later moved to Aberystwyth. He was involved in publicity and photography work surrounding RJR’s third book,-Along came a Llama-and provided photographs for a feature on the couple in the glossy She magazine which appeared in the late 70‘s. There is mention of an article in the US National Enquirer and Ruth mentions in her letters being filmed for a 25 minute HTV Wales feature.

I have gathered that after John Greaves died, his cameras and films were taken by an elderly female friend who has the items locked in a caravan at her Aberystwyth home. So...the whole thing is something of a mystery. From a mountaineering history perspective, it would be a tragedy if these films still exist but are destined to be lost forever.

If you can throw some light on the mystery of film maker John Greaves and his lost films,then do get in touch via the email address on this page.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

John Disley...The Fleet Fox passes away.

John Disley, who died yesterday,is best remembered as a successful athlete who  competed for Great Britain in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki in the 3000 metres steeplechase where he won the bronze medal. He set five British records in the steeplechase and four at two miles. He also set Welsh records at six different distances. With his friend, fellow athlete Chris Brasher, he co-founded the London Marathon first held in 1981 and is attributed to being the 'course setter'. Establishing the current route taken by this, one of the world's biggest marathons.

However,what is less well known about this remarkable man is that he was also a climber, mountaineer and orienteer. Setting the speed record for the Welsh 3000' peaks, writing several climbing related books including 'Tackle Climbing this Way' and 'The Ascent of Snowdon' and serving as the Chief Instructor at The National Mountaineering Centre, Plas  y Brenin in North Wales.

The late Harold Drasdo who also passed away recently, told me a highly amusing anecdote concerning JD, Chris Brasher and his eponymous boot! Chris Brasher another activist best known on the Athletics track, was also a climber and hillwalker ( see the thuggish 'Double Chris' climbed with Chris Bonington in the Moelwyns). Applying his athletic  experience to his hillwalking activities, he came up with the 'Brasher Boot' A breakthrough lightweight walking boot that utilised fabrics and traditional materials and which was waterproof. For those used to hillwalking in cumbersome heavy leather boots, The Brasher Boot was the Bee's Knees!

Partnered by John Disley, in 1983 the pair founded Fleetfoot Limited based in Lancaster, England. Fleetfoot distributed The Brasher Boot and other sporting goods to retailers.

At the time John Disley was living in the Gwydr Forest near the market town of Llanwrst and around the time of the launch of the Brasher Boot, he suffered a break in at his home. Amongst the items stolen was one of the prototype pairs of boots. A few weeks later when he was walking around the local Kwik Save supermarket in Llanwrst, Disley noticed a local scally wearing a pair of Brasher Boots! Given that the boot had yet to be launched upon an unsuspecting public then a claim that he had bought them in Ellis Brigham didn't carry much weight with the local magistrate!

The rest as they say is history and the Brasher/Disley Brasher Boot continues to be popular to this day although it is now owned by Berghaus.

John Disley was 87 when he died and yet another figure in climbing's golden era has left the stage. ( Born Corris,Mid Wales November 20th 1928-Died February 8th, 2016)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dark Waters: One dog's great escape!

Fergus:The dog with the pine earring.
It's pretty well known amongst those outdoor folk familiar with those everyday dangers that wait like a baited mousetrap for the unwary and inexperienced, that crossing a fast flowing river-even one not more than knee deep-can have possible fatal consequences. A river that is in spate after a period of heavy weather can easily take your legs away from under you and send you spluttering and bouncing into possible deeper waters. If you have a heavy rucksack on your back to boot, then arresting your descent and getting back on your feet can be next to impossible. 

Teaching students how to safely cross a fast flowing river is part and parcel of all outdoor courses for those seeking qualifications or just experience. Another fairly common accident which quite often sees fatal consequences is when a dog owner gets into the water to effect a rescue when their animal gets into difficulty.

Despite my own experience in the great outdoors which includes a session on a mountain leaders course which involved the safety elements surrounding river crossing, and despite being more than wary of getting into a situation in which I might find myself getting in over my head--quite literally!- Probably less than an hour ago I found myself involved in an incident which could have had fatal consequences. The act of writing it down now will I hope prove cathartic.

I had taken my 8 year old Springer Spaniel, Fergus on one of his local walks which passes a fast flowing river. A broad sweep of water very quickly funnels into a gorge which is a grade 3/4 stretch of foaming white water.

As I scrambled down the bank I saw that Gus was in the river up to his chest waiting for a stick. Absent mindedly I chucked one into a fairly shallow stretch close to the bank before the river gains momentum before the gorge. However, the stick was very quickly swept down river at a rate of knots,and as he followed it he was swept into faster waters, heading towards a bay which had collected a fair amount of driftwood of all shapes and sizes.

All too quickly I realised that he was fighting the current and not making any progress. In fact he was getting deeper in the water with only his head showing and getting gradually washed under a branch. Then he was gone. I jumped in the cold water up to my waist and the current pinned me to the stack of driftwood. However, by pulling myself along a branch which appeared fairly well wedged in the pile, I made it to the edge of the bay where the river begins to narrow before the gorge. Suddenly, Fergus's head popped up. He was wide eyed and still fighting the river but alive at least.

At full stretch I reached out and tried to grab what I could of his head.I put my hand around his muzzle but he was immediately swept away and shot off down river,disappearing and reappearing several times before he managed to fight his way to the opposite bank just before the rapids. Pulling himself out onto the bank he appeared shattered.
He was well enough though to trot upstream to a wider section and ferry glide across to his shocked owner. I just kissed him on the head and pulled him out. By now I was gasping and shivering.More with shock than cold.My left leg was aching. It had caught under a submerged branch and the shin was skinned and bruised but all that was of no concern. Fergus was still alive!

There was a terrible moment when he slipped from my despairing grasp when I thought 'he's finished'. After he had already been under water and fighting to get out for what seemed like several minutes-it might have been less than 60 seconds?- I couldn't see him having the strength left nor the luck,to survive the maelstrom just around the bend.

In hindsight I can see that by jumping in and fighting to reach him, I didn't actually achieve anything. He survived through those innate instincts which characterise the Springer. A supreme confidence and ability in water. After my experience would I jump into a fast flowing river to save my dog again?.......Probably!