Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A year in the wild....Snowdonia: review

 Johnny Dawes on 'natures' porcelain':Photo: BBC

While the whole world and his wife were glued to the London Olympics opening ceremony. Quietly tucked away on BBC2 was a natural history programme which had already generated interest within the climbing community through the appearance of legendary rock athlete-Johnny Dawes. However,the appearance of JD strutting his stuff on Llanberis slate, Cloggy rhyolite and Gogarth 'weird stuff'- I think Johnny called it-was just one succesful element of what was an outstanding well made programme.

For the average viewer, I imagine taciturn Welsh farmer, Gwynn Thomas was the programme's star turn. Gwynn who runs a traditional hill farm on the dog leg where Nant Francon meets the Ogwen Valley,is obviously not your average hillfarmer, despite at one stage shouting at 'climbers' who he had spotted climbing over fences and stone walls on his land...Q the two finger sheepdog whistle and  'get off the bloody wall' outburst- before turning back to camera and quietly explaining how his late father told him, the climbers and walkers were like the can't stop them. Now, according to Ogwen's favourite organic hillfarmer-who keeps meadows untouched and in a natural state, to encourage wildlife diversity- he just makes money from them!

National Park warden, Rhys Gwyn patrols the south Snowdonia patch, which despite it's major mountain ranges like Cader Idris and the Arans, is a quieter and balmier environment than the northern ranges. This is a land of otter inhabitated lakes, quiet forests and meandering  estuaries. Beetling hither and thither  in his white van, Gwyn clears ancient trackways-as used by Welsh princes 800 years ago-scrambles up mountain flanks to take Juniper cuttings and build's otter hides. Nice work if you can get it!

Poet Twn Morys whose deep smoky voice conjured up another Welsh creative-Richard Burton-is in fact,non other than the son of well known writer and member of the successful 1953 Everest team Jan-formerly John- Morris. Twn wanders around Cwm Pennant and asks..'why God did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful and a shepherds life so short'. Later in the Pen y Gwryd pub at the top of Pen y Pass, Twn continues his poetic journey; taking in the Everest 53 gig which was based in its preparatory stage at the Pyg. I liked Twn. Driving around in an old Morris 1000-what else!- and looking and sounding every inch a bard.

Which bring us to Johnny Dawes. was typical JD. Doing his thing on 'nature's porcelain'-the slate. Pondering with almost spiritual reverence, the sublime shaping of his climbing environment. Put together he feels, with the skill of a celestial 'interior designer'. Well an interior designer who doubles as  a landscape gardener! A strategically placed rowan tree here; a tumbling peregrine there. Climbing on Cloggy with the toy town trail rattling in his head as he psyched himself up, does, admittedly,detract from the sombre ambiance of the black cliff. Still, Johnny in his very retro, mid 80's Buffalo smock, rachets up the cliff as his commentary informs of  the precision needed on a rock type 'like glass...which needs to be read'.
The programme was exquistely filmed,narrated,scored and edited. In truth,one of the best natural history programmes I have seen in a long while. If you live in the UK then I recommend you fetch up your iPlayer page and hit record!

John Appleby