Last weekend saw us at the first ever Buxton Adventure Festival, the latest venture from Heason Events and sponsored by the University of Derby. In a little over 6 months the festival had gone from a fledgling idea to a runaway success with a 3-year headline sponsor in place, auspicious launch together with the opening of Oaklands Manor and the support of hundreds of satisfied visitors. With 10 top speakers and 30 films compressed into 2 days the action was non-stop, covering everything from wild swimming to cave diving and featuring a 2012 Paralympian and award nominated author amongst its speakers.
Events kicked off on the Friday night with the launch neatly dovetailed into the opening of the University of Derby, Buxton Campus new Outdoor Leadership Centre at Oaklands Manor. Students, staff and invited guests listened as world class climber Kenton Cool described his latest Everest climb - the tenth time he has reached the summit - before cutting the ribbon at the 58 acre site.Following Kenton's talk Matt Heason and Lisa Cook gave the invited audience an insight into the forthcoming weekend while thanking the University for its support.
With 5 sessions to fit into a single day the action kicked off early as Trials Biker Danny Butler was first on stage, thrilling the audience, and especially the younger members, with his exploits on a seatless bike. With a good crowd in and superb facilities at the Pavillion Arts Centre the selection of Danny to kick off proceedings was an inspired choice that instantly got the venue buzzing and set up the day as a non-stop crowd pleaser, and it was fantastic to see that even with a tight schedule there was time for Danny to meet many of his younger fans in person as the BAF team took care of the switchover to the second session.
Danny Butler meets young fans at BAF
Squash Falconer was next up; funny, inspiring and approachable she soon had the audience in the palm of her hand. From the classic "If your knickers are right your day will be right" to "Sometimes it's good not to listen to other people" Squash had the audience in floods of laughter from the moment Adventure Travel's Rosie Fuller introduced her, but alongside the laughter and a stunning collection of images and video she also passed on an important message of determination combined with persistance. Covering everything from paragliding from Mont Blanc to summitting Everest Squash packed the action into a superbly delivered talk that few will forget.
The third session saqw a last minute change of speaker with wild swimming legend Rob Fryer filling in for Kate Rew, who was unavailable. Taking a few minutes to get into his stride Rob continued from where Squash Falconer had started with an unmissable brand of self-deprecation and humour mixed in with the kind of definitive information only a true expert can lay their hands on. Running through a selection of wild swimming locations around Britain, then further afield, Rob brought out every emotion in a totally engaged audience - culminating in a member of the audience consenting to sticking his head in a bucket of iced water for 15 seconds just to show the effects of cold shock.
The early evening session kicked off with a true local legend. John Beatty normally talks for 2 to 3 hours so with just 90 minutes available it was a feature packed session covering a photographic career that's seen him travel the world from the Antarctic to the frozen wastes of Greenland and Spitzbergen and the massive volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. Despite the outstanding quality of the photographs and film clips the outstanding memory from the session, however, was John's passion and his feeling of privilege. With an amazing ability to deflect the praise from the photographer to the subject John led his audience through a career spanning decades at the top of his game, his own perception of awe at being in the presence of such natural beauty mirrored by the audience as one mindblowing image followed another on screen. Leaving those assembled with a message that we need to preserve these places for our children and our children's children he left the stage to a massive ovation.
The final session of day 1 saw stuntman Gary Connery take to the stage. Despite representing Britain in both white water kayaking and downhill ski racing Gary is most famous for his parachuting and skydiving exploits, and the audience were dying to hear the inside story of his most famous of recent events - when he doubled for the Queen jumping into the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony from a helicopter. With 15 years as a stuntman Gary Connery has enough stories to fill a weekend on his own and a natural sense of humour and timing had the audience in a cement mixer of emotions from disbelief to the kind of laughter that brings tears to your eyes.
17 year old Maddie Thompson from the Hope Valley is the youngest member of the Team GB Paralympic Women's Wheelchair Basketball Squad and as such not the usual kind of speaker you'd expect at an Adventure Festival, but turned out to be an inspired choice. Talking about dealing with the pressure, combining school and training and how the Paralympics have changed attitudes to disability Maddie proved to be an insipiration to the youngest members of the audience when she invited them to try out her wheelchair and see what a prosthetic leg felt like.
Next up was Richard Askwith, fell runner and author of Feet in the Clouds, interviewed by Peak District endurance athelete, Long Course Duathlon World Championships age group winner and adventure sports journalist Nikalas Cook. Talk soon, predictably, turned to the Bob Graham Round but by no means exclusively as questions was thrown open to the floor, a practise which worked well not just at this session but throughout the weekend. While all speaker sessions were followed by films the EpicTri immediately following Richard's talk was possibly the most inspiring of all: Bob Graham Round fell run (= 65 miles, 42 Mountain Tops, 27,000ft climb, 24 Hours) + John O'Groats to Land's End bike ride (= 874 miles, 60 Hours, 400000 pedal turns) + Devizes to Westminster Canoe race (= 125 miles, 77 portages, 24 Hours) + 2 blokes = The Epic Tri.
Nik Cook and Richard Askwith
That the third session even happened was something of a miracle with speaker Gavin Newman in Borneo just 24 hours earlier. Thanks to time zones and the kind of dedication that's seen him pick up an EMMY and multiple awards for his stunning film work and photography, however, Gavin Newman made it Buxton in time to more than satisfy an expectant audience. In a packed 80 minutes Gavin showcased the diversity of a career that's seen him underground everywhere from the Sahara Desert to New Mexico and China. Along the way Gavin dealt superbly with the problems of finding funding for projects as you try to build a career, complementing the previous day's talk by Squash Falconer, before moving on to the difficulties of filming for the BBC in China when the BBC were less than well thought of. In a superbly polished talk the audience were treated to the delights of almost every underground experience from the confined spaces of Mendip's Wookey Hole to the world's biggest chamber in Mulu, all accompanied with an infectious humour.
Gavin Newman Gordon Stainforth
The penultimate session couldn't have been better timed with author Gordon Stainforth having just been shortlisted for both the Banff book awards and Boardman Tasker award. Rather than retell the story of the book Gordon led the audience through a life story from climbing in North Wales to filming with Stanley Kubrick, reminding the audience of a time before health and health and safety when adventure just meant escaping alive. To make the BAF presentation special the talk ended with Gordon's twin brother, John, joining him on stage to give a unique opportunity for the audience to question both participants in the Fiva epic.
The 1st Buxton Adventure Festival came to its conclusion in great style with Anna Glowinski interviewing Downhill Mountainbike World Champion Danny Hart about his career and "that" video of his world championship winning run. Amazingly at ease within a few minutes Danny had the audience laughing at will with a series of revelations, opinions and observations. Even before questions were thrown open to the audience we'd found out that downhill mountainbikers parties can get "a bit messy" and that at 21 he's already bought his own house and with the audience along with the more technical questions that Anna's knowledge as a multi-disciplinary cyclist brought. With the audience involved the subjects ranged from the topical performance enhancing drugs debate to whether downhill should be an Olympic event and whether bike good on a bike attracted the girls. With Red Bull's latest epic. 'Where the Trail Ends' to finish BAF came to an end with a bang.
Anna Glowinski interviews Danny Hart
With first time festivals there's always a tendency to be a bit forgiving with so many different aspects of putting on an event to organise and no experience of the venue. In the case of BAF, however, the reality is that you'd never know it was the first year it had run. The experience of the Heason Events team was apparent throughout with every base covered from signage to volunteers taking feedback. Fitting 10 sessions into 2 days left little free time for the team to setup each speakers equipment, but, assisted by a fantastic Pavillion Arts Centre staff, the timetable ran like clockwork. The selection of speakers, covering so many different adventure sports, was inspired and a great success with consistent audiences. The venue was ideal with the equipment running almost flawlessly throughout and the size ideal for a first year. Just finding a main sponsor for a new event isn't easy but to get a 3 year deal means the future of BAF is looking good and based on this year it fully deserves it. As the numbers grow the organisers may need to look at the size of the screen for the seats right at the back and having a microphone for the audience during questions, but the hardest part will just be keeping up the standard they've set themselves.