Let the festivities begin

The Fort William Mountain Festival offers robust activities - skiing and mountain biking - as well as poetry and painting

As the road turns north towards Fort William, the winter sun shows every fold on the face of Meall Mor, as if a giant's hand had draped a rumpled blanket over the slope. The drive from Loch Lomond, across the wilderness of Rannoch Moor, through the dark heart of Glencoe, provides a masterclass in Scottish mountains.

But there's plenty to learn at journey's end. Two weeks of films, lectures, workshops, theatre and music: the Fort William Mountain Festival is being launched at a little school that looks across the silver surface of Loch Linnhe to Meall an t-Slamain.

This hill is being decorated, for the duration of the festival, with powerful lights planted in a pattern devised by senior pupils at Fort William Primary -with a little guidance from a creative partnership called . LESS THAN LESS THAN slight


A dozen designs by pupils are on the table, with Victoria Payton and David Nutter providing guidance about what will work, technically and artistically. "Let's start with the different types of patterns you've come up with," David suggests.

"We've got lines across the top of the hill, random patterns all over it, and several series of simple shapes. Which of these do we like best?"

Shows of hands focus thoughts on a couple of designs, and the class moves on to the sequences in which the coloured lights will be programmed to flash.

Mountains play a big part in Fort William life, says Ruaraidh Wells, who is in P7: "I like skiing and mountain biking. Our art teacher showed us how you can use different parts of a paintbrush for different parts of the mountain. So you might use the side of it, and just tap it along to give you snow.

"You have to think about light, too. We can look out the classroom window and see where the sun is hitting the mountain and where it's in shadow.

That gives us good ideas on how to paint it."

Mountain poetry was another recent project, with pupils drawing one word from a box and writing a poem about it, explains Alex Reynolds in P6. "It was a diamond poem. So the first line had just one word, then two, three and four -then working back down to one again. Mine was about an eagle.

"It was great fun. All our poems and paintings are going to be on show at the mountain festival."

For Sue Commander, the headteacher, coming to the mountains was a conscious decision: "I've spent most of my teaching life at inner-city schools in England. Discipline is easier here and there is more of a feeling of community. Children are included in activities with their parents, more so than down south. A lot of them will go as families to the festival events."

Originally purely a film festival, Fort William's two-week celebration of the mountains now covers as wide a range of activities as can be imagined, says Mrs Commander. "There is walking, climbing, skiing - most of our kids ski, although there's not much snow for it this year.

"Then there is snowboarding, mountain biking, looking at wildlife. The younger you can get kids involved in all these activities, the more likely they'll be to continue all their lives."


While some of the mountain festival events are aimed at adults, most are meant for families or children, says Ali Berardelli, organiser: "A highlight is Antarctic Witness, the story of the Shackleton exhibition, which a local gallery has on loan from the Royal Geographical Society."

Others include:

Exhibitions of children's art and poetry

Talks by Timmy O'Neill, the world's fastest climber

Taste the Rock climbing workshops

Hands-on geology workshops

A Celtic evening of music, animation and storytelling

The Glen Nevis walking trail and exhibition

Songs of Mountain and Glen by Anne Lorne Gillies and the schools choir

* www.mountainfestival.co.uk

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