New Welsh Review

Tough Women: Kendal Mountain Festival

Amy And delights in an event and book which readdresses the toxic male image problem of travel, exploration and adventure writing

PUBLISHED ON: 25/11/20

CATEGORY: Blog, Travel

TAGS: Kendal Mountain Festival, adventure, diversity, female, travel

This post is free to all website visitors

For access to the full New Welsh Review archive, become a subscriber today.


The Kendal Mountain Festival is on now and on demand until 31 December 2020. Tickets from £5.50, with some free events. 

On Friday 20 November at the Kendal Mountain Festival, I was lucky enough to attend an event called Tough Women, which introduced four incredible explorers, from a collection of twenty-two, who have recently written for Jenny Tough’s latest book as editor, Tough Women Adventure Stories: Stories of Grit, Courage and Determination. 

The event began with an introduction from Robert Macfarlane, followed by a panel with book editor Jenny Tough and contributors Antonia Bollingbroke-Kent, Vedangi Kulkarni, and Hannah Maia. Jenny spoke about the concept of toughness in the world of exploration, and how this title is usually reserved for men.

The word ‘explorer’ often brings to mind the image of a middle-aged, caucasian, heterosexual male, typically with a military background, going to an already occupied land and claiming it for his own. This toxic representation often makes it hard for females with a fire in their heart to achieve the same level of success as their male counterpart. If you happen to be a female who is also a BIPOC [black and indigenous peoples], has a disability, or doesn’t have an RP accent and a Trust Fund, things get exceptionally harder.

Tough’s book is a platform for female travellers and all of the wonderful things they represent, and it brings a fresh insight into the world of exploration through clear and poignant stories. Including some of the most well-known and underground female writers, it is 

an excellent guide to what a girl can achieve when she has a good head on her shoulders and a childlike curiosity for the wonders outside the four walls.

During this event, Antonia spoke about how we should spend this current period making the most out of what we have now. This year has been especially hard as it has been largely focused around the global pandemic, and Antonia stated that the importance of taking time out and not putting too much pressure on ourselves is one of the best things that we can do. This is the year for care and nurturing, and trying to adapt to this new world around us.

Following Antonia’s talk, Vedangi Kulkarni spoke about what it was like to circumnavigate the world by bike at the age of nineteen. This was an inspirational segment, about how we should not be held back by the things that people say about us – such as her being told ’you are too young’. Kulkarni proved that, just because no one has done something before, does not mean that it cannot be done.

Hannah Maia introduced her feature documentary, Wood on Water, which I later watched as part of the festival. This follows a group of summer camp girls and Hannah Maia as they canoe-trip for forty days across the Canadian wilderness, overcoming mental, physical, and emotional barriers. It is an informative, immersive documentary, featuring some of the strongest and most motivational women out there, as they embark on this incredible journey.

Told by interviews, POV shots, drone shots, and archive footage, with cool little doodles illustrating the moving images every now and then, the documentary takes the viewer through the highs and lows of the trip.  It became clear that this opportunity used to be closed to females, as they were considered too physically inferior to undertake the physically demanding tasks that an adventure like this needed. Thankfully, this outdated concept has since been dismissed.

The documentary also talks about indigenous history and their connection to the canoes and the land, with personal accounts from indigenous campers, touching upon the genocide also known as ‘colonisation’. This is a brilliant introduction, for British audiences in particular, to this dark part of Canadian history.

Towards the end of the panel, the speakers turned specifically to the book, which I recently read and fell in love with, as it made me itch to do something great, to follow in the great footsteps of these remarkable women.

Their voices in the book are clear and distinctive, each woman truly having developed her own unique narrative and  style of writing. For example, Ann Daniels tells her stories in a very humorous, upbeat manner, whereas Annie Lloyd Evans is more slow-paced and descriptive. Anoushé Husain goes into the more personal struggles involved in female solo travel, Emma Svensson writes with an admirable honesty and openness, and Antonia-Bolingbroke Kent weaves poetry and rich illustrated language into her work. Here are so many ideas for the adventure-blocked explorer to start thinking about how they can carry out their next big expedition. There are as many different types of explorer as there are writers, making the female travel writing industry as varied as the men’s, despite not being nearly as well recognised.

The siren song of adventure has as many voices as there are people to hear them. They draw us ever onward to seek out the unfound, to reach the peaks and depths, to search deep within ourselves for the very heart of what it means to quest. She is a tough mistress, but a generous one. Whether those in her thrall are traversing hills and values, snowy mountains or arid deserts, they are enraptured with curiosity unbound and infectious intent.

Beth French

The Tough Women event  was a brilliant introduction to a brilliant festival, and I for one am excited to see what comes next. I look forward to the next few weeks immersing myself in stories and adventure, and can’t think of a better way to spend a Welsh winter.

Appreciation for the basic, good stuff of life and not wanting more than that: this is the secret to both happiness and sustainability.

Kate Rawles



Amy Aed writes on adventure and travel for New Welsh Review.