Wild Country (The man who made Friends) by Mark Vallance
The man who made Friends is more than just that. Friends, however, and the Wild Country label will always be eponymous with the name of Mark Vallance.
But he is more than just a business man. In his autobiography just published by Vertebrate Publishing we discover much about his early life and schooling near the Peak District. We learn of his “good fortune” in meeting certain friends and their families and how it led to a window on the world full of opportunity and experience ripe for the taking.
But Mark was not just lucky in terms of his path through life but hugely enthusiastic for life experiences outside of the ‘ordinary’. He spent a year in India in the early 60’s and worked at Halley in Antarctica in the early 70’s. On his way home from Antarctica he met Ray Jardine in Yosemite and later in 1977 a letter from Ray “offered the chance of a lifetime”; to make Friends in Britain.
Mark was not just someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time, he also had the enquiring mind and engineering intelligence to also design Rocks and market both Friends and Rocks to the climbing community. Having climbed at The Foundry in the early 90’s I read with interest the chapter about the inception of the famous Sheffield climbing wall.
In his book we learn not only about Mark but also about the history of climbing protection and how Friends and Rocks fit into the grand scheme of things. His business ventures didn’t all go smoothly but we find out about a man who seems to always look for the positive in things. He relished design problems and was always inquisitive about new ideas.
Although ‘good fortune’ may have followed Mark for some of his life to discover he had Parkinson’s at the age of 54 must have felt devastating just as he saw his retirement stretching out in front of him. Although he admits to making compromises in his life he still seems to pack as much into his days as his body will allow him.
A thoroughly well written book which combines the personal adventures of the life of a climber with an interesting history of climbing gear and its manufacture in Britain over the last 50 years.