Monday, 7 July 2014

Watching Withnail at Uncle Monty's: A Night at Crow Crag, aka Sleddale Hall

It may only be in its third year, but the Picnic Cinema screening of Withnail & I at Sleddale Hall, the house used as the location for Uncle Monty's cottage, has already become a beloved institution.

There were three nights this year, all quickly sold out, each with 100 lucky fans coming on holiday by mistake for the evening, to watch the film, drink fine wines, and then be forced to camp in the farmer's field next door.


Arrival at Crow Crag. This shot got one of the loudest cheers of the night.

Crow Crag on Saturday evening, from (nearly) the same angle.


We were there for the Saturday, which after a damp Thursday and a full-on Withnail-authentic hurricane on the Friday, was a dry and fine evening, thank god. A wonderful time was had by all, and massive thanks are due to Adrian and the Picnic Cinema team for organising it all so brilliantly, The Foundry in Penrith for a very yummy barbecue, and especially to Sleddale Hall's owner, Tim, for allowing the hordes to descend.

Sleddale Hall has not been lived in properly since the 1960s. When Withnail filmed there, it was semi-derelict, and the production actually had to do it up a bit to make it look as uninhabitable as it did on screen! As well as the exteriors, which are seen from several angles, the interior of the house was used for all the ground floor rooms (only the bedroom scenes were shot elsewhere), so Sleddale Hall really is a 'character' in the film. Tim has been lovingly restoring the house and its outbuildings in the five years he's owned it, and though he's still got a ways to go, the results are already fantastic. It's very much a labour of love, and it was great to meet him and chat about it all on Saturday. More power to your elbow, sir! (I should add that the house is of course private property, so please don't try to visit uninvited!)

Anyway, here's a blow-by-blow 'Photo Essay' (or, some pictures what I took on my phone) of our delightful weekend in the country.

Approaching Wet Sleddale, just off the M6 about 12 miles South of Penrith, where Sleddale Hall is to be found, a couple of miles up a farm track. It's not called Wet Sleddale for nowt. The sky here is not usually this clear, believe me.

Shut that gate!!


Fans drove from all around the country, presumably not immediately after consuming a few ales.




The final approach is on foot. We brought wheelbarrows for all our camping gear. *smugface*


The view from the campsite, of Wet Sleddale reservoir. In the film, Marwood emerges from the house to see another lake entirely: the slightly more photogenic Haweswater. Yes, they cheated.


Sitting down to enjoy my holiday. As you can see, the 'campsite' is actually just a field, kindly provided by the farmer, which is on a rather steep angle. Later, this made sleeping in the tent interesting.

Walking up the hill towards Crow Crag.




No need to check out the fuel and wood situation, or buy eggs and things off the farmer: the food is already sorted.


... as is, more importantly, the booze.


The screen had been set up at the end of the courtyard.


"Those are the kind of windows faces look in at." That's the door used in the film, and the other side of those windows is the room with the range, where the chicken/boots are cooked.


The 'proper' front door is not used in the film, but the other side of those ground floor windows is the parlour where the late luncheon is eaten. Thanks to Sleddale Hall's owner Tim, the door and windows now have new, local sandstone surrounds.

Eden Brewery's Withnail-inspired beers were very much in evidence.



Here's the view behind the screen. A customer in the Little Shop last year, an old fellow who had never heard of the film, but knew the house well because his Uncle used to live there, assured me that ferrets used to be kept in this barn.



As the sky began to bruise, the audience arrived...






The back of the house, where Jake the Poacher is seen walking away, was also visited by most of the filmgoers.



Are you the farmer? Of course he's the fucking farmer.
Jeff Wode was also spotted in attendance.


The pre-film entertainment included the Picnic Cinema crew playing a couple of tunes. Here they are singing Psycho Killer.


There was also a quiz, which rather embarrassingly went down to a tiebreak which the Withnail Books team won. We shared the fine wines prize with the fellow tiebreaker teams, but held on to the other prizes...


By about 10.30pm it was finally dark enough to fire up the projector, starting off with some vintage cinema ads...


... before moving on to the main feature.


"My thumbs have gone weird!"


"Then the fucker will rue the day..."


"Chin chin!"


"I will never. Play. The Dane."


"SCRUBBERS!!!"


The first glimpse of Sleddale Hall.


Emerging the next morning. That cornicing on the wall to the left of the statue is actually plaster of Paris, and was added by the production. It was still there years later.


Walking through the archway to see the (false) view of Haweswater. I nipped through there during the film to have slash, but I don't think anyone noticed. That's the alleged Ferret Shed at the bottom of the yard.


Finding a raw potato. There's a patch of rhubarb there now (see photo below).


"Penrith. Penrith!!!" (It isn't, it's the other side of Bampton, several miles away, on the way to Haweswater.)


The red phone box is still there, a must-visit for every Withnail pilgrim.


"A crack at the Mick! These shall be my pleasure."


"A pair of blues." Though this sequence is set in Penrith, it was actually filmed in the Buckinghamshire village of Stony Stratford (now referred to apparently un-ironically on its own website as 'the jewel of Milton Keynes').


"Alright here?"
I said this earlier to the Picnic Cinema person as we were parking up in the farmyard. How we laughed.


A gratuitous Sleddale Hall shot.


... and another.


The van which will shortly be gottenintothebackof.


"This will tend to make you very high."


"I'll miss you Withnail."


THE END. A wonderful screening, in a none-more-perfect venue.


View from the tent door the next morning. We awoke at midge o'clock. They were *furious*, and ate us campers alive. Not what I'd been given to expect from the H. E. Bates novel I'd read. (This blog post is almost finished, honest.)


Where once Withnail found a potato, there's now rhubarb.


Sorry, that became a bit epic, but it was an occasion worth documenting for future generations I feel. Mind you, it will all be happening again next year, and one hopes for many years to come.

At the root of all this is a film made by Bruce Robinson and a bunch of dedicated people over 25 years ago, which is still loved by fans all over the world today. I don't know how many times I've seen it now, but each time, something different jumps out. This time around it was one of Danny the Dealer's lines. I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it's *deep*...

"Why trust one drug and not the other? That's politics innit?"




9 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post - I SO wish I could have been there! It's tough being a Withnail addict in New York. Uncle Monty would have come here for a shot at getting Marwood naked in a corner, but it's much more difficult to just flit across the pond on a whim when one does not own a vintage Rolls Royce and a house in the country.

    Brilliant photos and I'm so glad the weather turned out right for the evening!

    One thing: How do I get hold of some of those Eden Brewery Withnail beers? Hook me up, mate! I've tried Googling them, but I keep getting hold of some OTHER Eden Brewery in the UK that does NOT make Withnail beer. Must. Have.

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    1. Hi Wall-O! This is the correct Eden Brewery (the Cumbrian one, not the Scottish one).
      http://edenbrewery.com/pages/contact-us
      They do sell the Withnail beers by mail order in the UK, but I'm not sure if they'd send them Stateside...
      http://edenbrewery.com/collections/withnail-330ml-bottled-ales/330ml-bottled-ale
      There's apparently two new Withnail beers on the way...

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  2. Hi

    Was a great night hopefully to be repeated,we are on these pics :-) and you beat out team the mad aunties in the tie breaker lol

    Gill

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  3. You've got my car, my beer and my boys (my boys) on those. Great night, great post. Thanks for writing it.

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  4. Thanks for the comments folks! It was indeed a great night. And there was plenty I didn't mention above, including the brilliant video the Picnic Cinema crew made of various audience members doing their best Withnail quotes, and telling stories of their most embarrassing moments. The clear winner of the latter was the two lads who said, "Well, being naked in front of 80,000 people at that Rolling Stones concert was pretty embarrassing." "Yeah, mind you, I hadn't really remembered doing it until the photos started turning up on Facebook..."

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  5. I so have to go some day though it's a long way from home here in the US. Jealous that you opened a Withnail bookstore. Hope it does great.

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  7. I am only just now seeing this for the first time, and I must ask: is this still happening annually??? I come from another planet called Cali-for-nia, but would consider this pilgrimage a must-do if at all possible. Also: What a great book blog, as well! Wish I lived close enough to browse personally.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words about the blog... and yes, this is still happening annually. Have a look at picniccinema.co.uk and subscribe to be kept up to date. Alas this year's screenings (on 22 and 23 July) have both sold out, but there will be more dates next year, which, let's not forget, is the film's 30th anniversary!

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