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Withnail tourism

21 January 09 10:45 GMT

The cottage that provided the location for Withnail and I's disastrous holiday to the Lake District is up for sale. It's one of a number of sites that draw pilgrimages by fans of the cult film.

Sleddale Hall is, in the veiled parlance of a slick estate agent, in need of a bit of modernisation.

This semi-derelict cottage is approached only by a dirt track and is a couple of miles away from the nearest proper road and yet it is a site of pilgrimage for fans of Withnail and I.

To them it is Crow Cragg, the dismal venue for the protagonists' trip to the country.

When Withnail and I was released in the mid 1980s it barely made an impression at the box office, but in the decade afterwards it gained cult status, particularly among students.

Hardcore devotees

This story of a jobbing actor and his debauched thespian flatmate and their ill-fated holiday has now impressed itself on a couple of generations of wannabe hedonists.

Its most hardcore devotees like to trawl around the locations used in the film, like Sleddale Hall.

Bampton in Cumbria is a key stop, and their first port of call is often the garage owned by Stead Bowness. He had the honour of providing the tractor driven by the farmer Withnail & I encounter at Crow Cragg.

Sadly, he reveals, he is no longer in possession of the tractor, having failed to realise until it was too late the cult potential of the movie he was involved in.

"The tractor was mine. I was there when they did the bull scene. There was nothing for 10 years but it has taken off."

Now he deals with a steady stream of Withnailian visitors, directing them to the key sites that will make their trip truly special. "We get Australians, Americans. They come fairly regularly," he says.

Bull scene

There's the site of the phone box in the village where Withnail vituperates his agent.

Then there's the precise spot where the bull scene was filmed, just outside Bampton, where Marwood (that "I" in the film's title) utters the much quoted line: "A coward you are Withnail, an expert on bulls you are not."

The fans stay at local guest houses, including the Mardale Inn, where burnt-out actor Andy Murray now can be found painting a series of works based on the film. He is used to guests playing variations of the Withnail and I drinking game (where the fans attempt to match Withnail's drinking blow for blow).

"We get quite a lot of trade - a lot of people book in on the strength of the film. They're coming to pay pilgrimage," he says.

"We've had a few people that do the drinking game. Perhaps we should put lighter fluid in one of the optics," he jokes.

The more dedicated want to make the trip to Crow Cragg, to Sleddale Hall, which first involves getting permission from the farmer whose land must be crossed, and then a long trek. (The hall itself is owned by water company United Utilities) Those wanting the view of the lake that Marwood sees on waking have to head over to Haweswater. Other exteriors can be found in the village of Shap.

But the fans must do their homework. Disappointment awaits the Withnail and I pilgrim in Penrith, which in the movie is the site of the Penrith Tea Rooms, where Withnail utters the immortal words: "We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now."

Wandering around the Cumbrian market town looking for the Penrith Tea Rooms is a fool's errand. As any real fan knows, the tea rooms are in fact Cox and Robinson's pharmacy 230 miles south, in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes. The "King Henry" pub - where Withnail and Marwood encounter colourful locals - is in fact across the market square in Stony Stratford.

It is the Crown, where chef Stuart Leath is used to denizens coming in and reciting lines.

"The Open University has an appreciation club and they all get dressed up and come down," he says. For the record, the finest wine in the place is a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.


Are you a Withnail & I pilgrim? Send us details of your pilgrimages using the form below.

You've missed out the most important location though. Where is "An evening at the Crow" really spent?
Straight Down Bill Hills, Nottingham

I'm very proud to say that after being a fan of the film for so long I finally got to make the pilgrimage to Crow Crag in summer last year. It is a long walk but well worth it. The scenery is beautiful all by itself and all along the way on every fence post and gate for two miles people have written quotes from the film. Then you get up to the cottage itself and it's exactly how it looks in the film. We walked up there and had a lovely hour just sat enjoying the place, the views and a bit of lunch before we walked down again and we weren't the only Withnail fans up there either.
Greg Kelly, Preston

I visited the cottage two or three years ago. I have some wallpaper from the room where they enjoyed Uncle Monty's late luncheon at three. Yes, the gawdy pink stuff with the Greek-style gold trim. I framed it and it now hangs in our living room. My girlfriend is less than keen. While I was at Sleddale Hall I also found a very tired copy of The Times dated around July 1987 lying around near where the range was in the front room. I remember seeing the year on it and having a Withnail moment... Anyway, I'm hoping the cottage will soon be restored to its former, ahem, glory. I'd buy it myself in an instant if I only had the dosh. Elegium pro Britannia!
Gavin Wilks, Don't know what you want to go to Manchester for anyway...

What Withnail devotee can have failed to have made their way to West House, 35 Glebe Place, Chelsea. This listed Queen Anne Revival Residence was used for both the exterior and interior of Uncle Monty's house. It is a private residence which I was privileged to visit several years ago. The interior decor, furniture and even the head on a plinth in the hallway remained exactly as in the film. You can see a photo of the outside on the English Heritage website.
John Raja, London

I live on Tavistock Road - behind Tavistock Crescent where The Crescent Pub is (the scene where "I" is called a ponce) now called Crescent House after an ill-fated refurb - I walk past it daily on my way to work and noticed today that, like the barn in Shap, it's for sale. Withnail fans rejoice - let's club together and buy this pub.
Stewart Kendall, London

On their first morning in Monty's cottage, Marwood pauses to admire the view, The Rigg on Haweswater (which you can't see from the property, but such is the power of editing). When guiding groups in the area I always point this out, mostly in hope of weeding out a fellow aficionado.
Stephen Barker, Sheffield, UK

We drove up the M6 and took the directions to Wet Sleddale. We soon began to realise why it's called 'Wet' Sleddale. I parked the car at the head of the reservoir and myself, my wife and two kids plodded through the horizontal rain and boggy mud towards the hallowed location. As we got to the other side of the reservoir we could see Sleddale Hall off in the distance and I got goosebumps. However the weather turned for the worse and coming down the valley quickly towards us came this massive snow and hail storm.

The children screamed, in fact so did I. It was like Greenland. We abandoned the pilgrimage and set back as quickly as we could to the car. Hours later after I'd thawed out I promised to return but the children begged that I'd visit on my own next time.
Cameron Seddon, Morecambe, England

Went up to Monty's Cottage after a friend who lives near Penrith tracked it down. Followed by the phone box, and the view over Haweswater. Cottage was the highlight, though we since hear it's now been sealed off properly. Had a cheeky look inside and signed the 'visitors book'. Front door was covered in quotes from the film, and someone had left production photos inside.
Conor Boyle, Clapham, London

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