I do not enjoy movies, so I do not watch them very often. To take time away from my ponies or my creative writing, there has to be a pretty compelling reason. When a writing colleague told me about a movie that has a connection to my first Fell Pony, though, the film made it to my to-watch list and eventually arrived in DVD form.
My colleague warned me that Withnail and I was a dark comedy, so I knew I had to watch it with an open mind. My primary motivation was to see how Sleddale Hall, on the farm in Cumbria where Sleddale Rose Beauty was born, had been used for one of the film’s locations. As my colleague had expected, the humor wasn’t much to my liking, but I very much enjoyed seeing places that I recognized.
One scene was filmed in a creek that went under the arch of a stone bridge. After reviewing my photographs from my trip there in 2015, it sure looks like it was filmed upstream and under Wet Sleddale Bridge, a place I had also ventured. Other scenes in the movie were filmed on stone-wall-lined roads that also looked familiar.
Another scene was set in a telephone booth, supposedly in Penrith but actually in Bampton according to my colleague. That brought back a flood of memories. I recognized a street scene in Bampton and then I remembered how inept I felt in 2006 trying to use a pay phone in Penrith. I’m surprised I actually got the call to go through to the person I intended! Since then we’ve learned how to take our own cell phone to Cumbria!
The movie’s outdoor scenes of Sleddale Hall were primarily close up or looking from there down to the reservoir. My views when I visited in 2015 were from the far side of the reservoir looking up toward the hall. Beauty’s breeder’s family, the Harrisons, lived in Sleddale Hall at one time.
Some of the movie’s scenes were of torrential downpours. Those certainly felt authentic to me. In 2006 just such a storm kept me holed up in my bed and breakfast in Shap instead of getting out for an early morning walk at Wet Sleddale before heading to the airport to return to Colorado. Thankfully the weather was very nice when I finally made it there nine years later.
For me, sitting down and watching a movie was something completely different, especially a dark comedy like Withnail and I. And while it isn’t a movie I would recommend, I’m so grateful to Margaret Dickinson for telling me about it and letting me relive my connections to the film’s Cumbrian locations and to remember with great fondness my first Fell Pony Sleddale Rose Beauty.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019
More stories like this one can be found in my book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.