'We've gone on holiday by mistake. We're in this cottage here. Are you the farmer?'
Withnail, Withnail and I (1986)
In 1985 filmmaker Bruce Robinson chose Sleddale Hall as a location for his 1960s-based tale of two unemployed actors, Withnail and I, and this quiet valley on the eastern fringe of the Lake District has never been the same since. Telling the semi-autobiographical story of Marwood (‘I’, played by Paul McGann) and his exploits with the debauched Withnail (Richard E Grant), the film follows the London-based thespians as they embark on a holiday in the Lake District. Withnail’s Uncle Monty (played by Richard Griffiths and who Robinson has suggested was inspired by his encounters in 1968 with Italian director Franco Zefferelli) owns a tumbledown farmhouse in the hills – Cow Crag in the film, but Sleddale Hall in reality – that they attempt to use as a holiday cottage. The hall, originally a deserted hill farm, was transformed with minimal set building into the grim northern wilds of Withnail’s imagination.
Other locations nearby include the packhorse bridge where Marwood and Withnail attempt to catch fish with a shotgun (crossed in this walk), and the phone box in Bampton, where Withnail tries to talk to his agent. Somewhat mundanely the ‘Penrith Tearooms’ and pub scenes were shot near Milton Keynes, and the ‘view’ from Cow Crag is of neighbouring Haweswater, not Sleddale’s diminutive reservoir.
Ironically the film made little money on its initial release, scant reward for the late George Harrison, the ex-Beatle whose Handmade Films had stumped up half the £1.1 million it took to make. Grant went on to become a Hollywood star, and McGann became Dr Who. When United Utilities put the house up for sale in 2009 it was bought by a fan for over £250,000. It is on private property and is not open to the public.
Leave the car park by the dam at its far end, walking up a damp track towards a gate by a clump of trees. Beyond the gate follow the boggy track up the valley, ignoring a turning to the left.
The track peters out by an old farmstead near the head of the reservoir. Maintain your direction, through one gate, over a little footbridge and through a second gate. Skirt round the edge of a boggy area before picking up a clearer track again through a gap in a wall. The path continues to be damp until you reach a stone bridge over Sleddale Beck on the right.
Cross the bridge and climb the bank on the far side to a stile. Turn right along the ascending track. Beyond a copse of trees there is a junction by a barn. Sleddale Hall is directly up the slope above you and you can walk around its perimeter, returning to this point. Remember the hall is private property and there is no public access to the building itself.
Go through the gate beside the barn and walk along a farm track, now heading back out of the valley. Approaching the farm buildings at Sleddale Grange, go through a gate and thread between a shed and some sheep pens to another gate, emerging on the far side and finally leaving the farm buildings by a gate onto a surfaced road. Follow the descending road for a mile (1.6km), passing through a gate by Green Farm and continuing on through yet another gate down to Thorney Bank.
A few hundred yards beyond this farm, a narrow path drops down to the right and through a gate to a footbridge. Cross the bridge and, on the far side, join the surfaced road, turning right to walk back up to the car park by the dam.
Boggy field paths, track and lane, 1 stile
Wet upland pasture and reservoir
Fields grazed by sheep, so must be under close control; signs request that in spring and summer dogs are kept on leads because of ground-nesting birds
OS Explorer OL5 The English Lakes (NE)
Car park by Wet Sleddale dam
None on route, nearest at Shap village (3 miles/4.8km)
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Cumbria's rugged yet beautiful landscape is best known for the Lake District National Park that sits within its boundaries. It’s famous for Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, and Derwent Water, ‘Queen of the English Lakes'. This beautiful countryside once inspired William Wordsworth and his home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere is a popular museum. Another place of literary pilgrimage is Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter, located near Windermere. Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck were all created here.
Much of Cumbria is often overlooked in favour of the Lake Distirct. In the south, the Lune Valley remains as lovely as it was when Turner painted it. The coast is also a secret gem. With its wide cobbled streets, spacious green and views of the Solway Firth, Silloth is a fine Victorian seaside resort. Other towns along this coastline include Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. Carlisle is well worth a look – once a Roman camp, its red-brick cathedral dates back to the early 12th century and its 11th-century castle was built by William Rufus.