Mad Dog 1998
Top: Riversdale Farm — the 'bicycle cottage'
Middle: The roadway where Charles abandons the bike
Bottom: The Monsal viaduct — seen from below
Right: Charles' Monsal bridge
On Saturday 23 May 1998, the first organised Survivors location visit in Mad Dog country assembled at Monsal Head. Regular 'Reunion' participants Steve Brailsford, Lynne and Nathan Sweetman, Colin Wilks and Roger and Melissa Simpson were joined by Chris Barker and Simon Clark.
After surveying the valley from the viewpoints above, the group descended to the viaduct. The weather was fair and we only had to contend with a spot or two of drizzle during our stay. We established the location of Fenton's missing hut and ambled along the viaduct to ponder over the missing trees and wall in the opening shot. Dropping down into the valley — although not literally, as the viaduct is over 80 feet high — we made our way across the river by the footbridge to the barn where Charles seeks refuge and is discovered.
Having confirmed that the "rocky outcrop" overhead was the one used by the riders pursuing Charles, we took the road towards the road bridge. On our way we picked up our first major location find — the house where Charles steals the bike. At Riversdale Farm, we were able to identify the steps Phil comes down; the garden Charles walks through; and of course the legendary spot where Charles nicks the cycle! Steve and I recreated the scene with an imaginary titanium bike. Moving further into the valley, we visit the roadway where Charles suffers his puncture and discards the bike; before heading down to the river. There we lingered, while Steve climbed down from the bridge to stand close to the spot where Charles shelters from the menacing dog pack. Steve had to substitute his comb for Charles' knife. Steve then mapped out the sequence where Charles walks away from "Fenton's house"; moves over the road; and heads down to the river's edge.
Before retracing our steps we picked up a new location, the entrance to "Fenton's house", which is actually the house adjacent to the bridge. Under the viaduct, we studied the arch-column in the hope of spotting the exact place where Charles rests — something we confirmed on a subsequent visit. As we head towards the weir, Steve perpetuates a Reunion myth by insisting that Charles was whistling the New Zealand National Anthem in the episode's opening sequence. As Dennis Lill pointed out to us at a later meeting, the tune was in fact a Welsh folk song taught him by Survivors' director Pennant Roberts!
Arriving at the weir, we scrambled down the banking onto the rocks to catch a better view of the falls and identify the spot where Charles scoops a basin of water the first time he visits the river. We also positively identified the hill down which Charles, Phil and Sanders run to escape the 'rabid' Fenton.
With time pressing, we made our way back to the top of the viaduct for a few photos and a further study of the river. Although this seemed the best candidate for the 'crash zoom' shot of Fenton staring down into the water as he prepares to jump to his death, the layout refused to match! There is no credible stretch of water for this scene at Ilam that we have found — and even in 2003, this remained the one undiscovered location in the entire episode.
After lunch, we travelled to Ilam. There we studied area around Air Cottage ("Fenton's halfway house") more closely — with Colin, in particular, paying attention to the spot where Fenton stands poised on the wall, preparing to jump. Steve identified where the horses were parked and I tracked down the long-gone chicken coop that the diseased Fenton hid behind.
In the distance, back towards "Ellen and Ron's farm", I spotted an avenue of trees that looked very much like the place where Ron finds the exhausted Charles. Moving behind Air Cottage, we came across the fields that Charles is chased through just prior to him abandoning his horse, and scrambling down the banking.
They used egg white in 1977, but in 1998 Steve used toothpaste. In one of the more dramatic reconstructions yet seen on a Reunion, he gave us Fenton's 'fetch me my rifle' speech complete with rabid foaming. As the day closed, we headed in car convoy back passed "Ellen and Ron's farm", stopping only for a quick photo out of the car window, with the engine running — as the dogs barked incessantly.
Page last updated: