Mad Dog 2000
Top: The Monsal viaduct
Middle: Wading across the weir
Bottom: Checking the screenshots
Right: The Monsal tunnel entrance
In terms of organisation Mad Dog 2000 – or 'Steam For Survival' as it would come to be called — was the most complex and daring such trip so far. Usually, prior to a location trip, the majority of sites have been scouted to enable identification and primarily to make sure the day is not spent looking for them! The trip this year was to be extended to a weekend, with the Severn Valley locations thrown in — and I had not had chance to do a scout ahead of time!
The trip began on Saturday 29 July 2000. Having picked up Steve, Lynne and Ray Armfield at Chesterfield we hit the motorway and headed south. Colin joined us at Kidderminster – home of one end of the Severn Valley rail line. The day was warm, but showers were forecast. Even steam trains are subject to delay so we took an opportunity to get in a bevy for the trip up to Highley – aka the Bridgehead station.
Once en route, Ray noticed that we had pulled into Highley station, and to our chagrin we then discovered that the train was a lot longer than the platform — and we were at the wrong end. A dash along the carriages came to an end when the train pulled out – with the Reunion party still on board! Oops! Thankfully this turned out to be a happy accident. We therefore took up position a lot nearer the front of the train so that we could get off at Mad Dog Station – Hampton Loade. This site was not totally unfamiliar territory. Myself, Steve and Chris Barker paid a visit to the station on our way to the September 1999 Reunion.
As we watched the train pull out the heavens opened! Under an umbrella, Steve introduced the door Charles exits from — while I explained the train's route and the change in platform numbers since 1977 — and together we reassembled the appropriate dialogue. To our surprise, in the station memorabilia shop we found an issue of the Severn Valley News circa Spring 1977 which briefly mentioned the filming. Money changed hands!
Facing the prospect of over an hour's wait for the next Survivors express we decided to hike back down the river. The weather seemed to have broken. Taking the hand-drawn ferry we crossed the river and with the aid of Colin's OS map headed to Brod's bridge — from Law of the Jungle. The journey was fraught with beans, cereal crops and cattle. After a quick Brian Blessed impression we left the puzzle of which riverbank was actually used and sped off again on foot. We reached Highley in time to have a look around, indulge a packet of cheese I had dragged around with me all day, take some snaps, and catch the last train back. In my rush to get on the train I bounced the video camera. It seemed to take it personally and the viewfinder promptly died! From this point in it would be video by guesswork !
Will Rome and Rich Cross joined the trip on Sunday morning. The weather was good. Steve once again did the honours from the car park vantage point. We decided to do the viaduct first and headed down the rocky nettle-fringed path. By now the locations had been well scouted. It fell to Steve to explain the action at the tunnel mouth and Colin and me to provide dramatic action back to back as we shot the "cannons to the front" dog-blasting scene. Colin explained the opening shot overlooking the valley. Pausing only to look at the rider rocks we headed downward in the direction of the weir.
Having decided that the path above the tree line must have been the one Charles rides down we headed for the weir, with Steve providing the whistling accompaniment.
Never one to miss an opportunity to get his feet wet, Steve unsocked and paddle across the top of the weir – not advisable unless you have Greg in a helicopter on standby to whisk you to hospital. He returned to the party with his bones in-tact and surprisingly only his feet wet. Scrambling down onto the rocks beneath the weir we found the spot where Charles first collects water. Colin provided the scene re-creation using his hat.
Steve mapped out the run down the hillside to reach the riverbank by Charles, Sanders and Jim — and he, Ray and Colin obliged with a show of their athleticism. On the way back from the weir I ran through the "dogs running down the hill" scene again minus impressions. Beneath the viaduct we took the time to do a more detailed analysis of the shooting and meeting scenes. A short rest in its shade gave me the opportunity to practice yodelling underneath the arches! Soon we headed for the footbridge to take a look at the outside of the barn where Charles is discovered by the young girl; before making our way to the "bicycle cottage". Having very well covered this location previously it was left to Colin to provide us with his rendition of Phil on the steps.
As we passed Sanders' farm on the road overlooking it, we spotted that Charles approach into the yard had been netted off to make a large chicken coop. Rich provided the episode commentary here. Moving along, Rich spied a couple of garages at the bottom of the road where Charles dumps the bike, on the opposite side of the road from Fenton's house. A study of the screen shot brought delight. A major site discovered — the wall Charles demolishes before cutting the bullet from his arm. As this was virtually the only building in that part of the valley that had not been used, it made sense.
There was a small doubt about the background to the screen shot — was there a wall there? Was the hill behind steep enough. By the time we left the area we had cast aside these doubts. Like proud hunters we displayed our catch for the hastily arranged photo call. "Bicycle shed" was virtually obliterated by nettles, but always worth a look.
Steve was still up for climbing on Sanders' lean-to, but in the end was content with explaining the scene to the assembled. The back of Fenton's where Charles enters hadn't changed. Rich headed into the undergrowth across the road from Fenton's and by miracle of screen shot found the actual tree Charles hid behind – there's dedication for you!
After lunch, the first Ilam stop was the avenue of trees where Ron discovers and taunts Charles. Steve gave us a Ron impression with gusto. We braved the chained-up barking dogs for a view of Ellen's farm and gate. We even bravely stayed long enough for a group photo. This trip we got our first look inside Fenton's Halfway house. We were shown the bedroom where Fenton is tied up and the main corridor the rabid Fenton chases Charles, Jim and Sanders through.
Colin had always had his doubts about the location of the wall Fenton tumbles from. However we discovered that the wall had been rebuilt at some stage and a small ledge that Fenton stood on had been removed. There had also been a small amount of building work in that area – problem solved. Rich once again risked life and limb running down Charles' hill, as the rest of the party enjoyed the vista and relaxed in the sunshine.
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