The diary I kept whilst filming Swallows and Amazons… with a day off spent exploring Cumbria with my family

It was Sunday and a much needed, formal day off for the crew of Swallows and Amazons. It was also a day of rest for the ‘Artistes’ as Claude Whatham, the Director called us.  The crew called us ‘Saucepans’. Saucepan lids : kids.  It is Cockney rhyming slang. There was a lot of that about in Ambleside that year.

Sophie Neville with her mother on a scenic railway in Cumbria during a break in the filming of Swallows and Amazons in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

My parents were still in bed, exhausted on that Sunday morning.  To keep me busy Mum had me writing letters to my Headmistress, Sister Ann-Julian and to my Housemistress, Sister Allyne. Amazing!  I wrote them.

My father’s idea of a day out in Westmorland was to drive over the hills and up the Hard Knott Pass taking car rugs, a picnic and his volcano. This is a brilliant item of equipment with which you can boil enough water to make a cup of tea using an old newspaper. I am sure I’ve read that Arthur Ransome had one…  I think my mother just pulled on her Charlotte Mason College of Education sweatshirt and came too.

The highlight of the day was a trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, through the National Park to the coast and back. You can still do this today. The historic line was opened in 1875 to ferry iron ore from the mine near Boot to the coast at Ravensglass by steam locomotive. They say that nowadays:

“Four steam locomotives are currently in regular service, ranging from River Irt, the oldest working 15″ gauge locomotive in the world, to Northern Rock, one of the most powerful. The locomotives names, with one obvious exception, are those of the local rivers, the Esk, Mite and Irt, the last mentioned flowing from Wastwater just a few miles away from the railway.”

My father has always loved steam.  He’s also rather enjoyed using the self-timer on his camera.

The Nevilles in the Lake District in 1973

I am guessing that we sitting on part of the Hard Knott Roman Fort near Boot with the fells behind.  Built between AD120 and AD138 at the Eskdale end of the Hard Knott Pass it must have been one of the furthermost outposts of the Roman Empire. As children we had grown up on a diet of Frankie Howard, dressed in a Roman tunic, telling us ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’. I didn’t know until this week that it was Richard Pilbrow who brought this production from New York to the West End, where the play that he produced ran for two years.

The hotel I mention was the Kirskstone Foot Hotel, at the top of Lake Windermere, in Ambleside where Richard Pilbrow and the senior members of the film crew were staying. Mum must have left her camera there.

Tamzin Neville and Daphne Neville in 1973

3 Comments

Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, e-publication, Family Life, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

3 responses to “The diary I kept whilst filming Swallows and Amazons… with a day off spent exploring Cumbria with my family

  1. Kevin Burn

    Hello – the railway might have been the Ravenglass and Eskdale (http://www.ravenglass-railway.co.uk), which has been an attraction for many years. We were there a couple of years ago – it is very scenic and Wainwright wrote a special little guide for it, which you can still buy.
    Thanks again for sharing your memories!
    Kevin

  2. Thanks so much Kevin. I have altered the post, added a hyper-link and e-mailed the railway company. It is such a great thing for families to do in the Lake District.
    I have a new question about where we were standing for the family photo. It looks like part of Hardian’s Wall – ?

  3. Kevin Burn

    My guess would be Hard Knott Roman fort, if it was taken on the same day (Hadrian’s Wall is quite a bit further north and to the east). I had a quick look on Google and came up with this link: http://www.visitcumbria.com/wc/hardknott-roman-fort.htm. Does it look familiar?

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