Lochs, castles … ACTION!
Scotland was made to be filmed. Magnificent mountains, breathtaking landscapes, iconic architecture, beautiful beaches and castles at every turn. Is it any wonder film makers focus on our country as never before? Some of the world’s biggest box office smashes have scenes shot in Scotland – and now with the boom in box sets, streaming and catch up, TV directors are recognising the natural film set that’s on their doorstep. We take a look …
From Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes, Brave – and Braveheart – to Highlander, Trainspotting to Skyfall … through the years, Scotland has been the stage set for many a movie. And as good as the acting, lighting, costumes and special effects might be, it is the locations that steal the show.
Some are obvious: city backdrops that have helped to make The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie & Sunshine on Leith (Edinburgh), World War Z (Glasgow) and Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad (Dundee), but we head out into the countryside to explore some of the world’s best film locations … locations that have helped to make Scottish classics, British belters as well as Hollywood blockbusters.
Local Hero (1983) was shot in Aberdeenshire and showcased the beautiful coastal villages of Pennan & Crovie to a global audience. It is a great corner of Scotland to explore. No wonder Bill Forsyth chose it as the location for the film’s fictional village of Ferness. BAFTA awards followed.
Perhaps one of the best known tales of rural Scotland is the 1949 Ealing Comedy, Whisky Galore! … shot entirely on location on the Isle of Barra in the summer of 1948. If you fancy retracing the film-makers steps, check out ferry times and flights to the island … with flights landing on the beach!
And then we have castles. When the online poll in USA Today voted Scotland the world’s Number 1 cinematic destination, our castles ranked right up there. It is easy to see why. They have topped the bill in so many movies and TV shows.
You can stay at these iconic castles – in holiday cottages on the estate at Balmoral and at Duns Castle and Manderston, both in Berwickshire. Duns and Manderston are also available to hire for weddings – and make incredible house-party destinations for special celebrations.
On the Royal trail, scenes from The Queen (2006) were filmed at Castle Fraser, near Dunecht, just west of Aberdeen. The National Trust of Scotland property boasts beautiful grounds and gardens that are open all year. Film-makers play tricks with us – and used a castle in the opposite corner of Scotland in the same film. The famous scene where the Queen meets with Tony Blair was filmed at Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire.
Dating from 1346, the castle is set in over 200 acres of private woodland and beautiful gardens and has been recognised as a VisitScotland five star venue where you can holiday, get married and enjoy a unique golfing holiday, though not necessarily all at the same time!
More tricks were played on viewers of the beloved Downton Abbey in a Christmas Special when the stunning Inveraray Castle became the fictitious Duneagle Castle to host the Granthams’ Christmas gathering. The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, is a must-see visitor attraction on the West Coast of Scotland.
So some castles are made to look like others … and some are masked in special effects as well as animation. Dunnottar Castle – just south of Aberdeen – has featured in Hamlet (1990), the animated Brave (2012) and Victor Frankenstein (2015). It is well worth a visit; as a Green Tourism Award winner, the Castle owners ask that all park in nearby Stonehaven to enjoy the walk to it. Its position on the clifftop is spectacular.
There are also castles whose depiction in film has given them cult status. Before the Monty Python team featured Castle Stalker and Doune Castle in ‘Monty Python & The Holy Grail‘, they were little visited historic properties. Both were transformed by the 1975 classic comedy and have since featured on screen in Game of Thrones and Outlander.
Castle Stalker – surrounded by the waters of Loch Linnhe – is off the A828 between Oban and Fort William. Doune Castle is just a few miles north-west of Stirling, off the A84 in Perthshire.
A darker portrayal of the Holy Grail is in The Da Vinci Code (2006) – and fans of the Dan Brown mystery thriller will know that Rosslyn Chapel and Rosslyn Castle in Roslin, Midlothian, both feature in the Ron Howard film in the story’s quest to find the Grail’s final resting place.
From dark … to nightmarish! The Wicker Man is a 1973 mystery horror movie starring Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee that has achieved cult status. Set on the fictional island of Summerisle, the movie was filmed in numerous locations in and around the south west of Scotland including Culzean Castle, Lochinch Castle and St Ninian’s Cave.
Culzean Castle is near Maybole on the Ayrshire coast – and you can stay in their Eisenhower Suite. Down the coast and into Dumfies & Galloway – near Stranraer – is Lochinch where you can also stay, this time in the Chauffeur’s Apartment. St Ninian’s Cave is only 4 miles from Whithorn Abbey and pilgrims believe it to be a retreat of St. Ninian, Scotland’s first saint.
We couldn’t write a blog on movie locations in Scotland without covering Harry Potter. Scotland’s buildings, countryside, castles and landscapes have shaped and feature in so many of the classic tales that it is hard to mention them all. If you have to choose any, you can’t ignore the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Highlands – the backdrop for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Loch Shiel that has been used on a number of occasions throughout the films as the backdrop for Hogwarts – and Glen Nevis that can be seen in a number of Quidditch battles.
You can ride the train over the viaduct with Western Coast Railways on The Jacobite, take time out to enjoy the stunning countryside around Loch Shiel – including wildlife cruises on the loch – and stay in Glen Nevis at the award-winning Glen Nevis Holiday Park.
Where to end? Bond Movies, Trainspotting, Colditz, Flash Gordon, Captain America, Under The Skin, Chariots of Fire and the recent Tommy’s Honour … all saw scenes that were captured in Scotland and that captured Scotland at its best.
We’re going to close with a few favourites: not just in terms of movies, but also locations …