Caslte Flim Locations in Luxury Scotland



Scotland On Screen - The Film Location Of Choice

By Brian Pendreigh

The famous Hollywood producer Arthur Freed toured round Scotland in the early 1950s, looking for locations for the musical Brigadoon. At the end of his visit, he concluded there was nowhere quite Scottish enough for what he had in mind, and he headed back to Hollywood to construct his own version of Scotland in the studio.

But Freed would seem to be in a minority of one. Plenty of other film producers and directors have been charmed by Scotland's mountains, glens and lochs, captivated by its dramatic castles and sheer sense of history. No other small country has quite as many spectacular film locations as Scotland.



Harry Potter and James Bond have both been regular visitors. And Scotland has been the setting for such classic films as Braveheart (which, contrary to popular myth, did not shoot entirely in Ireland), for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Highlander, Trainspotting  and The Da Vinci Code.


Film-makers have also used Scotland to double for other places. It served as the Balkans in From Russia with Love and stood in for Elsinore Castle in the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet, which looked like it might go shoot in Eastern Europe before director Franco Zeffirelli checked out the clifftop ruins of Dunnottar Castle, near Aberdeen.

Perhaps most remarkably Scotland played the planet Jupiter in the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or at least it shared the role with the Navajo Indian lands that featured in so many John Wayne westerns.

Stanley Kubrick combined Hebridean peat bogs and mountains with the rocky terrain of Monument Valley and some colour filters to create his alien world.

Recent visitors include the hit fantasy film Stardust, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro, and the romantic comedy Made of Honor, with Patrick Dempsey. Both filmed on Skye, the romantic island forever associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie and now joined to the mainland by bridge.

Film tourism, or "set-jetting" as it is sometimes called, is a developing and highly specialist part of the tourism industry. Research after the release of Braveheart in 1995 showed that many international tourists came to Scotland at least partly as a result of seeing the film. Some films, including Highlander and The Wicker Man, develop cult followings and fans will plan holidays around visits to multiple locations associated with a single film.

In between these two extremes, many tourists come to Scotland for reasons that may not be linked directly to movies, but who, once they get here, might want to visit places associated with popular films.



Visitor numbers at the Wallace Monument quintupled after Braveheart - and it is not even in the film. Harry Potter has had a big impact on locations.

Visitor numbers more than doubled at Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, though it is more difficult to measure the effect on Scottish locations, expanses of wild countryside, with unregulated, free access.

But where to begin? How does one tackle so many films, so many locations, sometimes set so far apart, from the north-eastern village of Pennan,  site of the lonely, red telephone box in Local Hero, to the south-western tip, where Edward Woodward literally sizzled in The Wicker Man?

There are two obvious ways to tackle it, either beginning with a film of particular interest or with a geographical location, whether it is an island such as Skye, a region such as the West Highlands or Galloway, or even a single castle.



Harry Potter is one of the most successful film series ever. JK Rowling is not always specific about her locations, but the schoolboy wizard gets on a train at Kings Cross Station in London and arrives hours later at a castle on top of a mountain. So it does not take magical powers to work out his rough whereabouts.

A single mum on welfare, Rowling wrote much of the first book in a café on Edinburgh's South Side, because a cup of coffee was cheaper than heating her flat. The Glenfinnan area and its famous railway viaduct provide spectacular and memorable locations in several of the films. Glen Coe has also been used to memorable effect and the climactic Quidditch match in the first film was superimposed by computer on a backdrop of Glen Nevis.

Glen Nevis, which lies beneath Britain's highest mountain, not far from the town of Fort William, was also a key location in Braveheart. It was there that the film-makers built William Wallace's medieval village in the summer of 1994, clearing off just in time to make room for Rob Roy a few weeks later.

Glenfinnan is a Mecca for fans of the cult film Highlander, with its wonderfully dopey storyline of an immortal Scottish warrior, played by Frenchman Christopher Lambert, and his Spanish-Egyptian mentor, played by Scotland's greatest ever film star Sean Connery.

It was at Glenfinnan that the hero Connor Macleod was born, and scenes of actor Christopher Lambert swimming and rowing were filmed in nearby Loch Shiel.

It is also where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite Rising and it features in the 1948 film Bonnie Prince Charlie, starring David Niven, who always maintained he was born in Scotland, but wasn't. The same stock footage of the Gathering of the Clans was used in the Errol Flynn film The Master of Ballantrae.



Another key Highlander location is Eilean Donan Castle in Wester Ross, conveniently located on the road to Skye.  It is from Eilean Donan that the Clan MacLeod set out for battle at the beginning of the first film in the series.

The castle is linked to the mainland by a little causeway. With the loch behind it and the towering mountains above, Eilean Donan, is one of Scotland's most dramatic and picturesque locations.

You can just about feel the ghosts of ancient warriors on your shoulder, except Eilean Donan's claims to historical authenticity are only slightly better than those of the film Highlander.

A castle was built there in 1230, but destroyed by the English in the 18th Century and left in ruins for 200 years, at which point it was completely and expensively rebuilt. But the make-believe ancient fortress has proven enormously popular with an industry that specialises in make-believe and it has appeared in dozens of films and television shows, from Prince Valiant in 1954 to Made of Honor in 2008.

It featured in the Bollywood spectacular Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and it served as the MI6 headquarters in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, several decades after 007 first visited Scotland in From Russia with Love.

Or at least that was Bond's first movie visit - the literary Bond went to school in Edinburgh, after being expelled from Eton, and Sean Connery delivered milk to 007's school before playing him on screen.


Connery's home town, Edinburgh has played host to dramas, comedies, crime and horror.

The capital city presented strikingly different faces in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - the Oscar-winner that was set in an exclusive girls school and filmed in Greyfriars Churchyard and the Grassmarket, and in Trainspotting, which begins with an adrenaline-pumping chase along Princes Street, on the other side of Edinburgh Castle.

Just outside Edinburgh stands the Forth Bridge, the spectacular cantilever bridge that figured so memorably in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, though most of the film shot in a London studio and John Buchan's original novel was set in the Galloway area. Buchan was reputedly inspired by Knockinaam, a former shooting lodge, now a hotel. The 1978 remake shot at various locations in the South-West, as did The Wicker Man, a film that could and does occupy tourists for days.

Brian Pendreigh is an award-winning film journalist, whose regular outlets include The Times and The Scotsman. He is the author of On Location:  The Film Fan's Guide to Britain and Ireland, the first film location guidebook for the general public.  Brian advised Braveheart writer Randall Wallace on locations and was at the Oscars when it won.  He is now offering guided tours of locations, individually tailored to customer interests and needs. Brian Pendreigh, 0131-552-4302,

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