Tuesday , November 29 2022
Lochs, camera, action: a tour of Scotland’s stunning film and TV locations

Lochs, camera, action: a tour of Scotland’s stunning film and TV locations

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Scotland has long been a source of inspiration for film-makers around the world, who look to the country’s immense landscapes and unique history to aid their storytelling. Whether it’s tales of love and romance or epic battles based on actual events, Scotland has played a central role in numerous productions on both the big and small screen.

One of the most popular settings for film-making that places emphasis on stunning scenic shots is the Scottish Highlands, which will likely bring to mind a range of characters including Thomasina the cat, William Wallace in Braveheart, Harry Potter and even James Bond. The Jacobite steam train, which travels from Fort William to Mallaig along the West Highland line, plays a starring role as the Hogwarts Express in all eight Harry Potter films, thanks to the now iconic shots of the magical train crossing the stunning Glenfinnan viaduct. Meanwhile, Sam Mendes’s Skyfall has 007 returning to his Scottish roots, with much of the action taking place in Glencoe, where Bond grew up. Scenes from the film were shot in dramatic locations such as Glen Etive, near the peaks of Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag.

Wild Camping in Glencoe by the River Coupall and Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor)
Buachaille Etive Mor at the head of Glen Etive. Photograph: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam

Glencoe is also a major backdrop in the TV mega hit Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s fantasy-romance novels, with the opening credits of the very first episode terrifically depicting its sweeping mountains. Kinloch Rannoch, on the tip of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire, plays a part in the first series too, as well as Tulloch Ghru in the Cairngorms national park and the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore. This is the trip to take if you like to imagine yourself as the lead in a cinematic masterpiece, which many of us undoubtedly do.

Next on the list of prime filming locations would be Scotland’s diverse and majestic islands, from Barra, which played host to the 1949 comedy Whisky Galore! to Skye, which welcomed Michael Fassbender during the filming of Macbeth in 2015. A personal favourite is Loch Airigh on the rocky east coast of Harris, which doubled as the surface of Jupiter during the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. More recently, the 2021 comedy-drama Limbo, telling the story of refugees waiting on a fictional Scottish island to be granted asylum, uses both North and South Uist as its setting, while many key exterior shots in the stirring BBC crime drama Shetland are filmed on the main island of Shetland and its capital, Lerwick.

The village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire. Photograph: Iain Sarjeant/Alamy

Heading back to the mainland, Aberdeenshire is often associated with director Bill Forsyth’s eccentric 1983 film Local Hero, with many of the Ferness village scenes shot in Pennan on the region’s coast. Likewise, the 2015 adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song was filmed across panoramic Aberdeenshire in locations such as the small village of Fettercairn and the Glenmuick and Glen Tanar estates. And if it’s another round of Whisky Galore! you’re after, you’ll also be able to find it in Aberdeenshire – the town of Portsoy was one of the locations used in the Eddie Izzard-starring 2016 remake of the film.

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As well as hosting August’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Scotland’s capital also makes a proud appearance in a number of blockbusters – from Avengers: Infinity War to Trainspotting – showcasing the vibrant culture of the city and its architectural beauty, as well as local legends that are a core part of its history. The adaptation of David Nicholls’s One Day, for example, features some of Edinburgh’s best-known landmarks in its most poignant moments, from the magnificent crags of Arthur’s Seat to Calton Hill’s iconic Dugald Stewart Monument. If you’re heading for a walk up Calton Hill, be sure to pop into Collective, the remarkable contemporary art centre housed in the former City Observatory. In the Old Town, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby, a film retelling the story of the famous dog who stayed by his master’s grave for 14 years, includes classic shots of Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Outlaw King, which charts the life of 14th-century King of Scotland Robert the Bruce, was filmed all over Scotland but Edinburgh’s late-medieval Craigmillar Castle notably stands in for Bruce’s castle and village in the film. It’s a great place to explore on a sunny day, particularly if you climb the tower house to survey the city and its abundance of beauty spots such as Holyrood Park.

Concerning another key historical figure, much of Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, is set at the Palace of Holyroodhouse – but it is actually the commanding Blackness Castle, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, which stands in for Holyrood in the film. Additionally, many of the beach scenes were filmed on the East Lothian beaches that surround Edinburgh, including Seacliff, which offers spectacular views of Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle.

Aerial view of Blackness Castle ( setting for Outlander ) beside Firth of Forth river in West Lothian Scotland, UK
Blackness Castle. Photograph: Iain Masterton/Alamy

Just seven miles south of Edinburgh city centre, you’ll find Rosslyn Chapel with its extraordinary architecture and gothic stonework. Known for being a significant location in the 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the chapel welcomes visitors daily who are looking to walk in the footsteps of Tom Hanks’s character Robert Langdon.

Edinburgh is not the only major Scottish city to appear on screen though; Inverness will be familiar to fans of Outlander as the setting of many of the scenes that take place in the 1940s. Not far from the city, the magic of Loch Ness has been brought to life in films such as The Water Horse, based on the enchanting book by Dick King-Smith.

Of course, Glasgow has hosted its fair share of screen appearances too, from 2022’s The Batman to cult classic Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. As the UK’s first Unesco City of Music, Glasgow has also been a popular setting for stories linked to music and culture, such as Wild Rose, the 2018 musical drama about aspiring country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan. In the film, Rose-Lynn is seen performing at the city’s annual Celtic Connections at the prominent Old Fruitmarket venue as well as in Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry. Beats, based on the award-winning play by Kieran Hurley, is another example, using a black and white Glasgow as its setting, while fully immersing you in the highs and lows of Scottish rave culture.

Walking around Glasgow, it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the legacy of its culture and nightlife, which spans decades, countless tales and an ever-changing cast of characters.

Arusa Qureshi is a writer and editor based in Edinburgh, and a passionate advocate for diversity and accessibility within arts and culture. She writes mostly about music, most recently Flip the Script – a book about women in UK hip-hop published by 404 Ink. She was the winner of the 2017 Allen Wright Award for quality writing in arts journalism, is on the board of the Scottish Music Centre and is a Trustee of the Saltire Society.

Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 spotlights, celebrates and promotes the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. More info on the programme can be found here

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