Some would say that we are biased when we claim Scotland to be the most picturesque and beautiful country in the world. From rugged shorelines to sweeping glens tucked away between towering mountains and stunning castles set on the banks of tranquil lochs, Scotland has a unique and rich landscape. But as film-makers and directors scramble to use Scotland as the backdrop for their latest movie, we are seeing an increase in the number of Scottish locations featuring on the big screen. Below is just a small sample of the many stunning locations that you can visit in your quest to follow in the footsteps of your favourite film characters.
Isle of Skye
Possibly the most popular location to be used in films in recent times, Skye’s dramatic scenery is easily recognisable in films such as Stardust, Snow White and the Huntsman, MacBeth, BFG, and the soon to be released Transformers: The Last Knight and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Stardust (2007), the film adaption of Neil Gaiman’s novel by the same name, which featured Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro and Ricky Gervais was shot in a number of locations on Skye. Scenes from the fantasy film show the spectacular Loch Coruisk, an inland freshwater loch lying at the foot of the Black Cuillins; the Fairy Glen, a delightful and otherworldly miniature landscape of grassy hills; and the striking Quiraing on which Michelle Pfeiffer’s wicked character Lamia can be seen as she sets out to hunt down Yvaine, a fallen star.
Located at the northern end of the Trotternish Peninsula, the Quiraing is an area of landslip that has resulted in stunning rocky crags, pinnacles and scree slopes. It appears in numerous films and television advertisements including the KAYAK commercial, Snow White and the Huntsman, MacBeth, the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight and the new King Arthur: Legend of the Sword films. The Quiraing also served as inspiration for the fictional ‘Giants’Land’ in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story, the BFG (2016), along with the landscapes of the Storr on the Trotternish Ridge, and the mountainous Cuillins.
Macbeth (2015), starring Michael Fassbender, used a number of locations on Skye. The Quiraing is the setting for Macbeth’s return from battle to be anointed as The Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan and the Old Man of Storr appears in another shot, where Macbeth is seen riding past the iconic 50ft rock formation.
The Cuillin Ridge co-stars alongside Skye’s very own Danny MacAskill in his death-defying bike ride in The Ridge (2014); and the first ever Gaelic-language children’s film – Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (2007) – was shot on the Sgùrr Dearg, one of the most dramatic and challenging peaks on the Black Cuillin.
Over on the west side of Skye, Neist Point and Dunvegan Castle have both seen film action with a modified Neist Point appearing in Keanu Reeves’ samurai warrior movie – 47 Ronin (2013) and Dunvegan Castle in Made of Honor (2008), starring Patrick Dempsey.
The Western Isles (Outer Hebrides)
Leaving Skye and heading across the Minch to the Isle of Lewis we find the Callanish Stones. These standing stones, arranged in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle, inspired the standing stones in the Disney Pixar film, Brave (2012) and the fictional circle, called Craigh na Dun, in the TV-series Outlander (2014).
Both Brave and Outlander used multiple locations throughout Scotland including Dunnottar Castle, on which Brave’s DunBroch was modelled, and in Outlander, the Culloden Battlefield, one of the most famous Scottish locations and the site of the 1745 Jacobite Battle alongside Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Glen Coe is probably Scotland’s most famous and most impressively dramatic glen. It is therefore hardly surprising that Glen Coe and its more secluded neighbour, Glen Etive, play leading roles in a number of exhilarating movies. There aren’t many places on earth that could upstage James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, but that is exactly what happened in Skyfall (2012) when 007 goes back to his Scottish roots and takes M to his childhood home.
As you approach the Glencoe area from the south, the road passes through Rannoch Moor – a beautiful and wild landscape fondly described as ‘the middle of nowhere’. Rannoch Moor and the village of Kinloch Rannoch were chosen for the scenes in Outlander featuring the famous standing stones of Craigh na Dun (as mentioned above). This mystical place is also the spot where Death Eaters board the train in Harry Potter – The Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Leaving this wilderness behind, it is possible to board the Jacobite Steam Train in Fort William and travel through the iconic scenery straight out of the Harry Potter blockbuster films. The train that had a starring role as the Hogwarts Express travels over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, featured in the flying car scene in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
Argyll and the Isles
The film most closely associated with Argyll and the Isles is Ring of Bright Water (1969), based on Scottish author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell’s semi-autobiographical tale of a writer who brings his pet otter to the West Coast of Scotland. Tigh Beg Croft, one of the secluded locations used in the filming of Ring of Bright Water is now available to visitors as self-catering accommodation.
In 1975, Argyll saw a French soldier (played by John Cleese) hurl bizarre insults down upon King Arthur from the roof of the Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh!! (Monty Python and The Holy Grail). The castle in question is, in fact, Castle Stalker – a four-story tower house or keep picturesquely set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet off Loch Linnhe. The Castle is privately owned but there are a number of tours each year.
More recently, one of the west coast’s most iconic buildings, Inveraray Castle, played host to the Grantham Family in Downton Abbey (2012). Scenes of the Armoury Hall, the State Dining Room and Dhu Loch showed Inveraray Castle in all its glory.
Edinburgh is an extremely popular film location, with many iconic Scottish films being set almost exclusively in the city. Sunshine of Leith (2013), an adaptation of the jukebox musical featuring songs by The Proclaimers, was filmed all over the city; as was Filth (2013), featuring James McAvoy as a police Detective in Edinburgh who suffers from a borderline personality disorder.
Trainspotting(1996) is, however, the most iconic film to be shot in Edinburgh and has attained legendary status being voted as the best Scottish film of all time. Alongside its recent sequel, Trainspotting 2 (2017), the films feature all of Edinburgh’s famous sites, such as the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Arthurs Seat and Princess Street.
Although not filmed in Edinburgh, the first book in the Harry Potter series was conceived in a little cafe on the George IV Bridge, called the Elephant House.
This has been a whistle-stop tour of some of the most iconic film locations in Scotland. To discover these, and more, at first hand, why not plan a leisurely road trip and experience the captivating landscape at first hand.